Slow cookers and how to use them

  • By
    Holly Brooke-Smith

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

Our best buys

LakelandPerfect for a couple

Lakeland 1.5 litre. £19.99, Lakeland

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 (ideal for two).

 

Morphy Richards slow cookerSimple to store

Morphy Richards 4.5 litre, £89.99, morphyrichards.co.uk

A favourite with our cookery team, the base slots into the pot - good if you're short on cupboard space. Plus, it has a browning function so no need for separate pans.

 

Crock-pot slow cookerVersatile

Crock-Pot 4.7 litre, £44.95, John Lewis

The stoneware pot of this slow cooker can be used on hobs and gas rings (with the included metal trivet), which allows you to brown meat in it, plus it's attractive enough to carry straight to the table to serve from.

 

Judge slow cookerGood for entertaining

Judge 3.5 litre £35, judgecookware.co.uk

This heats up quickly and has three settings, ranging from all-day cooking to a few hours. The inner pot can also go under the grill so it is easy to add a crispy finish to hotpots and bakes.



Why they're a good buy

  • Slow cookers are energy efficient. They use a heat source roughly equivalent to two bright light bulbs at 200-250 watts running for three to 12 hours, compared to an oven, which uses about 700 watts.
  • Tougher cheap cuts of meat become tender after long, slow cooking so they're ideal in a slow cooker.
  • If you want to come home to a hot meal, you can set the cooker before you leave the house and let it work away safely all day.
  • Recipes such as casseroles, stews and braises are great in slow cookers, as the gentle cooking allows flavours to develop.

What to look for

  • We found that medium and smaller slow cookers had more reliable heat distribution.
  • You cannot fill a slow cooker right to the rim, so a 5-litre model will produce about 4 litres of food.
  • A glass lid is a good idea so that you can see the progress of your food without losing heat by lifting the lid.

Best results when cooking

  • No 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. 
  • Reduce the liquid in a regular recipe by about one-third if you're going to make it in a slow cooker. 
     

Slow cooker storecupboard essentials

  • If you are cooking rice in your slow cooker, buy the easy cook varieties and rinse until the water runs clear, otherwise you will 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, and season at the same time.
  • Use arrowroot or cornflour to thicken sauces, by removing a spoonful of sauce from the pot, and whisking with 1-2 tbsp arrowroot 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 the food doesn’t ‘reduce’, the flavours don’t become more concentrated with this cooking style, so you need to pack in as much flavour as you can initially.)"

Try one of our slow cooker recipes... 

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

All our favourite slow cooker recipes...

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... 

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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.

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