Most slow cookers are portable to some degree, but some models are a much better bet when you need to take your meal contribution to your work, church or neighborhood potluck.
A truly portable slow cooker is typically going to have a smaller capacity -- while you may be able to lug an 8-quart monster full of your grandmother's famous chili to a party, you probably won't want to. Other features to watch for include locking lids with a rubberized seal, which will keep that chili in the crockpot (and off your shirt or car's upholstery). Handles that are sturdy and comfortable to grip without getting too hot are another must.
The king of portable slow cookers, the Proctor Silex Portable Oval Slow Cooker (Est. $16), comes at a very budget-friendly price. That's largely because of its capacity -- only 1½ quarts. It certainly won't hog counter space at about 9½ by 9½ by 8 inches, and the size makes it particularly ideal for party-friendly foods such as appetizers, dips, and fondue. Real Simple's Hunt and Hauck say it's also the perfect size for increasingly trendy overnight oats recipes.
The Proctor Silex has simple manual controls: You turn the dial to "low," "high" or "warm" and you're done. Of course, this means you may have to watch your food a bit more closely, and you won't have a timer to rely on to tell you when your food is ready. The removable stoneware insert can be popped in the dishwasher for easy cleanup or into the refrigerator for food storage. The glass lid has a rubber seal with a lid latch strap to make sure your food stays in the slow cooker when you're on the go. You'll get to choose from several colors, including white, red, orange, and green.
Reviewers love the Proctor Silex, giving it high ratings in hundreds of reviews. Though they say it's great for entertaining, many owners find it equally useful as a day-to-day slow cooker for small households, including college students and empty nesters. Others like using it on their RVs or boats. While most say they have no issues with performance, some reviewers complain the unit takes too long to heat up and fully cook food. Many negative reviews say it's simply too small for their needs, which is certainly not the fault of the slow cooker.
If you're going somewhere off the beaten track and won't have electricity, you probably think taking a slow cooker won't be an option. Not true: the Wonderbag Non-electric Portable Slow Cooker (Est. $60) is designed to cook or warm any food that you've already brought to a boil, no power required. That makes the places you can take Wonderbag almost limitless, as long as you have a way to boil your meal initially.
The Wonderbag was invented by a woman named Sarah Collins, volunteer and activist based in rural Africa. Drawing upon her knowledge of the time-honored method of cushioning pots to conserve fuel, she came up with the idea for the Wonderbag. As part of her mission, any Wonderbag purchased in North America a Wonderbag is donated to a family in need. You can learn more about this program at the Wonderbag website. You can also make a donation of a Wonderbag at this site if you're not interested in owning one yourself.
However, you may want to consider trying one out. True to its name, the Wonderbag is just that: an insulated bag. There are no dials, buttons, or cords. You'll need a short-handled pot in which to boil your food. Once it simmers for a few minutes, Wonderbag says you can place the pot inside the bag for up to 12 hours before your food will fall below a safe temperature. Once your food is in the Wonderbag, there is no evaporation like there would be with a traditional slow cooker, so it's wise to use less liquid than normal.
Cool concept, but does it work? For the most part, reviewers say yes. Owners give Wonderbag high marks in hundreds of reviews, saying it does an impressive job of cooking food, producing steaming hot meals even hours later. Of course, there are some complaints to the contrary, and many reviewers note that there's a learning curve here.
Serious Eats' Donna Currie says the Wonderbag "takes some experimentation," and beginners may want to start with some of the included recipes to help get the hang of it. Reviewers also warn that Wonderbag is quite bulky, so you'll need significant storage space when it's not in use, and it's hand-wash only.