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May/June 2017

Mini Slow Cookers

They may look like novelty items, but these itty-bitty slow cookers are more versatile than you might think.

How We Tested

You’re probably wondering, “Do I really need a baby slow cooker?” We were skeptical, too, but proponents of these wee crocks laud their versatility: They can do everything from keep dips warm at parties to slow-cook scaled-down meals for two from start to finish, not to mention hide out in tiny dorm rooms or campers. They’re also inexpensive. We gathered four models priced from $13.79 to $24.02, all with 1 1/2-quart capacities, and used them to make our recipes for Slow-Cooker Cheese Fondue and Slow-Cooker Chicken and Vegetable Soup for Two and to keep our Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip (cooked first in the oven) warm.

All the models were pretty rudimentary, with no digital temperature settings or timers like our winning full-size slow cooker from KitchenAid has. Each consists of a removable ceramic crock outfitted with a glass lid and set in a metal-lined shell that houses the heating elements. We quickly noted that the crocks and lids of all the models were very similar in size, shape, material, and thickness. In fact, we had to label them to keep from getting them mixed up. It’s no surprise, then, that they were all equally durable, roomy (all comfortably held an entire bone-in chicken breast), and easy to clean.

Aside from color, the shells looked pretty similar, too—except for one key difference: their temperature controls. While two models had dials for three temperature settings (warm, low, and high), one product had options for only low and high. Another didn’t have a temperature dial at all; it was either on or off, with no variable settings.

Given this, we expected to see big differences in performance when we loaded the crocks with food. But surprisingly, all the slow cookers kept the spinach dip and fondue nicely melted and scorch-free, and all finished cooking the chicken soup within the recipe time range (cooked on low if the cooker had settings) and without overcooking the meat or vegetables.

When we tracked the temperature of cheese fondue and spinach dip over the course of 3 hours on the lowest temperature setting possible, we saw that the temperature of the fondue in particular fluctuated anywhere from 15 degrees to 50 degrees, depending on the model. (The thicker spinach dip was better able to retain heat and thus maintained a more stable temperature.) Because the cookers cycle on and off to stay in their desired temperature ranges, some temperature fluctuation in the food is inevitable. Luckily, we know from recipe testing that most slow-cooker recipes can tolerate a 50-degree temperature range without the results being compromised, and the fondue was no different.

So far so good, but we wondered what would happen if we tried the cookers with a less forgiving recipe. To find out, we made batches of our Queso Fundido, a cheesy dip that starts to separate if it gets too hot. We loaded the dip into the slow cookers at 145 degrees and set each one on the lowest possible heat setting. Sure enough, the two models without a “warm” setting overheated the dip. We recorded their temperature at about 175 degrees after a half-hour and noted that the dip looked unappetizingly greasy and broken. However, the two models with a “warm” setting were chugging along at 145 degrees after an hour, still looking and tasting great.

While all of the mini slow cookers we tested will work for most foods, we preferred the models with three temperature settings (warm, low, and high), which allowed them to handle more temperature-sensitive recipes such as queso dip. Our favorite was the Elite Cuisine 1.5 Quart Mini Slow Cooker ($24.02), which also had a bright indicator light that let us know when the crock was on and hot. Though it is not a replacement for a full-size slow cooker, this mini crock is a good option for keeping appetizers warm at the table and for cooking many scaled-down recipes.

Methodology

We tested four 1.5-quart slow cookers priced from $13.79 to $24.02. We cooked our recipes for Cheese Fondue and for Chicken and Vegetable Soup for Two in each slow cooker on the low setting. We also prepared our Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip and our Queso Fundido according to recipe directions and then transferred them to the slow cookers to keep warm. We tracked the temperature of the fondue and dip over 3 hours on each model’s lowest setting. We rated each slow cooker on the quality of the food it produced, ease of use, and cleaning. Prices shown were paid online, and products appear in order of preference.

Food: A team of editors sampled food from each of the slow cookers. Products lost points if their food was scorched, broken, or underheated. Full points went to slow cookers that warmed and cooked food evenly, fully, and within recipe times.

Ease of Use: Testers rated each product on how easy it was to load, adjust the temperature, move, and empty. Our favorite products had bright indicator lights and multiple temperature settings. We docked points from models that lacked temperature controls or gave testers no warning when they were too hot to touch.

Cleaning: We evaluated how easy each crock was to clean (all models had dishwasher-safe crocks but lids that had to be washed by hand). Full points went to products that still looked new after multiple cleanings.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.