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Small Appliances

Four questions to ask yourself before you buy a multicooker

Multicookers can help you make better meals. But which one is right for your countertop?

Depending on which product you buy, multicookers can fall somewhere between godsend and waste of space in your kitchen. These countertop appliances tackle multiple cooking tasks thanks to settings like roast, bake, stir-fry, slow cook, steam, boil and more. And multicookers fit in a variety of households -- single folks or couples can one instead of firing up an entire oven, and families can use a multicooker for an additional dish if the oven's full and burners are blazing.

Before you rush out to get one of these multitasking helpers, there are a few questions you should ask yourself to decide which multicooker is right for you.

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What foods do I like to cook?

The Black Decker 6-in-1 Stirring Cooker comes with a strainer to make pasta in the cooking pot.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Multicookers can do a lot, but each has its own set of skills, so decide which of those are most important to you and the food you like to cook. Some examples: The Black+Decker 6.5-Quart Multicooker can roast, slow cook and bake, which will work well with your routine if you cook a lot of meat, stews and chilis. If you turn to pasta and rice for a lot of your meals, the Black+Decker 6-in-1 Stirring Cooker has setting just for those dishes, and a special risotto setting, too. And the Gourmia GCR1700 10-in-1 Multi-Function Robotic Cooker has a mode just for stir-frys if you're looking for an easier way to get more vegetables into you life.

How much space do I have to spare?

The Gourmia GCR1700 10-in-1 Multi-Function Robotic Cooker looks cool, but it's a pain to find enough space to store it.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Countertop appliances come in different sizes and shapes, so you have to find one that fits well on your countertop and in your cabinets if you want to put it away. Look for a multicooker with a removable cooking pot and lid for easier cleanup and storage. The aforementioned Black+Decker cookers both have slender designs and separate parts that you can finagle to fit into your cabinets relatively easily. The Gourmia GCR1700 10-in-1 Multi-Function Robotic Cooker, however, is one honking piece of hardware that looks like an astronaut helmet. Nothing on the Gourmia disassembles (other than the removable cooking pot) or collapses, so you'd have to find a lot of space to use and store this multicooker.

When it comes to cooking, how much help do I need?

This arm attaches to the bottom of the Black Decker 6-in-1 Stirring Cooker and rotates when you cook in risotto mode.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

It's nice to just throw food in a multicooker and get a meal in a few hours, but what if you want to try your hand at a more complicated dish? Some multicookers now come with removable, rotating arms for dishes that require more attention. The Black+Decker 6-in-1 Stirring Cooker has a risotto setting in which the arm stirs the rice as you add liquid to the pot for the grain to absorb. It's a lot less tedious to make risotto with a machine that automatically stirs than doing it by hand, but you have to consider just how much you like risotto to buy a machine with a cooking mode just for the rice dish. The Gourmia cooker has a similar stirring arm that you can use for stir-frys, stews and soups, which gives it an edge over the Black+Decker.

What's my budget?

Which multicooker is right for you?

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Like all cooking gadgets, you can spend as little or as much as you want on a multicooker. The key is to find one that is worth whatever amount of money you decide to spend. The $70 Black+Decker 6-in-1 Stirring Cooker, for example, is the cheapest multicooker I've tested recently, but you miss a lot in exchange for saving money, such as a built-in time or temperature controls. Both the Gourmia (which originally had a retail price of $300) and the Black+Decker 6.5-Quart Multicooker are available for about $130 and give you some temperature control, but only the Gourmia has a built-in timer.

If you can't tell from the faint praise, the most recent multicookers I've tested haven't been great. Check out our previous reviews of slow cookers, pressure cookers and other multicookers before you buy.