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
Perfect 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).
Simple 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 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.
Good 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...
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...