Rival, Hamilton Beach, West Bend, Cuisinart, All-Clad, Breville and KitchenAid are some of the companies producing slow cookers. Their models can be divided into two major types: basic cookers that can heat food but lack timers and programmable models that can be set for time and temperature.
The key components of a slow cooker are a base with an electric coil to supply heat, a removable ceramic insert and a lid to keep heat in. Most slow cookers have a low setting intended for soups or stews and at least one higher setting suitable for cooking meat. Programmable models usually have a keep-warm setting that kicks in when the timer runs out. Some programmable models are equipped with temperature probes, allowing the unit to be programmed to switch to keep-warm mode when the food reaches a preset internal temperature.
Inserts also offer a number of choices. Some slow cookers come with inserts of different sizes, allowing the insert size to be adjusted for the amount of food to be cooked. Others have buffet-style inserts with two or more wells, allowing multiple dishes to be cooked or kept warm at the same time. Some models offer inserts that can be heated on stove tops or in the oven. Inserts with lids capable of locking down are a great choice for safety.