3 Features You Need in Your Next Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are the perfect set-it-and-forget-it way to prepare meals that can feed a crowd

Crock-Pot cooker
A slow cooker can make chili, stew, roasts, and every recipe in between easy and simple.Crock-Pot

Let’s face it, some things just take time to cook. Whether it’s a great pot of chili, legs from a wild turkey, or short ribs, gently cooking things in a slow cooker allows great flavors to marry while adding fall-off-the-bone tenderness you simply can’t achieve any other way. And for busy families that don’t have time to cook, popping a meal into a slow cooker in the morning is an easy way to ensure you’ll have a great-tasting meal waiting come dinner time. The number of slow cooker options can be dizzying, so here are three things to look for that will make buying a new slow cooker simple and easy.

Manual or Programmable?

Crock-Pot 4-Quart Cook and Carry Slow Cooker
This 4-quart model is perfect for feeding up to four people. It features a lid-mounted locking system to lock in heat and prevent spills. The removable stoneware pot and lid are dishwasher-safe for easy clean-ups.Crock-Pot

Manual slow cookers are easy to operate—simply set the control knob to the desired temperature and let it cook. Manual cookers don't have timers built in, however, so they won't shut off automatically when they're finished cooking. This means you'll need to keep your eye on them, especially if you're cooking smaller portions of food. Programable slow cookers have all the bells and whistles. Most let you program the cooking time up to 24 hours in advance (settings are generally in 30-minute increments). This is the perfect model for working couples. Place your meal in the pot in the morning and come home to a perfectly cooked dinner. Most have a "stay warm" setting to keep meals warm once they've finished cooking.

Capacity

Crock-Pot 4-Quart Smart-Pot Programmable Slow Cooker
This 4-quart slow cooker has a variety of programmable cooking functions and its lid and removeable stoneware pot are dishwasher safe.Crock-Pot

Slow cookers come in a wide range of sizes from 1.5 to 8 quarts. Note that some makers recommend that you only fill them halfway or three-quarters of the way up to avoid spills—especially if you plan on transporting your covered dish to a party. Bear in mind that although larger capacities will allow you to cook larger cuts of meat and prep meals for more hungry eaters, they will take up more room in your pantry or on your kitchen counter.

Extras

Instant Pot
This digital model monitors pressure and cooking temperature, keeps time, and adjusts heating intensity. The touchpad screen makes it easy to clean.Instant Pot

Here are some additional features you should also consider when you're shopping for a slow cooker.

Locking lids: Makes transferring your slow cooker to parties or picnics easy and without spills.
Large handles: Make sure handles are large enough to provide a solid grip for easy transfers.
Clear lids: Allow you to take a peek at contents during the cooking process.
Easy to clean: Dishwasher-safe pots and lids make clean-ups much easier. Touchpad models will wipe off more easily than slow cookers with knobs.
Oval pots: Oval-shaped cooking pots will accommodate roasts and larger pieces of meat (like turkey drumsticks) more easily than round models.