For as long as I can remember, the slow cooker has always been a staple in my family’s kitchen and for good reason. After all, the crockpot is so convenient, versatile with its endless recipes and dead simple to use. All you need to worry about is tossing in the ingredient for delicious stew, roast, or one of the other hundred meals that a slow cooker is great at cooking, set your temperature, and walk away. For someone that’s pressed for time or just doesn’t love to cook, the crock-pot is an invaluable tool at a great price.
So when I first heard about the Ninja Cooking System, I honestly wasn’t sure how this time-honored method of cooking could be improved upon, but I knew I needed to get one and review it for you guys. Well, let me assure you this: the Ninja 3-1 Cooking System is not your grandma’s slow cooker. As the name would imply, the Ninja doesn’t just upgrade the crock pot we know and love with some added precision, but also triples as countertop oven as well as a stovetop you can take anywhere! This one appliance, especially with it’s bonus accessories, could potentially replace the spot of three in your kitchen. How cool is that?
|Cooking Modes||Slow Cooking
|Included Accessories||Multi-Purpose Baking Tray
Silicon Muffin Tray
|Check Amazon for Price|
The Quick Overview
We are going to go into tons of details in the rest of our review, but let me give you the quick rundown for those that just want the essentials (although the cooking tests later on are pretty cool). The Ninja Cooking System switches from mode to mode through the use of a large knob on the front of the cooker which you use to cycle through depending on what, and how you will be cooking. Both the stovetop and slow cooker modes have three setting (low, medium, and high) and the time for each can be set from as short as 30 minutes, all the way up to 12 hours. The oven mode doesn’t operate on a timer and has a range anywhere from 250 to 425 degrees. That’s a nice range and at hot as I ever personally cook.
As you can see, the Ninja Cooking system is packing a lot of versatility into what looks like a countertop slow cooker. I’m used to just tossing in my ingredients, setting it to low or high, and letting it do its thing for 8 hours. But with the Ninja crock pot, a whole new world of options open up, while still keeping the convenience of the good old fashioned slow cooker firmly in place. In our review tests, we really put the Ninja thought its paces to find out not just what it could do, but also how well it could do it. And I will tell you now, we were very impressed. My husband and I baked cookies, sautéed vegetables, steam baked and roasted meats, cooked breakfast, made chili, and on and on–all in addition to the normal slow cooker functions we are used to.
One thing that we didn’t love is that the pan inside the Ninja is a thin-ish metal and not the thick ceramic material you would normally see in a slow cooker. The thickness, or lack thereof, does mean that the pan will heat and cook your food fast, but it just doesn’t retain heat very well like thick ceramic does. If you are just going to be cooking at home and that’s it, it’s really not an issue. However, if you like to bring your slow cooker creations to parties or gatherings, the pan probably won’t keep it very hot during transport. For us, this isn’t a huge problem and the features that the Ninja Cooking Systems does well far outweigh this small problem that only some people are going to have anyway.
If you don’t have time to go through the rest of our review guide, we will give you the bottom line now. If you are looking for a countertop slow cooker that can do other things too, and love the idea of the added versatility of the oven and stovetop mode, than the Ninja Cooking System is the best option out there. It has a great price point, works perfectly, and Ninja always makes great products (check out our Ninja Coffee Bar Guide and Ninja Blender Guide for more info). Our favorite part about the whole product is that Ninja manages to improve on tradition with added features, while not sacrificing the thing that makes slow cookers so great in the first place: the simplicity. However, if you are just looking for the classic slow cooker functionality for the occasional meal here or there, you might be better off with a cheaper, more bare bones crock-pot.
Okay, now that we have the overview squared away, lets dive into the detailed review. Before we buy anything, we really like to do our research, so when we write guides for your guys, we like to make sure that they are as thorough as possible so you can go as surface level, or as deep, as you need to.
Visually Appealing and Intuitive Control
When you first unbox and place the Ninja on your countertop, the first thing you will notice is just how sleek and streamlined the unit is visually, but also not so futuristic that it will be out of place in a more traditional kitchen. The aesthetic perfectly rides the line of modern form and classic function. The two large dials on the face of the cooker (one large and one smaller) are accented with a reflective metal finish and are so intuitive that you don’t even need to break out the manual before cooking your first meal with it. When we review kitchen appliances, we always note how easy it is to get going right away without a lot of hassle and the Ninja scored big in this department.
The larger dial is what you use to select between oven, slow cooking and stovetop modes, while the smaller dial handles the timer and oven temperature duties. I’ve noticed a trend amongst many of the kitchen appliances we have been testing and reviewing where the functions are more and more being controlled by dials and knobs, which I much prefer over mashing a bunch of buttons. The LCD display timer, also on the face of the cooker, is a good size and is easy to see even for me who doesn’t have the greatest eyesight.
Non-Stick Makes For Easy Cleanup
As we mentioned above, the pan inside the system is made of a thinner non-stick aluminum that can be hand washed or thrown in the dishwasher for quicker and easier cleanup. In one of our tests, we purposely burned a fair amount of food to the bottom of the pan, and the non-stick surface made it a breeze to clean with little effort.
Missing Indicator Lights
No review would be complete without the negatives, and there were a few things that we think the Ninja could have done better. Certainly nothing we can’t live with or that would stop us from recommending it, but worth noting nonetheless. Most appliances have one or two things that are funky, and while it truly is a standout, the Ninja Cooking System is no exception to this rule. The first is the fact that when you are using the oven mode function, there is nothing to signal that the Ninja is done preheating and ready to cook with. A little indicator light would be nice, but the Ninja leaves you guessing and you are left to your best judgment. However, this design flaw hasn’t resulted in a failed meal yet.
Non-Rubberized Handles and Non See-Through Lid
The other note we would have for the designers would be on the pan and the lid. The pan sits inside the Ninja and has to out flare that keep it from sliding in and making it easier to pull out, but they don’t have any kind of protective surface, like rubber, meaning that you will without a doubt need protection when pulling it out. With older versions, the lid is also not glass or see-through, but matches the sleek metal surface of the rest of the cooker. While this is great for the design and gives the Ninja a consistent look, it also means that you can’t see inside like a normal crock-pot and you have to lift it up in order to sneak a peak on the progress of your food. However, with the newer models they upgrades to a glass lid that performs better.
Even with these small design issues, the Ninja is going to beat out any other slow cooker you’ve ever used without problem. While we own an oven and a stove, because of the 3 modes the cooking system has, we could theoretically get rid of them and cook with this every day. That’s a pretty powerful kitchen appliance.
It wouldn’t be a Ninja product if it didn’t come with a few extra goodies to extend the function and versatility. In this case the cooking system comes with a baking ban that fits right into the cooker, a silicon muffin tray which is great for baking up a quick batch of tasty muffins with little to no effort or cleanup, and a roasting rack that we really liked and will go into more detail on. All in all, nice extras for the price.
The first two are pretty self explanatory, but the roasting rack might be a little more awesome than you might realize on first glance. One of the slow cooker’s unique features is its ability to roast meats with steam infusion. Any good cook knows that browning your meat first is going to bring out rich flavor and crispy texture. With the Ninja, you can sear your meat in stovetop mode, then turn it into oven mode, follow it with the roasting rack, and finish it off to moist perfection.
For additional added flavor, you can fill the space under the rack with bone broth or another liquid and you’ll be amazed at how incredibly tender, flavorful and perfectly seared the meat will turn out. The steam infusion can also be utilized when baking, resulting in an exceptionally moist result.
Beautiful design and tons of features are great and all, but if the Ninja Cooking System doesn’t cook awesome food, it doesn’t really mean anything. Luckily, with it’s impressive 1,200 watts of juice (that’s a lot for a crock-pot) the cooker does just that. Practically speaking, the Ninja cooks hot and fast, probably a bit quicker than you are used to if you have any experience using slow cookers, but nothing you can’t adjust to.
For the review, we tested, the Ninja’s various cooking modes, all with good results.
Slow Cooker Mode
In our tests with meat dishes, specifically roasts, we found that a 3 lb. cut of meat took about 5 ½ hours to fully cook, but was absolutely falling apart and super flavorful.
Since we are huge breakfast fans around my house, we also found a breakfast quiche recipe that we could never quite nail in our previous crock-pot. We were delighted to discover that the Ninja cooked it spot on, and the end result was fluffy and light, while still having a slightly golden brown, super finer crust on top. It was just perfect!
Next up was the whole roasted chicken. I’m always looking for new recipes and we like to throw this test at cooking appliances wherever we can because even with a professional grade oven, this one can be a tough to nail. If not executed properly, the chicken gets super dry and in my opinion practically inedible. It’s a shame because when done well, the humble roasted chicken really is one of my favorite dishes. So again, I was happy that the Ninja was up to the challenge. While it didn’t beat out my oven roasted chicken, it came very close and was also easier to prepare and cleanup, so for most this would be a fair tradeoff.
Three Bean Chili
In the chili department (again, I test these recipes because I make them all the time and have a good baselines for cooking effort and taste), the Ninja performed exceptionally well. I kept it pretty simply with a mixture of ground beef, beans, onions, celery, peppers and tomato puree and the end result was flavorful and my daughter actually said it was one of her favorites. I didn’t expect the Ninja to take a point here as it’s a pretty simple dish, but my personal testing regime wouldn’t be complete without it.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
I was excited to try out the baking ban that came with the cooking system so chocolate chip cookies were my first attempt at straight baking with the Ninja. The pan itself fit six cookies, which is obviously not a huge amount, but perfect for a quick snack and I don’t ever bake much more than that at a time anyway. The cookies came out nice and crispy on the outside, and wonderfully soft and moist on the inside, just like you would hope. It would be nice if the baking pan that came with the cooker had a little more space as I know most cooks are used to using a full sheet, but for my purposes it worked well.
The last mode we tested was a few recipes with the stovetop mode as this one was a bit more intimidating to us. In the end though, with its low, medium and high settings, it’s not much different than the slow cooker mode.
As we discussed earlier, one of the coolest features is the Ninja’s ability to sear meat, and then finish it off in oven mode, and that’s exactly what we did for this test. I took a nice 2 ½ lb. roast and seared it on high right in the cooker. The sear was nice and hot resulting in an even brown crust that looked exactly like what you would accomplish when searing meat in a pan. After that, I filled the bottom of the cooker with some bone broth, threw in the oven rack, switched it to oven mode, and 6 hours later I had one of the best crockpot roasts I’ve ever tasted.
The only other slow cooker that allows you to sear right in the pan was one made by Breville, but with that model you had to place the pan directly on the stove so the Ninja wins that round hands down.
The Ninja Cooking System does a lot of things very well and has firmly replaced the old Cuisinart crock-pot that I’ve had in my kitchen for years. I never thought I would get rid of that old thing!
I love being able to get a ton of mileage and variety from kitchen appliances that I buy and the 3-in-1 system, without a doubt, has opened up the amount of cooking I can get done with one single unit. If you love to cook, and are in the market for a device that has a ton of features to play with and could essentially take the place of your stove AND oven, then this will be a good bet for you. If you live in a smaller home or apartment where space is limited, or live in a studio apartment without a kitchen at all, the Ninja could be a really great addition to your home.
If you are the kind of cook that only uses the slow cooker for the occasional party dish recipe or one-off meal, than you would probably be better off with a slightly cheaper, dedicated crock-pot.