Don't feel the heat: The best cheap slow cookers

Aug. 1, 2012 at 11:59 AM ET

The Hamilton Beach 33155 comes with a strap to keep the lid in place on the way to a party.

When you think of summertime cooking tools, chances are a grill or a camp stove springs to mind before a slow cooker. Crock-Pots and the like are best known for wintery meals such as chili and stick-with-you stews. But what about lime cilantro chicken? Or pulled pork sandwiches? A WebMD nutrition expert shares summer slow cooker recipes and points to the convenience of using this small appliance for a party or barbecue. You can also save yourself from having to fire up the oven on a 100-degree day.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable slow cookers.

  • The Hamilton Beach 33155 (starting at $20) is one of the cheapest slow cookers big enough to feed a family. A strap and rubber gasket secure the lid so you can bring a dish to a summer potluck. Several of the many rave reviews posted online declare this 5-quart model fit for a wedding gift. (Where to buy)
  • The Proctor Silex 33015 (starting at $15) is a diminutive 1.5-quart slow cooker intended for one or two people. Reviewers appreciate that it doesn’t skimp on features relative to other budget models, despite its small size. It also doesn’t take up much room on a countertop or in a cabinet. (Where to buy)
  • The Crock-Pot SCCPVP700-S (starting at $38) is a 7-quart slow cooker that bears the original brand name in this category. Many consumers say they were drawn to this slow cooker because it’s one of the only programmable models available for less than $40. (Where to buy)
  • The Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33163 (starting at $25) holds 6 quarts and claims many fans. It’s specifically designed for transporting to picnics and parties, with a lid that clips down and seals with a rubber gasket and a spoon that attaches to the top. It even comes with labels that slide into a window on the side to let guests know what they’ll find in the pot. (Where to buy)

All these slow cookers have three heat settings: high, low, and “keep warm.” Users set the heat level on most budget models by turning a knob on the front. The programmable Crock-Pot SCCPVP700-S has buttons for setting not just the heat but also the time: four or six hours on high, eight or 10 hours on low. When the time is up, the Crock-Pot automatically reverts to warming mode. (Higher-end models offer far more flexibility when it comes to cooking time.)

The budget slow cookers on the list above feature removable, dishwasher-safe crocks for easy cleanup. The lids, too, are dishwasher-safe -- and they’re clear so you can see the food inside without taking off the top and letting heat escape.

Size is a deciding factor, of course. A 7-quart, oval-shaped slow cooker can hold a roast and serve a crowd, but it may prove too heavy to transport easily or take up too much space in a small apartment. Unless you regularly make enough food to fill a large pot at least halfway, it's best to opt for a smaller size.

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