The best slow cookers and how to use them

Slow cookers are making a comeback, so we've been busy in the Good Food Test Kitchen trying them out. Here are our product picks, plus we've given lots of practical cookery tips on how to use them.

The best slow cookers and how to use them

Slow cooker recipes are phenomenally popular on bbcgoodfood.com. We don't know whether it's the time-saving element, economical credentials or the fact that they require minimal labour that makes you love them quite so much, but we're with you all the way - slow cookers are a winner all round. They vary wildly in price, and you can pick up a slow cooker for as little as a tenner (or as much as a few hundred pounds), but different models meet different criteria. So what should you look for in a slow cooker, and which model is best for you? We spent the day in our Test Kitchen to find out... 

What we looked for: 

Slow cookerHeat distribution: Even with lower priced models, small and medium-sized slow cookers tend to have the most reliable heat distribution. Once you start dealing with larger pots, it can get a bit patchy. 

Transparent lids: For monitoring purposes, it's useful for a slow cooker to have a transparent glass or thick plastic lid. 

Size: If you're cooking for a family, be aware of the fact the size of bowl doesn't necessarily denote the amount of food you'll get at the end - especially as you can't fill slow cookers right to the rim. A 5-litre model will probably produce around 4-litres of food. 

Hob-safe: If you're going to be making recipes with meat, look out for a inner ceramic pot that can be used on the hob for browning purposes. 

How we tested: We tested 12 slow cookers using sausages, beans and canned tomatoes, leaving each machine to cook for six hours. 

Our best buys

LakelandPerfect for a couple

Lakeland 1.5 litre slow cooker

This 1.5-litre model is great if you'd like all the benefits of a slow cooker but don't have a big family to feed. It produces about 800ml of soup and it has three heat settings. It cooks evenly and has a handy see-through lid. 

£19.99, from Lakeland
 

Morphy Richards slow cookerBest space saver

Morphy Richards sear and stew compact

This cleverly shaped pot packs into a compact space. It’s big enough for three portions and super simple to use. The handles don’t get hot so you can lift the pot directly onto your table, and the sear function meant our sausages got off to a good start. 

£49.99, from Morphy Richards
 

Russell HobbsA solid all-rounder

Russell Hobbs 3.5l slow cooker

This is a no-frills model, but it works very well – and it’s one of the cheapest we tested. It’s a convenient size to feed three people with extras for the freezer on top. It has three simple settings, low, high and ‘keep warm’. The inner pot is sturdy but fairly heavy. 

£24.99, from Russell Hobbs

 

CrockpotHigh end model

Crock-Pot 5.6l slow and multi cooker

Crock-Pot purportedly made the original slow cooker, and their comtemporary models are certainly natty pieces of kit. This bumper machine has settings for baking and steaming, as well as sautéing and the standard stewing function. The machine includes a wire rack that helps steam – or can be used to support cake tins if you’re baking. It’s large, but the square shape seems neater than oval equivalents.

£119.99, from Crock-Pot

How to get the best results when cooking

  • Irish stewNo liquid escapes from a slow cooker, so when adapting a recipe not specifically written for a slow cooker, reduce any added liquid by one third to compensate.
  • Don't remove the lid too often to avoid heat loss.
  • The inner pot needs to be at room temperature before you start cooking. If you have kept a slow cooker dish in the fridge, you must wait for it to warm up before turning on.
  • Slow cookers vary considerably so follow your manufacturer's manual for guidelines on temperatures and cooking times.
  • Rice and pasta dishes work best cooked on High for the shortest time possible. Always use easy-cook rice, rinsed well first - the more starch you rinse from the rice, the better the finished result. 

Slow cooker storecupboard essentials

  • Chicken stewIf you're cooking rice in your slow cooker, buy the easy cook varieties and rinse until the water runs clear, otherwise you'll be left with a sticky mess.
  • Gravy browning will add colour to stews, as food cooked in a slow cooker is usually pale. Marmite will do the same job. Season at the same time.
  • Use arrowroot or cornflour to thicken sauces, by removing a spoonful of sauce from the pot, and whisking in 1-2 tbsp before returning to the pot.
  • A dash of cream or crème fraîche at the last minute will enrich sauces and soups.

Test kitchen top tip

"Take time to brown your meat really well. Slow cookers tend to ‘leach’ meat of its colour, so it’s important for both the appearance and flavour that the mince, chunks or joints are well browned to start with. As liquid in the food doesn’t reduce, flavours don’t become more concentrated with this cooking style, so you need to pack in as much flavour as you can."

Try one of our slow cooker recipes... 

PorridgeChicken, bacon & potato stew
Italian vegetable bake
Thai beef curry
Slow-cooked porridge
Slow-cooked Irish stew

All our favourite slow cooker recipes...

This review was last updated in April 2016. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at goodfoodwebsite@bbc.com. 

Do you swear by your slow cooker? We'd love to hear your recipe ideas. Plus, if you're a fan of kitchen kit, we have a guide to pressure cookers too... 

Comments, questions and tips

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Comments (4)

fragrantfran's picture

I have had three of the modern slow cookers, although they did the job, they weren't a patch on my original Prestige Crockpot. I foolishly ditched it in the eighties in favour of a shiny new ceramic one. It's taken me two years now and I have finally got one of the originals -a stoneware one, the one drawback, which, I can cope with now, is that it doesn't separate from the heated element. However, I just soak it for a couple of hours and it's fine.
I cooked stews, curries and roasted a chicken etc. in my original and do so again now. The taste is so much better than the ceramic ones. Sometimes the older clumsier things work better. Stoneware is better for casserole pots as well.

vidapura's picture

WONDERBAG?
I just checked it out.
Looks good BUT their pricing schemes are.. to me.. questionable.

Its €26 in South Africa, but its €50 on the Irish site... this rises to an eye watering €90 euro on the french site... and different again on the German site.

This might all be for a good cause and all that ... but smacks of opportunism.

perky2512's picture

Great reviews but I wish you had included the Wonderbag. A slow cooker without gas or electricity. Totally transportable, use it for camping and festivals. Have a look.

abitterpill's picture

On: "Our best buys": Comment and Tip:
Don't forget that supermarkets will offer some very good cookware for a few pounds. Why waste your money on a stylish brand named slow cooker (unless the style is more important of course)? Instead opt for a cheap and cheerful version that does the same job for less. The idea is to be tasty *and* economical. I had a Crock-Pot. It was lovely. It lasted just over a year.. Then I bought a Tesco slow cooker for about £12.00. I've had it 4 years now and I use it all the time. The results are great, it looks suspiciously like the Judge model shown on this page but without the price tag. I have seen a number of these, all very similar, and an advantage I can see here is that if you accidentally break the pot, it's very easy and cheap to replace.

Questions (7)

spitfire's picture

I own a small slow cooker, the 1.5l Lakeland one in fact, but find that most recipes are for 4 people and simply halving the ingredients does not work adequately - there is usually either too much liquid or not enough. I like to cook enough so I can freeze half for another time so would I be better off getting a slow cooker the next size up, ie 3.5l?

goodfoodteam's picture

Thanks for your question. For tips on how to adapt slow cooker recipes, take a look at our slow cooker feature. A 3.5l slow cooker can serve 3 - 5 people depending on appetite. Hope that helps!

lindij01's picture

Do I have to put water under the inner pot?

irish66's picture

Hello from ireland. Today I bought a second slow cooker. It's a murphy richards. Although it cost me 20 euros, so looking at your price for a murphy richards, I wonder
if I paid too much. But it's big enough to get a duck into. All I have done is put the duck in, and turned on it low. Should I have added water. Should I have put tin foil around the duck. Any advice for a slow cooker novice would be welcome.

goodfoodteam's picture

Yes we would add a little stock when using a slow cooker to cook a duck. To add more flavour add onions with bay leaves or fresh thyme in the base first too. The liquid and onions can then be used to make a gravy.

sasharoy's picture

What about slow cooker for a beginner? I am a bachelor and eat mostly outside which is expensive and I do not have a kitchen to begin with. I was wondering if this device would work or not. Can you recommend some slow cookers for me?

danchos3's picture

I actually own four crock pots in varying sizes. The small one is great for breakfast oatmeal or a side dish of dried beans. The largest can hold a whole chicken or small turkey or baked potatoes for the whole family. And the in-betweens are perfect for a typical chili or soup meal.
The one MUST HAVE feature is a removable insert; the first one I ever had (a hand-me-down from my parents when I was in college) was a one-piece thing, and it was a pain to wash. A removable insert can to into the dishwasher. Beyond that, the differences are minimal - of course, I must admit that I have no experience with the browning features; they might be worthwhile.
I'll also recommend two websites: http://topreviews.best/main-review/slow-cooker and http://www.365daysofcrockpot.com/ You'll be surprised at just how many things you can cook in a crock pot.

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