Large capacity is perfect for big cuts of meat and whole poultry, the programmable timer is handy, and it has a cool industrial look.
Big, heavy, and a little clunky; not ideal for smaller-yield recipes.
This is a good midpriced slow cooker for those who regularly cook large cuts of meat or big-batch foods for crowds.
Slow cookers have freed more humans from on-site kitchen time than any invention since, oh, let’s say the pit oven. The first-wave countertop cookers of the early 1970s were almost as primitive as prehistoric ovens, though—options amounted to On and Off, basically, with zero heat control. Digital timers and programmability have made the current class far more sophisticated, nudging their functionality closer to true braising, not just simmering. Temperature control is crucial for slow-cooking tough cuts: You want the heat to rise high enough to dissolve the meat’s collagen, but not so high that it dries out the fibers, turning that beef stew rubbery and gray (the thing that happens when meat boils). Cuisinart’s Programmable Slow Cooker (PSC-650) is in the midrange of cost and features, promising easy programming and finely calibrated temps and cook times. Does it actually deliver?
No worries about this slow cooker looking grandma-homy—it has the bold industrial look Cuisinart is known for. The substantial rectangular housing is clad in brushed stainless, with bold-looking chrome-plated handles, an embossed logo, and retractable cord. It has a wraparound heating element, so heat comes from the sides, not just the bottom. The oval, 6-1/2-quart ceramic cooking pot is black with a see-through glass lid and chrome-plated knob handle; both are dishwasher safe. Frankly, this is a beast, measuring 16 1/3 inches wide, 12 inches deep, and 11 5/8 inches tall and weighing just over 21 pounds (the lidded cooking pot alone is nearly 10 pounds, pre-stew!). There’s a metal rack that fits into the cooking pot; it holds up to a 1-quart casserole for when you want to slow-cook a small batch of something.
There’s an LCD cook-time display window above touchpad controls with four settings: High, Low, Simmer, and Warm. The timer is programmable for 24 hours, then automatically switches to Warm (for up to 8 hours) when the cycle is done. Cuisinart includes an 83-page recipe booklet, and there’s a 3-year warrant on factory defects.
We heated and held water in the Cuisinart Programmable Slow Cooker to test its temperature range, then slow-cooked a tough cut of meat (pork shoulder) in our recipe for Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork. Finally, we tested the Cuisinart’s ability to handle a delicate recipe that can easily scorch, with our Slow Cooker Rice Pudding.
Water testing: We started with cold water, then heated it at the three main settings: Warm, Low, and High. Warm maintained water at 138 degrees Fahrenheit, Low at 170 degrees, and High at 196 degrees. All three were a little higher than other slow cookers in the same price range that we’ve tested, from a few degrees to more than 10, and significantly lower than the temps Cuisinart lists for these in the instruction booklet. The Cuisinart did, however, run significantly cooler at the Low and High settings than the older-gen Crock-Pot slow cooker in the CHOW Test Kitchen, which means it should be able to slow-cook meats without drying them out.
Pulled pork: This turned out great, a testament to the Cuisinart’s ability to handle large cuts of meat (in this case, a 5-pound pork shoulder, cooked 8 hours on Low).
Rice pudding: Here’s where the Cuisinart stumbled—the heating was too intense for a recipe calling for 7 cups of milk and 2 cups of rice. The wraparound heating units caused our milk to scorch on the sides of the cooking pot, and after 3 1/2 hours (the low end of the cooking time) the rice was already dissolving. We like the option of a cooking rack for smaller recipes, but the maximum capacity there is a 1-quart baking dish—too small for our rice pudding recipe.
General stuff: We liked the programmable timer, and we’d definitely reach for this cooker for handling large economy cuts of meat, especially for a crowd. Still, this is a big appliance to store, and heavy to haul around. If you’ve got a big family, or regularly make slow-cooked foods for parties, this is a good addition to your appliance posse. If not, it’s probably impractical, especially for the $95 you'll drop.
Photos by Chris Rochelle