Lots of features (including an automatic warming setting that maintains a gentle heat) for a modest price.
The clips for the lid get in the way, the thermometer probe is unnecessary, and too much steam escapes through the hole in the lid.
Does a fine job cooking meats but can't handle more delicate recipes. Ultimately, the extra features hinder more than help.
Forty years after the arrival of the first-gen Crock-Pots, manufacturers are trying to lure buyers with convenience features that reflect how we actually use our slow cookers these days. That’s true of small-appliance maker Hamilton Beach, whose Set & Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker (33969) not only has the functions of other digital cookers on the market, it also adds a thermometer probe and clip locks for the lid. Are these extras enough to make the Set & Forget the indispensable slow cooker for a buyer with a budget under $70?
Physically, the Set & Forget looks efficiently badass. The oval base is clad in shiny stainless, with a large control panel that takes up a significant amount of real estate. The Set & Forget takes up 18 1/4 inches of counter width, it’s 12 inches across at the widest part, and it stands 10 3/4 inches high with the lid on; the handles stick out pretty dramatically. As Set & Forget’s official product name indicates, the black stoneware crock holds 6 quarts. The heating unit in the base wraps around the sides, in order to evenly distribute the heat. The glass lid has a gasket around the rim to create a seal, and a pair of large lock-down clips on either end, near the handles. These, Hamilton Beach says on Set & Forget’s online product page, are for “[w]hen you need to take your home-cooked meal on the road, the … clip-locked, secure lid has a tight seal to help ensure that your shirt and your car arrive without a messy spill.”
You’ve got three broad cooking options here, corresponding to buttons on the control panel: Manual, Program, and Probe. With Manual, you have two cooking options, Low and High, with a Warm setting you can switch to. With Program, you choose how long to cook at either setting, after which the unit automatically switches to Warm. And with Probe, you plug the thermometer probe's cord into a jack on the base, then insert the probe into whatever large cut of meat you’re cooking. Specify a doneness temp, and Set & Forget switches to Warm when it’s done. There’s a power interrupt protection feature that keeps the slow cooker on during brief power outages. There’s a one-year limited warranty, and Hamilton Beach maintains a toll-free call center to answer cooking queries.
We heated and held water in the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget to test its temperature range, then slow-cooked a tough cut of meat (pork shoulder), using our own recipe for Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork. Finally, we tested CHOW’s Slow Cooker Rice Pudding, a relatively delicate recipe that can easily dry up and scorch.
Water testing: We started with cold water, heated at both the Low and High settings and held on Warm. The Set & Forget showed a lot of flexibility at the lower end—on Warm, it held water at a really gentle 119 degrees Fahrenheit; on Low at 154 degrees; and on High at 177, 19 degrees lower than the other midrange slow cooker we tested recently, the Cuisinart Programmable. All three findings mean the Set & Forget is capable of some pretty nuanced cooking (that’s important for meats, which can dry out and toughen when slow-cooked at higher temps) and gentle warming.
Pulled pork: After 8 hours on Low, our 5-pound pork shoulder was cooked to recipe specs. We used the thermometer probe, but found it a little confusing to set up. We ended up cooking based on time, not internal temp.
Rice pudding: Because of the thermometer probe, there’s a hole in the lid to thread the cord through. It’s also a place for steam to escape the slow cooker, which is probably why our rice pudding cooked up dry and desiccated, with burnt spots and rice kernels fused to the sides. This is a recipe that depends on keeping the rice moist, and there was just too much steam escaping to make that happen. Huge fail.
General stuff: Sometimes simpler is better. The Set & Forget is confusing to program, and has too many options for an appliance that’s supposed to make a cook’s life easier. The clips were a nuisance every time we put the crock into the base, and is the thermometer probe even necessary? When we cook the kind of budget cuts the slow cooker was designed for (as opposed to temperature-critical roasts), it's less about achieving a precise internal temp and more about long cooking over gentle heat. We also found ourselves scrolling through the settings on the control panel, which occasionally made us feel like we were in an endless loop. With all the good digital slow cookers out there, the Set & Forget just seems to be trying to do too much.
Photos by Chris Rochelle