On high, all except the Frigidaire slow cooker reached boiling. The Ninja reached boiling first and the Frigidaire leveled off at 191 degrees. This pattern remained consistent throughout testing. The Breville and Ninja slow cookers tended to reach higher temperatures faster and maintain them for longer. The Crock-Pot and Hamilton Beach models stayed somewhere in the middle, and the Frigidaire was very inconsistent. On low it reached boiling faster than many of the others; on high, it never got close.
I cooked a 5-pound chicken on high for four hours in the Breville slow cooker. After four hours, the Breville chicken had fallen apart and was registering temperatures as high as 209 degrees. It was extremely dry. The Ninja chicken followed close behind. The Crock-Pot and Hamilton Beach chickens were pretty dry and the Frigidaire chicken was the least dry.
Next, we tried a 3-hour chicken test. The Breville and Ninja chickens were still dry, but less so. The Crock-Pot and Hamilton Beach chickens were only a little dry, and the Frigidaire chicken was just barely cooked.
Macaroni and cheese
To see how well these slow cookers would handle noodles and the pursuit of a crispy crust we opted for macaroni and cheese -- I've never met a version I didn't like. So we found a slow cooker recipe that looked good and set the slow cookers to cook on low for six hours. Absolutely none of them turned out well. We decided that it was likely due to the egg in the recipe more than the slow cookers, though. Instead of the standard mac and cheese we all know and love, it turned out more like an egg pudding (that just happened to have noodles and cheese in it). Not very tasty.
But the photos still told us a lot. The Breville especially, and the Ninja mac and cheese were both brown and overdone. The Crock-Pot and Hamilton Beach landed somewhere in the middle, and the Frigidaire had a dark brown ring around the outside, showing that it is a little overzealous on low (similar to what the water tests indicated).
We completed three separate performance tests with Cannellini beans: low for six hours; high for three hours with two additional hours on warm mode; and high for three hours, plus two extra hours unplugged to see if they would retain heat well without relying on warm mode. The Breville and Ninja beans came in on the mushy side after six hours on low. The Crock-Pot, Frigidaire, and Hamilton Beach beans were just right.
After three hours on high, the Breville and Ninja beans were a bit less mushy, the Crock-Pot and Hamilton Beach beans were firmer, but still good, and the Frigidaire beans were undercooked. And after two hours on warm mode (except the Breville, which doesn't have a warm mode and was turned off), they registered the following temperatures: Breville clocked in at 147 degrees, Crock-Pot at 170 degrees, Frigidaire at 171.5 degrees, Hamilton Beach at 181 degrees, and Ninja at 179.5 degrees.
For their ability to retain heat off power, the Breville registered 140.5 degrees, the Crock-Pot 148.5 degrees, the Frigidaire 144 degrees, the Hamilton Beach registered 156 degrees, and the Ninja was just 131 degrees. The variability in the Breville could be due to different ambient conditions in our small appliance test lab, but regardless, the FDA mandates that food held warm after cooking should stay above 135 degrees. No, the Ninja didn't do very well, but all but the Hamilton Beach were too close to the line for our liking. Takeaway: If you have access to a warm mode, or at least a thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature, you should use it.
We cooked the pot roast cooked on low for six hours. Once again, the Breville came in on the overdone side and the Ninja followed close behind. The Crock-Pot and Hamilton Beach pot roasts were somewhere in the middle, and the Frigidaire pot roast was the least done -- although still safe to eat.
A slow cooker should make cooking dinner less of a chore. You should be able to find a recipe you like, follow the cooking recommendations, and end up with something tasty. The $129.99 Breville Slow Cooker with EasySear just isn't that predictable.
You will have to alter nearly every cooking time to get the result you want and that totally defeats the purpose of a slow cooker. A hands-on slow cooker? No thank you. If you want a similar, high-end slow cooker that performed better, think about the $199.80 Ninja Cooking System. And if you want something simple and straightforward consider the $59.99