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Cheap Slow Cookers Buying Guide

The Rival Corporation released the first branded Crock-Pot in 1971. The product was a huge success and instantly became a household name.

Its design was so effective that today's best cheap slow cookers differ only slightly from the original -- the aesthetics and functionality are remarkably similar, but with a few modern embellishments.

Our cheap slow cooker picks are all no-muss/no-fuss kitchen gadgets that produce moist, flavorful dishes. Topping our list are the Hamilton Beach 33155 (starting at $20), a 5-quart, oval-shaped slow cooker with a rubber gasket around the lid, and the 1.5-quart Proctor Silex 33015 (starting at $15), a basic model that appeals for its small size and big performance. Two other cheap slow cookers we like are the 7-quart Crock-Pot SCCPVP700-S (starting at $38), the rare programmable slow cooker in the under-$40 price range that earns positive reviews, and the 6-quart Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33163 (starting at $25), with its cook-and-carry design features, including latches to secure the lid and a nook to store the included serving spoon. A cheap slow cooker that turns off consumers is the programmable 5-quart Crock-Pot 38501-W (starting at $23), which reviewers say cooks too hot and too fast.

Modern slow cookers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and boast a variety of bells and whistles. Cheap slow cooker sizes range from 1 to 7 quarts; the cooking vessel may be round, oval-shaped, or square. Some models feature digital control settings, programmable cooking functions, multiple separated sections, and a rack for roasting. While these features up the convenience factor, they're mostly available on slow cookers priced in the triple-digit zone, which is well above our Cheapism ceiling.

So, what do you get on the best cheap slow cookers? There are a few essential features that are nearly standard issue. One is a removable, dishwasher-safe ceramic container; ceramics help with insulation and heat distribution and a removable container makes clean-up much faster. Another must-have is a clear glass lid with a "stay-cool" handle. Slow cookers work by keeping heat in, so a clear lid lets you see what's going on inside without having to constantly lift it. Several heat settings are also important, because the options mean you'll be able to prepare a wider array of dishes and can safely leave the kitchen without fear of overcooking the food.

Some cheap slow cookers sport additional features that aren't necessary but can be helpful. The most common of these is a lid with a rubber gasket that helps seal in moisture and latches or straps that keep food from spilling out during cooking or transportation. One desirable but rare "extra" on a cheap slow cooker is a programmable function that lets you select a heat setting and a duration (time) setting; once the time runs out, the slow cooker automatically switches to "keep warm" to prevent drying out. And finally, an indicator light is a safety feature that lets you know whether the slow cooker is on or not.

The big players in the slow cookers category have remained constant over the years. Rival's Crock-Pot brand is still thriving and dominates the slow-cooker market. Other big players include Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, Kitchen Aid, and Frigidaire. Among these brands, Rival and Hamilton Beach offer the greatest selection of cheap slow cookers.

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