How to Buy a Slow Cooker or Crock Pot

It’s that time of year when the days are shorter, the night falls sooner, and we drive home from work in the dark. Bummer.

But there’s no need to be in the dark about dinner when you get home. There is a bright light (and a warm meal) waiting for you if you know how to flip the slow cooker switch. So don’t dial for dinner and order expensive take out on your way home, get crocking by cracking out your Crock Pot for frugal and healthy family meals.

slow cooker crock pot how to buy

If you don’t already own a Crock Pot or a slow cooker, here are 6 Reasons to use a Crock Pot . When you’re convinced that a slow cooker is for you, then here’s how to buy the right one! These are not your mother’s Crock Pots. I swear!

1. “Crock-Pot” vs. Slow Cooker?

Don’t get stuck by playing the brand name game. A Crock Pot is a slow cooker. But a slow cooker is not always a Crock Pot. Seriously. A “Crock-Pot®” is the brand name for those slow cookers sold by the company Rival. Slow cookers are the generic product name for a handy kitchen appliance with a heating element and an insert that slowly cooks food. Hot stuff, non?

Slow cooker competitors to Rival’s Crock-Pot® brand are made by companies like Hamilton Beach, Sunbeam, Proctor Silex, West Bend, and Cuisinart — just to name a few. To keep things legal, these companies have to call their stuff “Slow Cookers”. But really, from a food preparation point of view, there is no difference between cooking with a “Crock-Pot®” and other brands.

Your biggest concern should be the features your slow cooker boasts, not the brand name it wears.

2. Size Matters

Slow cookers come in a range of sizes measuring in quarts. Picking the right fit for your family is important, especially if you want leftovers or want a crock big enough for meals like roast beef or pot roast.

slow cooker crock pot raw roast pot roast roast beef

Some simple slow cooker size guidelines:

  • Two Adults: If you have two adults dining, then the 3 to 4-quart size can work well. Many recipes are designed with this size in mind, and there are usually some leftovers for lunch the next day.
  • Larger Families: If you have a larger family or love lots of leftovers, then go with a 6-quart model.
  • Love Leftovers: Get a 6-quart unit if you’re all about making double-measure recipes, cooking one big meal each week, freezing or refrigerating smaller portions, or bringing something tasty to work for lunch.

Even though we are a family of two, I prefer a larger 6-quart slower cooker. The reason is roasts. There just isn’t enough room in a smaller crock for meatier meals calling for chicken, lots of beans, or roast beef. Besides, I’m busy during the week so coming home to leftovers is bliss.

3. Shape: Round or Square?

I was always a bit of a square growing up, but I must highly recommend passing on corners and getting a round slower cooker. Rounded edges are simply easier to clean than square edges with crevices. Also, be sure to get a slow cooker with a tilted or graduated rim. Crocks with narrow or flat rims can bubble and spill liquids over the top. Who needs that mess.

4. Get a Removable Crock Insert

This is important if you want to stay sane with your slow cooker — get a removable crock insert. A removable crock is far easier to clean since it can be separated from the electronic base and set to soak in your sink. The units sold as a single crock with heating base cannot be submerged in water. Besides, a removable crock can be moved to your refrigerator if there are leftovers, making your cleanup and storage easy. I used to own one of those single units in school, and never used it because it was a pain to clean.

5. Put a Glass Lid on It

You’ve got to put a lid on it, so if you want your slow cooker to last get one with a glass lid. Lids with plastic pieces or metal rims may not withstand the test of time since they can melt, warp, and even discolor. Glass lids can also boast a higher dome, giving you more space for cooking tall foods like whole chickens and roasts.

But the big bonus with a glass lid is that you can see your food cooking. Lids that are plastic or opaque require you to uncover your crock to see where your meal is at. When slow cooking, removing the lid is a big no-no since this lets the heat escape, thus increasing your cooking time. Big energy and time waste, non?

6. Fancy Features

Slow cookers and Crock Pots are pretty simple devices — they have an insert, a lid, a heating base, and a temperature dial. But today’s slow cookers boast features that would make your mother’s Crock Pot simmer. Here are some features to consider before plunking down your dinner dough:

  • Crock Material: Some crocks are made of stoneware while others are metal inserts with non-stick coatings. The choice is yours, but I’m a fan of the stoneware models since they hold heat well, look attractive served on the table, come in a variety of styles and colors, and refrigerate well.
  • Digital Digits or Dials: Some units come with just a dial while others are fully digitized. The units with dials tend to cost less.
  • Various Settings: Today’s slow cookers come with a variety of settings to choose from, like: keep warm settings, programmable delayed cooking timers, and multiple temperature settings. Most slow cookers with dials come standard with these settings: Off, Low, High, Warm. Slow cookers with timers are handy for those who work late or start the day early.

It’s easy to lose your head and flip over the fanciest of features. But really, a simple heating unit with a dial will get dinner done.

7. Prices

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. But with slow cookers paying a lot more moolah doesn’t necessarily get you a better meal. Generally, slow cookers and Crock Pots range in price from a mere $20 to a whopping $220 for the feature-rich and brand name units.

Here are four slow cookers that balance excellent features with frugal prices:

Slow Cooker Recipes

If you get a crock you’ll need some recipes. I’ve done a few frugal slow cooker meals on this blog! Here are some Vegetarian Recipes and a few for the Meat Lovers.

slow cooker Mediterranean stew chilli

These classic slow cooker cookbooks are awesome and frugal too:

There you have it. Lots of details on how to dial into a slow cooker or a Crock Pot. If you still need some convincing, then here are 6 Reasons to use a Crock Pot.

Your Turn: Do you love your slow cooker? What’s your favorite cooker feature or frugal recipe?

Your two cents:

  1. Dee November 3rd, 2009

    Hello Kerry
    Love the crock pot feature. Thanks for the recommendations as I am in the market for new crock pot due to overuse! I am a huge fan of your website and have passed it on to my frugal friends who were frugal before it was cool. Thanks for a great site and fab tips. I have a scan of my favorite recipe, not sure it will work, but i’ll try. Donna Pye has a great book, 300 crock pot recipes that is amazing, im working my way through the book.
    Take care
    Dee

  2. Kerry November 3rd, 2009

    Hi Dee! Thank you so much for sharing the site with your friends. I love your comment, “frugal before it was cool” — so well said. I’ll check out Donna Pye’s book, I think this is it: 300 Slow Cooker Favorites.

  3. Jillian November 3rd, 2009

    My boyfriend and I are talking about buying a crockpot as soon as we move in together. This is incredibly helpful, thank you so much! For people who are very frugal and don’t want to buy a book, here’s a great site I found that has lots of recipes. Thanks again, I’m adding this page to my bookmarks!

  4. Lois November 4th, 2009

    When buying a slow cooker always turn the warmer base over and make sure there is a hole – often a rivet encircles it. The hole is required to allow air in around the pot itself so a vacuum is not created when you set the pot into the base. If there is a vacuum the crock can become stuck, often permanently, in the base. It’s a very small thing to check for but it is very important.

  5. Matt Jabs November 4th, 2009

    My wife and I have two. One is 4 quarts for smaller meals, and we have a 7 quart for our roasts, etc.

    Even though it is just the two of us we usually use the 7 quart. We will make a roast, have it for dinner, then break all the left overs into a stew and eat over the next 3 or 4 days.

    We loves us some slow cooker! Thanks Kerry, cheers.

  6. Canadian CC November 4th, 2009

    We have a Crock Pot at home and we find it amazing!

    it’s great to prepare a lot of food (more free lunches for me at work!).

    We also appreciate it when we receive a lot of people. We can prepare our main meal, leave it in the crock pot and spend time with our friends while it is cooking. This is perfect!

  7. Caitlin November 4th, 2009

    I have a Hamilton Beach 6 quart slow cooker for just my husband and I. I’m with you on wanting a bigger one for roasts! When I was in school I had a tiny one. It was like 2 qt or something ridiculous. It hardly fit any food in it so it rarely got used. :P

    I bought our current one on sale from Canadian Tire, and paid for it entirely in Canadian Tire “money” that we always collect.
    I just love coming home to a delicious hot meal that I didn’t have to rush to prepare after work!

  8. dlm November 4th, 2009

    Do you know if the is a crockpot that doesn’t allow the cooking odors out? Smells get to me after a while even if it’s something I initially like.

  9. Kerry November 4th, 2009

    @dlm Do you have a deck or a porch? I too am sensitive to smells and often use my slow cooker outside on my deck. I just place it on top of a wooden board to protect both the slow cooker and my deck.

    @Caitlin Ha ha! There’s nothing like using up that Canadian Tire money. :D

    @Anita I LOVE your idea of putting the insert into the fridge to increase cook time while away at work. I’m going to try this. GREAT TIP!

    @Canadian CC Woo, would love to know what you slow cook for company!

    @Matt Jabs I’ve often thought of getting a second smaller slow cooker for sauces and smaller meals. The more slow cookers the merrier. :D

    @ Lois That’s a great tip! Thank you!

    @Julian So happy the post helped. Not many bloggers write over 1200 words about slow cookers. LOL :)

  10. Shana November 4th, 2009

    I personally LOVE my slow cooker. It’s the Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 slow cooker, and it’s GREAT! http://www.hamiltonbeach.com/3-in-one-slow-cookers-3-in-one-slow-cooker.html I use it all the time, and it’s so easy to cook with a slow-cooker, that my husband has been using it a lot lately when it’s his turn to cook!

  11. Shan November 4th, 2009

    Love this and would love more recipes. We love our slow cooker – for those who have access to a Loblaws Superstore (or a Loblaws that sells appliances) they have one that is about $40 and we love it, use it all the time and will keep food warm once finished cooking. Nothing like coming home after a long day and not having to cook.

  12. Catgurl November 5th, 2009

    I also love using the Slow Cookers. It’s great for cooking those roasts and soups. I also prefer the removable round ones. The square ones are always so much harder to clean in the corners.

    I also use the slow cooker as a soup warmer/tureen for my parties. It keeps the soup nice, hot and accesible at the dining table.

    Here’s a cool site for recipes that I use.
    http://www.freequickrecipes.com/recipes-crock-pot.php

  13. ekateo November 5th, 2009

    I’m in love with my slow cooker right now. I have a 3 quart onw, which is the perfect size for my family of 3 (2 adults and my 10 month old son). I think that a slow cooker should be a mandatory baby shower gift – forget the sleepers and the bibs. I love that I can get dinner together in the morning while my baby is napping or during the rare times he will play by himself. I don’t have to worry about dinner in the evening when I’m trying to feed, bathe, and get the babe ready for bed. Also slow cooked food is easy to puree for baby meals!
    Kerry – you’re crazy! The cooking smells are one of the best things about the slow cooker. Yum!

  14. Boulter November 6th, 2009

    One of my favourite things to cook in a slow cooker is baked beans. Actually, I usually cook beans in the winter on the wood stove, the beans often are on the stove for 24 hours.

  15. allie November 6th, 2009

    don’t forget to look at where and by who your crock pot is made – several have tested positive for lead paint as well as other heavy metals. i have a le creuset dutch oven which was expensive but i know my family isn’t eating lead for dinner.

  16. Rosa Rugosa November 6th, 2009

    Do these slow cookers make any noticeable difference in your electricity costs?
    Just curious.

  17. Quietrose November 8th, 2009

    Great post on crock pots Kerry. I have been reading your blog for a long time and really dig it. Keep up the great work!

    I have a 6-quart crock pot that I bought at Target for all of $15. It’s great and I use it often. The glass lid and removable insert features are key.

    My favorite recipe is for Turkey Tacos. It is a simple recipe. I usually double this up and eat it for 4-5 days.

    Turkey Tacos
    1 lb ground turkey
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
    1/2 cup chunky salsa
    1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

    Brown turkey and onion in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring to separate meat. Add turkey mixture and all the remaining ingredients to the crock-pot. Cover; cook on LOW for 4-5 hours.

    You can wrap the mixture after it is cooked in a tortilla shell, but I like it plain, with a dollop of sour cream, or with some rice. It’s delicious.

    In fact, I think I will make some tomorrow! Enjoy!

  18. Jill Mann November 9th, 2009

    Thanks for the information. I will like to come home and have my meals already finished.

  19. megan November 11th, 2009

    I found mine at the Salvation Army when I shopping after moving. I’ve had it for over 12yrs. They last forEVER like the used Osterizer blender I bought, AGAIN for less than $5 at the Salvation Army. Tell all of your children moving out or going to college to get their first stuff at donation used shops because they end up lasting into a marriage and family.

  20. Think Outside the Piggy Bank November 11th, 2009

    Found my (hardly ever used) slow cooker at a garage sale for a couple of bucks. Didn’t think I would use it that much as I’m vegan, but then ran across Robin Robertson’s Fresh From The Vegetarian Slow Cooker! Great book, plus she includes vegan substitutes when necessary.

  21. youngandthrifty November 30th, 2009

    I love crock pots!!

    They are so easy, and the food that becomes the finished product is so hearty!
    Do you know if there are crock pots out that turn to “keep warm” automatically? I just find sometimes that the hours to cook are awkward e.g. 6 hours on a high setting (I work 8-9 hour days)- I don’t want anything burning…

  22. crickett June 4th, 2010

    Agree with Rosa, electricity consumption is high if the pot is on 6-8 hours. I am a new reader Kerry, love the site.

  23. Ginger in the Kitchen July 17th, 2010

    I have one of the original rival Crock Pots from 1976. It still works like a champ! I use it at least once a week making anything from roasts, stews, soups, stuffings, vegetable or bean dishes, or for holding food warm at potlucks. Many of the cookbooks mentioned here are fantastic. I highly recommend them. I love your website!

  24. Michelle March 15th, 2011

    You have me at frugal. :)

    This site is a great resource, and a godsend for anyone looking for ways to further stretch their dollar. As a struggling student, I give you so many props for how disciplined you are.

  25. Ashley May 14th, 2011

    I loved the white chicken chili I recently tried from this website!! I wouldn’t mind having a programable slow cooker since most recipes are 3-5 hrs and I am at work for most of the day, but I have found my cooker do be very handy!!

  26. Mike July 11th, 2011

    I actually found a crockpot at the Burlington Coat Factory for only 10 bucks. Great buy, yummy food.

  27. Marlene April 7th, 2012

    I have a small slow cooker with a dial and a large one that is digital. One problem I had with the digital slow cooker is that it went off when the power was off for a brief period. I came home to a half-cooked roast and didn’t think it was safe to eat because it had been sitting there for hours. If it was in a cooker with a dial, it would have just continued cooking when the power came back on.

    I also have the Fix-It and Forget -It Cookbook: 1400 Best Slow Cooker Recipes. It is fantastic. It is a compilation of favorite everyday recipes submitted by readers. Recipes with ingredients that are easy to find and inexpensive.

  28. Barb Jones May 2nd, 2012

    Great to find Recipes that list REAL FOOD,and not packages of dried ingredients,or cans of ,’this and that’. The slowcooker that I purchased only had instructions for use .I had no idea how or what to do with it! but after buying three cook books, I decided io think up my own healthy recipes. Years ago you would count on ways to cook with the appliance,whether an electric frypan,or my favourite, Pressure Cooker, as there was always a recipe book with it.

  29. Cinderelladressmaker September 1st, 2012

    This slow cooker Queen can no longer live without one! I have 3 sizes, but mostly use the big one. I love to make soups and then portion them into freezer bags to freeze. My specialty is Pea/Lentil with Smoked Turkey Legs, heavenly!
    I do have a tip to save energy and time: Place a piece of foil over your slow cooker before you put the lid on. That way you are sure no steam or HEAT escapes. Works like a charm! And aren’t we all about saving? Cheers!

  30. Brenda September 16th, 2012

    It’s hard to pass a community garage sale that doesn’t have a bunch of nearly new slow cookers. Take your pick for next to no $$. People get them as gifts, never use them, then donate them. Same as above – Sally Ann, Value Village, etc.

    Ours is so old, it is Harvest Gold! I can’t believe we haven’t used it more over the years.

    Here is an awesomely simple recipe for dessert. Everyone loves it and it smells heavenly cooking away while they wait.

    Hot Fudge Spooncake 4 – 6 servings

    Sift together in medium bowl, removing any lumps -

    1 cup brown sugar
    1 cup flour
    3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/4 tsp salt

    Whisk in 1/2 cup milk, 2 tbsp melted butter and 1/2
    tsp vanilla. Spread evenly over bottom of 3.5 quart
    slow cooker.

    Mix together 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup unsw. cocoa.
    Sprinkle evenly over top of batter. Pour in 1- 3/4 cups
    hot water, but DO NOT stir.

    Cover and slo cook about 2 hours on high (300 F),
    until toothpick inserted 1″ in centre comes out clean.

    DO NOT cook for longer time on low temperature.

    Serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

  31. jan November 4th, 2012

    We have at least four crock pots – different sizes. I usually prepare ingredients night before, place in crock pot on HIIGH before breakfast and switch to LOW for the day while I’m gone. HIGH for an hour heat it up and 8 hours later I have a tasty meal. It also helps to spray inside of crock pot with cooking oil, makes it easier to clean.

  32. Margo, Thrift at Home March 21st, 2013

    I have 2 crockpots: 4 quart and 6 quart. It really does make a difference to the recipe that I’m making. I love how I can set them outside in the summer to keep the heat out of the kitchen. In the winter, I often use them to make stock and dried beans from scratch.

  33. Andreas August 5th, 2013

    I have two crockpots (three if you count the one piece that will never ever ever get used again.) The smaller one — not quite the baby size you see for ‘sauces’ — is used exclusively to make medicinal butter. The rubber ring around the glass top keeps smells well insulated. The larger slow cooker gets used a lot for stews and chili. It holds a lb of hamburger, can of tomatoes and a can of beans. Not sure of the size, definitely not a 6 quart which is my next purchase for whole chicken and larger roasts, and for making lemon curd which needs a glass bowl inserted in a crock pot.

    My favourite ‘new’ recipe is one from last night. I had started making yellow plum jam and forgot to read the directions all the way through. My error meant I could stand at a stove stirring frequently for 4 hours (not!) or I could search for a crock pot recipe. I found a fruit butter recipe that blows apple butter away. So here ’tis, as though you were making plum butter from the very get go.

    1.5 litres of plums (that the tall fruit clamshell that holds about 19 small plums)
    1/4 cup of water
    3.5 cups of sugar (you could go less but not by much)

    Wash the plums, removing any bruised spots and cut a ‘waistband’ around the plum through to the stone. Add a few more slices if you want. You could remove the pit but if it’s being stubborn, don’t worry. The pit will separate from the flesh and float to the top while cooking. The pit provides extra pectin so no worry.
    Add the water, the sugar and sugar. Stir.

    Start the slow cooker on high for an hour. Turn down to low. Stir occasionally. Several hours in, raise the lid with knives or chop sticks or whatever as spacers. This allows the steam to escape without splattering, boiling down the jam to butter.

    Leave for 12 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the floating pits if necessary. The skins that haven’t dissolved into the jam can be wizzed with an immersion blender at this point if you want. The liquid will thicken noticeably at this point. Test with the back of a spoon how thick the mixture is. When it’s the consistency you want, it’s done.

    This made 750 ml of butter with enough left over for a bagel. That works out to 3-half pint jars or 6-baby jars. Canadian Tire 250ml and 125ml Bernardin jars.

    If you’re going to consume in 3 months, you can refrigerate without hot processing. However if you prefer to store up to a year (some say 3 years with fruit butters), then hot process with boiling water following food safety protocols.

    Tomorrow I’m trying peach jam in the crock pot. And maybe kiwi the day after that :-)

    ======
    And before I forget, the reason I ended up here was trying to get a definitive answer on how to know what size a crock is, regardless of what the advertising says. Would it be safe to say pouring measured water into the crock up to an inch below the lip would give an accurate size? In other words, does the maximum liquid volume the crock should hold correlate to the ‘Qt’ size used by the manufacturers? Thanks to anyone who knows the answer.

  34. Andrea September 25th, 2013

    I love the MEC cooking pots and their medium size fits perfectly into my Hamilton beach round slow cooker. The thing I like the most about these pots is that they are Lead and cadmium FREE guaranteed and their made in the USA. I’ve cooked in many slow cookers before but the food from these pots taste exceptional!! Obviously because there’s no lead, cadmium and other metals leaching in… There all natural so over a period of time some of the bottom can get dark, I don’t mind it at all as it is a natural process. Best of all, the healthy benefits of cooking in pure clay versus any other cooking material is beyond comparison. Google MEC cooking pots and you should find them; i think every conscious cook should have some in their kitchens!

  35. josey December 10th, 2013

    Kerry,
    What about the heating design. I think this is fairly i note-worthy and worth mentioning as an all-in-one housing crock pot will heat from the sides (correct, or no??)enabling a more even cooking and less burn on the bottom as opposed to only bottom heat that cooks only from the bottom of a slow cooker which causes food to more likely burn and not cook evenly as the slow cookers that have their heat elements built into the sides…what are your thoughts and referrals on this…Ultimately, the ideal slow-cooker for me would be a 6qt programmable/removable side element heating or both side and bottom that is versatile…stove-top, to oven, to fridge…for this versatility, I would pay extra! Thanks for any input and for advancing my education on these fabulous kitchen aids … :)

  36. Jane December 20th, 2013

    We waited until we could find a slow cooker that offered an insert that could be used on the stove top to brown or sear meat before slow cooking. Crockpot offers one that is perfect. Searing or browning meat or chicken before slow cooking helps to develop the flavours. The browned bits that cling to the sides of the insert contribute to the colour of the sauce as well. The high sides of the insert prevent spattering over the stove – better than a frypan. The best part is that this reduces the cleanup since the one pot does it all.

  37. Lynne March 28th, 2014

    Hi I am very frustrated with Slow cookers. Are there any that last more than a couple of years? Except for my old one piece Rival, all mine work about 2 years and then they just boil everything or don’t heat enough. I just threw out a Crock pot and a Hamilton Beach. Help?

  38. Janet October 16th, 2014

    I am about to go buy a crock pot and found this information so helpful! I am wondering. …is anyone else concerned about leaving one on while no one is home?

    Can you put my mind at ease about this?

    Thanks!

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