Slow cooking can be a bit of a misnomer. Sure, it can take upwards of eight hours to get a meal from start to finish, but the active time on slow cooking meals can be under five minutes. Forget about defrosting, forget about stirring—just press the button and go. With that realization out of the way, I decided to add the Rival Crock Pot to my gadget repertoire.
Rival's model claims to be the "original" crock pot, and is therefore one of the commonly carried brands, but it's also pretty affordable, ringing in at just $35 at Amazon.com. I found it shelved alongside some sleeker models that boasted extra features at four times the cost, but quickly discovered that I'd made the right choice. For starters, precise temperature control isn't ultimately necessary for slow cooking—the settings that this model offers (warm, low, high) would make it near impossible to ever overcook your food, and they keep the cooking experience sufficiently customizable so that meals can be made in twelve hours or four.
I'll admit to a caveat or two: There's no light anywhere on the crock pot that shows whether the thing is actually turned on or working, and since no kitchen timer really exceeds 120 minutes, I wish there were some kind of electronic display to show me how much longer my roast would theoretically need to cook for. Ultimately, both of these are easy problems to fix, though I'd rather not have to deal with them at all.
But there's redemption. Tucked inside the large 5-quart baking dish, I found a little surprise: a mini crock-pot (or Little Dipper, as they call it) that's just perfect for fondue. The addition made the purchase twice as worthwhile—I'm officially kissing away my candle-lit fondue set and replacing it with a far more reliable warmer.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.