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The attractive $129.99 Breville Slow Cooker with EasySear gives a good first impression, but it falls short on features. It's completely missing a timer and a warm mode -- two crucial slow cooker options. It also cooks hotter and faster than the other models we tested, so following recipe-prescribed cooking times is futile. Skip this Breville slow cooker and get the $199.80 Ninja Cooking System if you want something high-end. And if you're looking for a more traditional slow cooker, the $59.99
Good on paper, not in practice
The Breville Slow Cooker with EasySear has a stainless steel finish and black accents on the base and handles. Aesthetically, this is my favorite slow cooker. It looks sleek and professional; a rarity within this small appliance category. But there is one thing about its appearance I don't like -- the lid is made of metal rather than clear glass, so you can't peer through it to see your food while it's cooking.
It measures 18.25 inches long by 11.5 inches wide by 9.25 inches tall and has a rectangular (rather than oval) shape. The inner pot is made of non-stick coated cast aluminum and boasts a large 7-quart capacity. In addition to functioning as a slow cooker insert, you can use the inner pot on a stovetop for browning, searing, or sautéing or in an oven for roasting. A wire roasting rack is even included in the packaging.
I lined the inner pot with 15 sausage patties to test out its cooktop functionality. It was pretty tough to cook them evenly using a standard-sized burner. The large rectangular shape isn't well suited for a typical round burner. But, if you're working with small quantities and can stick to the center of the pot, you should be okay. It would work better with larger burners or a bridge that connects two burners, though. I really like the concept, but it didn't translate to the stovetop very well.
This slow cooker has a low heat setting, a high heat setting, and a dual heat setting (dual starts on high and switches automatically to low after two hours). That's the complete list of its input options. There's no warm mode to default to when your food is finished, but that doesn't matter because there's no timer to keep track of it anyway. The other four slow cookers we tested come with these options and three of them cost less than the $130 Breville. And for more advanced features, the $199.80 Ninja Cooking System offers so much more than Breville's slow cooker. Not only does the Ninja model work as a slow cooker, you can also use its oven mode for steam roasting and steam baking between 250 to 425 degrees.
While Breville didn't hit the mark on features, it did make a slow cooker that's very easy to use. The design really couldn't be simpler. There's just a single knob and a small red power light that illuminates when the unit is turned on. The durable non-stick aluminum pot is also a cinch to clean.
This slow cooker cooks surprisingly fast
In addition to Breville's slow cooker, we also tested the $59.99
Overall, Breville's slow cooker didn't perform very well. If a recipe called for four hours on high, the Breville typically got the job done in half the time. Usually, I would say that's a good thing, but it really doesn't bode well for the whole "set and forget" concept that defines slow cookers. Forget about leaving Breville's model on for eight to 10 hours while you're at working or running errands -- you will most likely come home to an overcooked mess.
Before venturing into food tests, we wanted to find a starting point for comparison. So, we put water in each slow cooker for eight hours on low and then four hours on high. On low, Breville's slow cooker reached boiling faster than the others and maintained that temperature for longer. The Frigidaire, Crock-Pot, Hamilton Beach, and Ninja slow cookers followed in succession. All except the Ninja reached boiling -- instead, it leveled off at 207 degrees.
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