The $59.99 Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker is a very straightforward slow cooker. It isn't full of innovative tech, and it doesn't appeal to modern design sensibilities, but this is one of those rare times when I don't think that's a terribly bad thing. It offers the basics and a handful of special features, like a thermometer probe for cooking to temperature and lid clips for safe and easy transport. I strongly recommend this slow cooker to anyone looking for a uncomplicated, traditional approach to cooking slowly.
A classic slow cooker with a few special features
The Hamilton Beach slow cooker has a stainless steel finish with black plastic accents on the base, display, and handles (so it won't burn you if you move it while it's warm). And the top handle doubles as a spot to attach the included serving spoon. This slow cooker measures 16 inches tall by 10 2/5 inches long by 16 inches wide and comes with an outer aluminum casing and an inner stoneware pot. The pot has a six-quart capacity and the lid is clear glass with a thin metal trim, so you can check on/salivate over your meal with ease.
The handles stick out fairly far from the sides of the Hamilton Beach unit, making it a full two inches wider than the competing $59
One feature common to both the Hamilton Beach and Crock-Pot units is that they come with clips that you can use to secure the lid for safe transport. That means that you can stick this slow cooker in your car and take it to a get-together without worrying about chili spilling all over your seats. But Hamilton Beach also added a thermometer probe to its list of features. Select probe mode, plug the probe into the provided jack and stick it through the lid vent, and the unit will automatically switch to warm mode when your food reaches the desired temperature.
It also offers a power on/off button, and Program, Manual, and Probe cooking modes. There's also an enter button and up and down arrow buttons that let you select cooking time, heat setting, and a target temperature for the probe.
When you first turn on this slow cooker, the display will flash "SEL." You need to select one of the three modes to continue. If you pick program, you will need to use the up and down arrows to select a desired cooking time. Then press enter. Next, it will ask you to select a heat setting -- either High or Low -- then press enter, at which point it will start cooking. The display will alternate between the remaining cooking time and the heat setting, and it will automatically switch to Warm mode when the timer finishes counting down.
Manual mode leaves out the timer and the Warm mode. You simply select High or Low, and the heat comes on. This gives you the opportunity to be more involved in the cooking process. And in Probe mode, you need to select the heat setting and desired temperature to get started. While it's cooking, the slow cooker display will switch between the desired and the actual temperature. When the probe reaches the right temperature, it will beep and automatically switch to Warm mode. If not manually turned off, the slow cooker will power down after 14 hours.
All of that is a bit more involved than the simpler, set-and-forget Crock-Pot. It's certainly not overly complex, but you might need to read through the manual once or twice to get it all down. I do wish the display was a bit more thoughtfully designed -- it borders on clumsy. There's a power button on the left side of the screen and arrows on the right side, mode options below, and an Enter button below the mode options. In some cases, you will have to make at least six different button selections just to start the cooking process. Not ideal.
A closer look at slow cooking
I have few complaints about this slow cooker's performance. It consistently produced good food within the expected time frame. That, combined with its practical features and $59 price tag make this a highly recommendable slow cooker. This and the Crock-Pot cooker are both perfect options for when you want to sit back and let your slow cooker handle dinner.
We also tested the $129.99
We used this test to set a performance baseline -- which slow cooker would reach the highest temperature the fastest, etc., and how (if at all) would that correlate to the food tests? We tested the slow cookers for eight hours on Low and then for four hours on High. On Low, the Breville slow cooker began to boil the fastest and maintained that temperature for the remainder of the test. The Frigidaire followed, then the Crock-Pot, and then the Hamilton Beach. The Ninja got hot very quickly, but it never reached boiling. Instead, it leveled off at 207 degrees Fahrenheit.
On High, every model except the Frigidaire reached boiling, with the Ninja in the lead. The Frigidaire slow cooker never exceeded 191 degrees. This is where we began to notice a pattern that would remain consistent throughout testing. The Ninja and Breville slow cookers had a tendency to reach a higher temperature faster than the others. The Frigidaire generally undercooked food when on High, yet overcooked when set on Low. The Hamilton Beach and Crock-Pot models are very similar and generally maintained a middle ground between the extremes of the Breville, Ninja, and Frigidaire slow cookers.