Looking for a slow cooker with multi-functions that won’t keep you in the kitchen cleaning gunky dishes all night? I think we’ve found a solution.
The 4-quart slow cooker may not allow you the instant gratification of an oven or microwave, but there is something about the way it turns out a pot roast that we find hard to resist. But the Paradox of Choice — the idea that too many choices can sometimes be a bad thing — is all too real in the 21st century and the “crockpot market” is not immune to it.
To help with your search, we’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen and found four great values to consider.
One of the most annoying things for me when it comes to prepping food in a slow cooker is getting peace of mind that the meat is completely finished before stuffing my face. No one wants to spend their weekend doubled over in the bathroom — at least yours truly doesn’t — and so the only way to achieve certainty without having to wait until you’re emaciated is to get a headstart on browning the meat.
This creates an extra mess because you have to move the browned meat over to the crockpot, dump it in, and wait for the slow cooker to do its thing. Not the case with the 3-in-1 function promised here from Cuisinart. The MSC-400 allows a busy chef to slow cook his or her favorites, brown meats, and saute vegetables in an easy-to-use and easy-to-program setup complete with an LCD display that makes programming a breeze.
You can effectively give your stovetops the night off while seamlessly switching from one function to the next. It simplifies whatever you’re trying to do with that Pinterest recipe, and it can all be done while you’re at work, so you don’t have to fight back the temptation of watching it all go down through the glass lid.
But isn’t it a little big?
Yes, that is one of the most frequently repeated observations from those weighing a purchase, but you do get a little payoff from it. For starters, it’s billed as a 4-quart, but in reality, you can fit up to six if you push the buffer space. Comfortably, you can fit about five quarts of whatever’s on the menu.
The extra space also comes with extra functionality, so as already covered, you can keep the pots and pans in your cabinets and cut back on messy cleanups. (And really, who has time for multiple dishes on a weeknight?)
Speaking of after-dinner…
We’ve all tried to clean an unruly crockpot before. It usually involves soaking that bad boy in soap and water and letting it clutter up one side of the kitchen sink for 24 hours. The 3-in-1 MSC-400 has a lot less “stick” to its surface, so you could likely have the leftovers in the fridge and a spotless slow cooker dry and back in its place in less than two minutes.
First Runner-Up: Hamilton Beach ‘Stay or Go’
The legendary kitchen appliance manufacturer has a reputation that proceeds it, and its “Stay or Go” model is a nice, functional, stripped-down slow cooker for small kitchens and crockpot superstars looking for simpler solutions.
It’s not a piece of equipment that will tax your budget as heavily as the Cuisinart model, but there is also less room and fewer freedoms when it comes to programming and multi cooking.
The “Keep Warm” function is nice if you plan on going back for seconds and thirds, or if you’ve just finished with the cooking part and haven’t worked up an appetite.
For those of you who want a slow cooker to have one basic function and to do it extremely well, you couldn’t do much better than this.
Second Runner-Up: Proctor-Silex 33043
Proctor-Silex has their budget models down to a science, and this sleek black appliance belongs in any kitchen as a reliable backup, or as a solo if you’re not needing all the bells and whistles of our best value pick.
Made from dishwasher-safe stoneware, cleanup is easy and extends to the glass lid, so you can spend less time putting your kitchen back together and more time nursing that full stomach.
The drawbacks are few.
Though some have claimed the design is a bit too ordinary to keep it out on the countertop and there is no auto-shutoff feature, so you forgetful types run the risk of leaving it on overnight — not bad if you’re wanting to slow-cook a pot roast for breakfast, but otherwise, why use all that electricity?
Third Runner-Up: Crock-Pot SCV401-TR
Crock-Pot has implemented a beautiful aesthetic in their manual 4-quart.
Many of the features (and limitations) are the same as what you’ll see from the Proctor-Silex and Hamilton Beach models with Low/High/Warm settings, so it’s a great selection for the budget-minded and those of you who don’t mind losing the pre-programming function.
The one thing you may want to watch out for on this one is the cooking temperature.
Keep a close watch on it the first few times you use to get a feel because the hot can run a little hotter than usual, and you may risk overcooking.
Otherwise, it gets the job done, it’s durable, and it’s easy on the eyes.
And The Winner Is – Cuisinart MSC-400
While there are many options for the slow-cooker enthusiast, we do suggest you try not to overindulge and fall victim to the Paradox of Choice. Focus on the features that matter to you, and consider keeping more than one of the above on hand as a backup or as a matter of convenience. If you’re just going with one, we can’t recommend the Cuisinart MSC-400 highly enough.
Not only does it deliver multiple cooking options, but it also gives you the freedom to control the cooking process through programming functions; looks great on a countertop; and allows for easy cleanup so dinner prep and its aftermath don’t have to be such a burden to the weary weeknight warrior. Now it’s your turn. What do you look for more in a slow cooker — affordability or functionality?