Though there are some superheroes who manage to whip up delicious meals from scratch after a long day at work, we can’t all be like that. For the rest of us, there are slow cookers. Throw in some protein, grains, veggies, and sauce before heading out the door, and when you come home, you’ve got a tasty, piping hot meal waiting for you. (OK, so it’s not quite that easy. You should follow a recipe, but you get the point.)
Still, not all slow cookers are created equal. Since you’ll be leaving the appliance unattended for hours, you want to pick one you can trust. Here are our four favorite models:
If You’re on a Budget
If you’re looking for a no-frills, top-notch slow cooker, this is the model to buy. It looks nearly identical to the one our mom had 20 years ago—it’s what marketers would spin as “a timeless design.” But, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Plus, its four-quart size makes it ideal for small kitchens where counters and cabinets are a precious commodity.
($ 19.99, crock-pot.com)
If You Like to Party
Need to cook something for a crowd? Let us introduce you to your new best friend, the Stay-or-Go slow cooker. Making big meals—without slaving away in the kitchen—has never been easier. And if you’re leaving the house for your party, you don’t have to worry about spilling your dish in transport. The locking mechanism on top keeps everything sealed (and warm) until you’re ready to serve.
($ 22.49, target.com)
If You Cook Tons of Meat
Now we’re getting to the models with cool bells and whistles. This step up from run-of-the-mill slow cookers comes with a built-in meat thermometer. Next time you’re cooking a full chicken or a roast, poke the meat with the thermometer and set your desired temperature. Once the meat reaches the right temp, the cooker automatically turns from “cook” to “warm”—meaning the meat comes out perfectly juicy every time!
($ 49.49, target.com)
If You Love Gadgets
This model is pricey, but it comes with a really cool feature: If you download the WeMo app and plug in your Crock-Pot before you leave home, you can turn this model on and adjust the temperature from anywhere. But, you ask, isn’t a slow cooker’s selling point that you can turn it on before you leave for work, not worry about it all day, and come home to a perfectly cooked meal? Well, yeah. But there are plenty of slow cooker recipes that require more precise timing, so being able to control the Crock-Pot from a distance can be really helpful.
($ 129.99, crock-pot.com)