Set-it-and-forget-it cooking is ideal for busy parents and other home cooks who want to create a delicious, hearty meal but don’t have a lot of time for active prep. Slow cookers are ideal for this style of cooking because they maintain a steady temperature and have a self-contained design that’s way less risky or expensive than leaving your oven running all day. If you want to get the most out of this style of a cooking appliance, though, you should opt for a programmable model to ensure the perfect cooking times. Learn why this is and find out which programmable crock pots are best for your needs with this handy guide.
Manual slow cookers let you flip a switch or a knob and maintain a steady level of heat until you switch them off. This approach is great if you’re around for some passive monitoring, but if you want to keep the crockpot going while you’re at work, not being able to set the cooking times can be a big gamble. It could be that the recipe you’re trying out didn’t include enough liquid and leaving that slow cooker on all day could mean you’re welcomed home big a burned mess.
Programmable slow cookers solve this problem by allowing you to set the appliance to cook for a specified amount of time. That’s a major bonus for those days when nothing seems to go your way—even if you end up stuck in a surprise traffic jam on your way home, you won’t have to worry about your food burning because the machine will just turn itself off according to your programmed timer selection. When you use them properly and abide by all safety recommendations, programmable slow cookers remove the little risk associated with this cooking method and give you peace of mind for passive cooking.
There are a lot of slow cookers on the market and, as far as the manual models are concerned, they’re usually one and the same. You can use criteria like design using stainless steel with a glass lid or capacity and do pretty well with a manual slow cooker. However, as programmable slow cookers are more technologically complex, deciding on the right programmable slow cooker takes more time and consideration. Each of the three best we’ve identified here has its strengths and weaknesses though, in our opinion, the ALL-CLAD SD700450 is the clear winner.
All-Clad is the kind of brand that professional cooks trust, but its signature lack of decorative bells and whistles can be a turnoff for some consumers. Don’t make this mistake—sure, the SD700450 programmable slow cooker looks bare-bones and utilitarian, lacking the pretty colors and appealing design of some of its competitors, but it is the best programmable slow cooker money can buy.
The digital programming interface is extremely simple, featuring just five buttons, including a power button, and a simple digital readout that anyone can understand. This alone puts it head and shoulders above some of the lesser options in this category, which feature complex control panels that seem unnecessary for such a simple machine.
Another major plus that sets this slow cooker apart is the fact that its interior ceramic insert is dishwasher safe, making it easy to clean and it’s black, meaning it won’t show stains the way white ceramic slow cooker inserts often do. It can hold 6 quarts total and is programmable for up to 26 hours, allowing you to take the concept of slow cooking to the extreme over the course of more than a full day. This option is one of the most expensive in its category, but its large capacity and versatility more than justify the price.
The 6-quart IntelliTime programmable slow cooker also features a relatively simple interface controlled with a knob, which you can use to set a pre-programmed cooking time interval between 4–12 hours or select a manual cooking mode at various heat settings to control cooking time yourself. The one drawback of this system is that the single knob system means that controlling for minute details can be a bit confusing and you may have to scroll through several options before landing on the exact setting you need. This may not be a big deal to all users, but if you tend to be tech-phobic or if you’re shopping for an elderly relative who isn’t that great with digital interface controls, this is a potential issue to consider.
Though it doesn’t measure up to our top choice in terms of the versatility it offers with programmable cooking settings, the Hamilton Beach IntelliTime programmable slow cooker does boast some great features, including a dishwasher- and oven-safe black ceramic insert. This slow cooker’s side handles also fold down for easy storage, making it a more streamlined option for crowded kitchen cabinets.
Another large slow cooker with a black stoneware insert, the Crock Pot 6-quart Programmable Cook & Carry sets itself apart with a few handy features that make it ideal for on-the-go use. Whether you’re bringing lunch in for your colleagues at the office or you’re heading to a potluck dinner, this slow cooker is specifically designed to keep the lid on the insert in place. Two sturdy clamps on either side of the insert lock the lid in place and keep it there when you need it, which makes this a great option for those who like to take their slow cookers to different places.
Other than this feature, the Programmable Cook & Carry doesn’t really best the competition—its pre-set cooking program time range of 30 minutes to 20 hours is generous, but not best in class. The ease-of-use in the digital interface is also middle-of-the-road in terms of features, with multiple clearly labeled buttons and a small readout screen that doesn’t really provide a lot of useful information. The arrangement just isn’t very intuitive, meaning you’ll probably need to read the user’s manual to figure out how to use these controls.