My parents have one that's as old as I can remember (I'm 32) and my mom still uses it regularly.
Originally Posted by NicoleP
We have 4 different sized ones, from really small to pretty big. I can't remember all the brands, but I know that the medium sized one is a Rival and the big one is a Hamilton Beach. The Rival we've had since we got married 10 years ago and still works great. The Hamilton Beach we won in some contest a few years back. It's a nice digital one with a probe and it works great also. I just used it today to slow cook a whole chicken that turned out excellent.
I disagree that older* is better. Here's why.
Temp Control - my older crockpot had four settings: High, Low, Warm, and Off. If I put something on Low all day, I came back to a steaming pile of crap in a slowcooker. The "set it and forget it" mantra only works if you like your food to taste like meaty mush.
Timers - I tried tinkering with cooking times by using timers (the kind that you plug into the outlet and then plug the appliance into), but if I went even an hour over (i.e., start the timer at 2 PM, expecting to be home at 6 PM, but instead got home at 7 PM)...I came home to a steaming pile of crap in my slowcooker. Nor could I just tell it to shut off at 6 PM, because then I'd come home to room temp food poisoning.
Thermometers - Some of the newer models have this cool new feature that allows you to stick a probe in your meat and the crockpot switches to "Warm" when it hits temp. I haven't tried this, but I bet it's pretty cool if that's your sort of cooking.
Safety - An awesome point I saw made on a blog -- say you are your family's primary cook. Say you started a pot roast at 8 AM, went to work, and had a heart attack. Okay, so the heart attack probably won't happen if you're primal, so let's say you get run over by a clown car. You go to the hospital, your S.O. shows up to be by your side, and meanwhile your old reliable slow cooker is chugging away. Unobserved. Probably burning your house down. The nice thing about a newer slow cooker is that they flip to Warm when the time's up, and after 10-14 hours they SHUT OFF. So if you get Rapture'd up to be with Baby Jesus or Buddha or Thor, you're fine. No worries about the house burning down.
I have a Hamilton-Beach 6 quart slow cooker. I can program it to cook for X hours at High or Low, and after X hours it flips to Warm. My crockpot cooking has improved 150% since I bought this thing and ditched my old, timer-less, crappy slow cooker. And this is not the best touchscreen slow cooker on the market; it's just one I saw at Target and decided to buy.
So in conclusion: buy one at a yard sale, by all means. But check the features list. Being able to control how long it cooks, at what temp, and when it flips over to a "warm" temp is really vital.
Finally, the Slow Cooker that Cook's Illustrated recommended is the Crock-Pot Touchscreen. Amazon has it for $79.99 USD. My Hamilton-Beach has so far been great, but if in the future I should decide I need another, that's the one I'm going for.
* "Older" in this case means "any slow cooker that predates built-in timers".
Last edited by onalark; 11-04-2011 at 12:42 PM.