Slow cookers can be extremely effective as a way to save time and save money with the food that you eat. At the same time, they’re popular simply because you can make some pretty great meals in them. We’re not just talking about soups and stews either. Instead, slow cookers are surprisingly versatile and you can use them to create many things that you probably never thought about before.
Yet, in many cases, people struggle to figure out what slow cooker to get and how much they should spend on one. After all, there is a vast market of slow cookers out there, which just continues to grow over time. Within that selection, there is a huge range of different sizes, shapes and even variations in features. There are also differences between brands and individual models to consider.
All of these areas can make the entire process complicated and very confusing. So, where do you start and how much should you pay?
As you can probably imagine, we can’t give you a single figure as an answer to this question. But, we can offer some guidelines about what you can expect and what you get for your money.
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Entry-Level Slow Cookers
Slow cooking itself is a fairly basic process. This is why you often see slow cookers around the $30 to $40 mark or even lower. The most basic types of slow cooker will have the ability to select low and high temperatures and that’s pretty much it. In some cases, they may even lack the low setting entirely.
With entry-level models like this, there sometimes won’t even be a keep warm mode and the model may lack a button to turn it on. Instead, you may have to control whether the model is on simply by plugging and unplugging it from the wall.
The lack of features in entry-level models isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There really isn’t much complexity with slow cooking itself and many people find that not having extra features is just fine.
Even then, there is still some variation in what you get at the entry level. In fact, some slow cookers out there offer a surprising number of features for the price you pay.
For example, we compiled a list of 5-6 Quart Slow Cookers under $30. This size is the most common option for families and cookbooks also tend to write recipes for this type of slow cooker as well, so it’s a great place to start. One of the models in that list even came with a deep fryer and functioned as a basic multi-cooker. That’s pretty great for the price.
Additionally, multiple options on the list were designed to be portable. Now, personally I can’t imagine why I would transport a slow cooker full of food and I would be much more likely to transfer it to a different dish if I was going somewhere. Still, this design is fairly common, so I guess there is a demand for it.
Most of the slow cookers also had a keep warm function. So, even at the entry level, you can still get a decent number of functions if you shop around. Most models won't have the ability to automatically switch to warm mode when done cooking though, so keep that in mind.
However, it is worth noting that the quality of materials does differ across models. As such, sometimes the models with more features aren’t as high quality as those with fewer features, but more focus on robust construction.
Indeed, our recommendation from that particular list ended up being the Crock-Pot Cook and Carry 6-Quart. By far, this was the model that performed the best and it is incredibly good value for the price you pay. Yet, it is also fairly limited in features and really is a basic model, especially compared to some of the others from the list.
Realistically, if you know you’re going to use your slow cooker frequently, then it is much better to invest in one that you know is going to work. This may mean settling for fewer features or choosing to pay a bit more for a better model.
The sheer number of slow cookers out there might make shopping pretty confusing but it does mean that you have lots of options. This is especially true for mid-range models because there is a wide variety of functions and sizes on offer.
As such, models in the middle of the market can be a great way to get extra functions without breaking your budget in the process.
With all the variation out there, it’s hard to define precisely what mid-range is but in our reviews we’ve typically looked for models that are between $50 and $100. For example, a great place to start is our list of 5-6 Quart Slow Cookers Under $60. This might seem a major step up from the $30 to $40 range but there is still considerable variation between models.
One great thing about this price range is that you start to get models with lots of functions that are still fairly reasonable in terms of price. For example, the brand KitchenAid offers a 6-quart slow cooker [LINK] for around $80, which has a timer, three temperature settings and an automatic keep warm mode.
As a general rule, the mid-range of slow cookers tends to go from around $50 to probably $100, or thereabouts. This is going to get you a few more features that allow for more control over your slow cooking. At the same time, you won't have to worry about those “added” features of the premium models that we rarely use like the ability to steam, brown, sauté and even pressure cook.
The most important feature worth stepping up for is the digital timer and automatic warming feature that's often included. It makes the slow cooking experience more hands off. You can set a timer to start and stop whenever you want, and not worry about your food being overcooked or cold by the time you are ready to serve.
In many ways, this is probably the best price point to begin shopping for a slow cooker. The basic models do have their advantages but it’s really worth spending the extra money to find something that is going to consistently perform well and has all the features that you want. If you're looking for a small slow cooker in the mid price range, you'll also expect to pay about $30-$60, and if you're looking for a mid-price large slow cooker expect to pay up to $100 before getting into the premium models
Premium Slow Cookers
There are, of course, slow cookers that fall into the top tier, the premium range. This tends to be over $100. For a 5-6 quart premium slow cooker you'll pay less than about $120. For a large slow cooker, you may pay over $200 depending on the features you choose. Some 7 quart cookers cost less than $40 though!
Typically, premium models include many more features or are considered to be higher quality overall. Slow cookers in this range may include wifi, touch screens, or bluetooth. You'll have more accurate temperature monitoring and timing capabilities. Designs may be improved, though most of the time you'll still have the typical slow cooker shape.
In theory, premium slow cookers would also last longer and tend to be a better investment overall. However, that won’t always be the case.
After all, the connection between price and quality isn’t nearly as straightforward as we would like it to be. Instead, sometimes the more expensive options don’t stand up to scrutiny, while the cheaper ones may perform surprisingly well based on lower expectations.
Instant Pot’s multi-cooker [LINK] is this price range at around $120 (for the 6-quart version). This product is a little different again, as it isn’t specifically a slow cooker. Instead, it actually has 7 different functions, including the ability to pressure cook, brown, make yogurt and cook rice. This one is also an exceptionally popular model, even though it’s technically considered a multi-function pressure cooker rather than a slow cooker.
For a little bit more, Ninja has a slow cooker that also functions as a stovetop oven and even has a non-stick coating (which is unusual, but does happen). Now, that particular set of features might not be a good fit for most people, but it’s easy to imagine how amazing this slow cooker would be for some situations.
Other Things To Consider
Generally speaking, slow cookers will fall into the three categories that we’ve talked about: entry level, mid-range and premium. But, there is still a lot of variation within these areas.
For example, the price you pay will often be related to size. In many cases, this means that 4- and 6-quart slow cookers tend to be the cheapest, simply because they are the most common. Size is actually one of the most important decisions that you need to make when looking at what slow cooker you want to get. To get the most out of your slow cooker, it needs to be somewhere around two-thirds or three-quarters full. If you fill it more or less than that, then your food won’t cook properly.
This means that you need to pick the size of your slow cooker around how much food you plan to cook in it. The most common sizes are 4-6 quarts, with the 6-quart models making more sense for most families. However, if you live on your own or with one other person, the 4-quart model may be a better choice.
Size is not the only thing that affects price though, and brand, features, as well as design will also affect prices. Often, you can get a previous model for about $10 or $20 cheaper once the new model comes out!
Additionally, it really is worth paying attention to the reviews. We’ve done a wide range of different slow cooker reviews on this site and are continuing to add to that collection as time goes on. You can also find reviews in other places and the feedback on Amazon product listings is often especially insightful.
Looking into reviews really is critical because there will always be some products that perform much better than you expect and others that perform worse. If you don’t consider the reviews, then you’re basically guessing based on how the products should perform, which isn’t always going to be accurate.
What This All Means
It’s easy to see that there is a lot of variation between the different slow cookers in terms of shape, function, size, brand and even appearance – even though we’ve only touched on those topics in this post. Not surprisingly, all of these factors have some influence on the price. But, despite this, there are still some fairly strong patterns with slow cookers.
For the most part, if you’re looking for a fairly basic slow cooker with limited features, then you won’t have to pay a lot of money. Basic models will be under $50, no matter what size you get. Small basic cookers are even as low as $20 online. Mid range models in most sizes will be under $100, and premium models will be over $100. So, you don’t need to break the bank if you’re just looking for a basic slow cooker. Slow cookers can last many years, so your fifty or hundred dollars could provide you with weekly slow cooked meals for a decade. Now that's cheap!
My advice is to stick with the middle of the road namely for timing capabilities. Using the basic models is fine if you're at home a lot, or plan to be home at a specific time. If you're working an 8 hour day plus a 1-hour commute each way, that's 10 hours you're away from the home! Most meals, even in slow cookers, aren't designed to be cooked that long. Having a timing setting to accurately make your meals can make a difference between juicy or dry chicken, and thoroughly cooked or mushy carrots. Soups aren't as finicky though, I'll admit that!