Crock-Pot Cook & Carry Digital Slow Cooker review: Crock-Pot's affordable slow cooker keeps it simple

CNET

Next, we made macaroni and cheese, using this recipe from Allrecipes.com. The recipe involved adding uncooked pasta to the crock, along with the liquid ingredients, and letting it cook on low for 5 to 6 hours. If the pasta came out al dente, we would call this test a success. Failure meant overcooked or undercooked pasta, or burning along the bottom or the sides. The Cook & Carry yielded some fairly unremarkable macaroni and cheese. It was cooked all the way, but it showed some uneven browning around the perimeter. It passed, but the results weren't exactly appetizing.

Given the slow cooker's origin as an electric bean pot, we wanted to pay homage to an early recipe as well as test a food that required a lot of liquid. For these tests, we combined 2 pounds of dried white beans, 10 cups of cold water, three cloves of garlic (minced), a sprig of rosemary, and 2 teaspoons of salt in each of the slow cookers.

For our first bean test, we set the slow cookers to run on low for 6 hours. The Crock-Pot produced beans that were a little underdone, but not so much that another half hour or so of cooking wouldn't make them just right. I can forgive a little undercooking since it's easy enough to correct. The other crock-based slow cookers had similar results, but the all-metal Ninja and Breville units overcooked the beans just a bit.

In our second test, we used the same recipe and adjusted the cook settings to high and let the beans go for 3 hours. The results were much the same, with the Cook & Carry and the other crock slow cookers producing beans that were edible, and the Ninja and Breville going slightly over. These results echoed those of our chicken test, where the all-metal slow cookers seemed to cook more aggressively than the traditional crock designs.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

If the beans represent a back-to-basics test, pot roast gave us a chance to test a classic staple of slow cooking. After 6 hours on low, an ideal pot roast should be cooked to a food-safe temperature, but not overcooked and dry; tender, but not without textural integrity. The vegetables should be soft, but not mushy.

Measuring temperature is easy enough, but we found judging the quality of a pot roast extremely subjective. Some of us liked the roasts that experienced a total breakdown of the connective tissue and sort of melted, much like those the Breville or Ninja produced. Other editors appreciated a tender yet toothier version, like the roast produced by this Crock-Pot and a unit from Frigidaire. None of the slow cookers failed this test, although again, the results followed a similar pattern as our other tests, with both the Ninja and the Breville units running hotter.

That brings us to an interesting, yet crucial, element to consider when using a slow cooker. The FDA states that food at a warm temperature setting like a slow cooker's warm function must maintain an internal temperature above 135 degrees Fahrenheit. We ran extra bean tests and measured the temperature immediately after the timers went off and then again after sitting for two hours on "warm." In the Crock-Pot, the beans finished cooking with an average temperature of 190 degrees. After warming 2 hours, their temperature averaged 170 degrees. None of the four slow cookers with a warm setting failed this test; they all maintained an average temperature between 170 and 181 degrees. The one unit without a warm setting, the Breville, held temperature at a food-safe 147 degrees. That's closer to the line that we'd really like, but still technically in range. I'd still keep an eye on it.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

We also measured each slow cooker's ability to hold temperature after sitting unplugged for 2 hours (what if you cook chili and then drive to a friend's house but get stuck in traffic on the way?). If, in fact, your slow cooker is designed to be portable, it should be insulated well enough to travel safely. After 2 hours of being unplugged on the counter, the Crock-Pot's contents measured 148.5 degrees. It lost a lot of heat, and while it's still technically food-safe, it's close enough to the line that you'll want to use a separate thermometer to verify. It could be worse. The Ninja failed this holding test, dipping down to an out-of-range 131 degrees.

Maintenance and support
The Crock-Pot Cook & Carry comes with a one-year limited warranty, which is fairly standard for slow cookers. Slow cookers tend to be pretty low-maintenance, but you can prolong the life of your Crock-Pot by making sure that there is always liquid in the crock during cooking and that you clean it well after each use.

The stoneware and lid are both dishwasher-safe. You can also clean the electric base (once you've unplugged it) with with soap and water and then wipe it dry.

Conclusion
The Crock-Pot Cook & Carry is a solid choice for a lower-cost slow cooker, appropriate given that its brand is more or less the Kleenex of its category. The Ninja and Breville models have appeal as more versatile cooking tools with their ability to sear in the pot, and even bake in the case of the Ninja, but they both arguably defeat the core, low-maintenance purpose of a slow cooker by cooking so aggressively.

To some extent you must split hairs when you try to choose between sub-$100 models. The Crock-Pot and the Hamilton Beach units had similar performance, so what it comes down to is whether you prioritize the Crock-Pot's tidier storage and portability, or the Hamilton Beach's built-in temperature probe and a few extra cooking modes. Most people looking for a simple slow cooker would be happy with either unit.

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    Crock-Pot Cook & Carry Digital Slow Cooker with Heat-Saver Stoneware

    Part Number: SCCPCTS605-S
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