Best Cheap Slow Cookers for Easy Meal Prep
Slow cookers put the joy back into cooking for those who don't have the time or inclination to slave over the stove but take delight in serving a warm, tasty meal. There are dozens of slow cookers to choose from, primarily differentiated by capacity, type of controls (manual or programmable), exterior appearance, optional features, and, of course, price. Cheapism.com scoured user and expert reviews to find worthy slow cookers for $50 or less. These are all fairly basic, small appliances that give consumers the freedom to assemble a pot full of ingredients, turn on the machine, walk away, and return hours later to a fully cooked meal.
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Before deciding which size slow cooker to buy, consider how it will be used and how many people it needs to feed. A unit that's too large for its intended purpose will prove disappointing. The stoneware insert should be half full at the very least -- otherwise the contents will dry out as they cook. The Proctor Silex 33015Y (starting at $18) is an ideal size for empty nesters, singles, and lovers of slow-cooked steel-cut oats for breakfast. The three heat settings on this 1.5-quart model are controlled manually and the removable parts (insert and tempered-glass lid) are dishwasher-safe. Some users grouse about too much or too little heat, but a vast majority of reviewers are totally satisfied with the performance of this no-frills slow cooker.
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Cheapism's top choice among manual slow cookers, the Crock-Pot SCV400 (starting at $20) appeals to consumers with its simplicity, dependable performance, and 4-quart size. General guidelines call for 1 quart per person, and user reports suggest this results in very generous portions, so this model should feed a family of four with some left over. The oval-shaped stoneware insert is dishwasher- and microwave-safe. Note: Some reviewers say the unit runs hot, and the company concedes that newer Crock-Pots reach higher temperatures than older models and advises users to adjust cooking times.
The Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33461 (starting at $25) is another entry-level manual slow cooker that wins over consumers. Reviewers praise the accuracy of the heat settings, the absence of bells and whistles, and the overall functionality. The 6-quart capacity easily serves seven people and holds a 4-pound chicken or 6-pound roast. This "Stay or Go" model is one of a growing number of portable slow cookers with design features that make it possible to transport a loaded pot from kitchen to potluck without leaving a trail of gravy in its wake.
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Manual slow cookers require users to turn them off, or switch the heat setting to "warm," after the desired cooking time has elapsed. Programmable models do this automatically and generally cost more than manual cookers. The Crock-Pot Cook & Carry SCCPVL610-S (starting at $49) is an extremely popular 6-quart programmable slow cooker. Reviewers value the ability to program cook times in 30-minute intervals and laud the countdown timer. This model is also portable, with a tight-fitting lid secured by wire clips. One drawback: There currently are no replacements available for stoneware inserts that break or crack.
Cheapism's pick for best budget programmable slow cooker, the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33969 (starting at $49) cooks evenly and retains heat well, say expert and user reviews. This 6-quart model comes with a probe that monitors the internal temperature of a roast and signals the unit to switch from cooking mode to keep-warm mode once the desired temperature is reached. Another unique feature lets users control the cooker manually. The very similar model 33967 (starting at $50) features a clip-on spoon.
Users applaud the versatility of the West Bend 84905 (starting at $40), which can be used to brown or sauté ingredients on top of the stove before submitting them to hours of low heat, or set in the oven for a finishing flourish or to reheat leftovers. Reviewers also like the light, 5-quart metal cook pot, with its oblong shape, better than a traditional slow-cooker crockery insert.