New features make today's slow-cookers incredibly convenient.
Many models, such as this 6-quart Smart-Pot Programmable Slow Cooker by Rival ($50; www.crockpot.com or 800/610-6665), allow you to set the cooker on low or high heat for 4 to 10 hours. When time's up, the cooker automatically switches to the warm setting - perfect if you're going to be away from the kitchen all day.
Others, such as the Farberware FSC600 ($40; www.esalton.com or 888/ 881-8101), lack the programming feature but have a setting that starts cooking -on high heat, then automatically switches to low to prevent overcooking.
We recommend buying a slow-cooker with a 6-quart capacity, which allows you to cook larger cuts of meat. All the recipes here were tested on 5- and 6-quart models.