The best slow cookers and how to use them

Slow cookers are a popular piece of kitchen kit, so we've been busy in the Good Food Test Kitchen trying them out. Here are our favourite products, plus find lots of recipes and practical cookery tips on how to use them.

Slow cooker containing curry with side dishes laid out

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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 two days in our Test Kitchen to find out... 

Top five slow cookers

Lakeland 3.5-litre slow cooker 

Lakeland slow cooker in silver on white background*Best buy*
Pros: tender meat, smooth sauce, even cooking
Cons: not hob or grill safe

The heating element of the Lakeland cooker encircles the whole pot for even cooking. This certainly proved to be the case in the Good Food kitchen where the cooker scored highest in our test.

The wine in the beef bourguignon recipe reduced well and the flavours in the sauce softened and melded together. Similarly the chicken korma was tender and the sauce well rounded.

This is a straightforward slow cooker with the classic ceramic pot and glass lid. There are high, low and auto settings – the auto also doubles as a keep warm setting if you want to delay serving the meal.

This 3.5-litre model is ideal for three to four people and its oval bowl is large enough to fit a whole medium chicken. This cooker is also available in 1.5 and 6-litre models, and helpfully Lakeland sell spare lids in case of breakages.

The manual gives tips on how to adapt hob-top stew recipes for the cooker so you can still cook your favourite recipes. The pot cannot be used on the hob or under the grill but it is oven safe up to 150C. Both the ceramic pot and lid are dishwasher safe.


Buy from Lakeland (£29.99)

Specifications:
Settings: low, high and auto
Indicator light: yes
Capacity: 3.5-litre (working capacity 2.5-litre)
Dimensions: L34cm x W24cm x H17cm
Pot: removable ceramic pot
Lid: glass
Hob safe: no
Oven safe: ceramic pot oven safe to 150C
Multicooker functions: no
Dishwasher safe: yes pot and lid


Judge 1.5-litre slow cooker 

Judge slow cooker on white backgroundBest for two
Pros: keep warm setting, even cooking, compact
Cons: no indicator light

This mini cooker is the perfect size for one or two people, producing smooth sauces and tender meat on both the high and low settings. The quality of flavour and texture really stood out among the 1.5-litre cookers we tested.

The one drawback is the lack of a power indicator light. This means that when you turn the knob you either have to trust the machine is on or return after 15 minutes to double check that the sides are heating up.

Other than that the machine is easy to assemble and use with low, high and keep warm settings. It’s compact size means it requires minimal worktop and cupboard space. The ceramic pot is hand wash only but the lid is dishwasher safe.

 

Specifications
Settings: low, high, keep warm
Indicator light: no
Capacity: 1.5-litre
Dimensions: D 23cm x H20cm 
Pot: ceramic
Lid: glass
Hob safe: no
Oven safe: no
Multicooker functions: no 
Dishwasher safe: lid is dishwasher safe


Sage Fast Slow Pro 6-litre

Sage Fast Slow Pro slow and pressure cookerBest multi cooker
Pros: sauté, sear and reduce functions, tender meat, additional pressure cooker functions
Cons: large size, cost

The Fast Slow Pro works either as a slow or pressure cooker. If you opt for slow, you can put your meal on first thing in the morning so it cooks gently throughout the day. Alternatively, when time is limited in the evening, standard cooking times can be halved with the pressure function.

Stews made in slow cookers often need to be reduced on the hob after cooking, but this machine has a ‘reduce’ function which saves decanting into a saucepan.

The cooker also has searing and sautéing settings for browning meat and softening vegetables. This means the dish can be cooked from start to finish in the same pot. The pot does have a relatively small diameter though, so browning has to be done in several batches. 

The dual function of this cooker does mean it is more expensive and a little trickier to clean with the pressure valves and rubber seal. It is larger than the single function slow cookers but takes up less room than having separate slow and pressure cookers.

The digital interface was easy to use and the manual is detailed on each function. Flavour, texture and sauce consistency were excellent on both the slow and pressure settings.

 

Specifications
Settings: high, low, keep warm
Indicator light: yes
Capacity: 6-litre
Dimensions: D37cm x W30cm x H32cm 
Pot: removable metal
Lid: not see-through
Hob safe: no
Oven safe: no
Multicooker functions: Yes - pressure cook, sear, sauté, reduce, steam
Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

Morphy Richards 3-5 litre Sear and Stew digital slow cooker 

Morphy Richards Sear and Stew slow cooker in redBest digital slow cooker
Pros: hob safe (electric and gas), well reduced sauce
Cons: doesn’t work on induction

The main pro of the Sear and Stew is that the inner bowl is hob safe on gas and electric (it doesn’t work on induction). This means that the meat can be seared, vegetables softened and sauce reduced all in the same pot.

The digital controls let you set the time in 30 minute intervals up to a maximum of 10 hours. After cooking the slow cooker automatically switches to a ‘keep warm’ setting for a further two hours.

The inner bowl is made of metal which is much lighter than the classic ceramic bowl. We found sauces thickened and amalgamated well during cooking meaning there was no need to reduce them further before serving. The manual includes 12 recipes and the lid and pot are dishwasher safe.

 

Specifications
Settings: high, low, auto/keep warm
Indicator light: yes
Capacity: 3.5-litre
Dimensions: L30cm x W25cm x H20cm
Pot: non-stick
Lid: glass lid
Hob safe: yes but not on induction
Oven safe: no
Multicooker functions: no
Dishwasher safe: yes, lid and pot

Swan 3.5-litre retro slow cooker 

Swan retro slow cooker in blue on white backgroundBest design
Pros: stylish, good texture and consistency
Cons: not hob safe

Swan offers an alternative aesthetic to the brushed steel and glossy black ceramic pots that dominate the slow cooker market. The inner removable pot comes in matt ivory and the outer shell in a range of colours including cream, black, blue, red, grey, green, pink and orange so you can match it to your kitchen decor.  

But it’s not just about looks. Unlike most ceramic pots, Swan’s can be refrigerated. This means you can prep the dish, chill it inside the pot in the fridge overnight and then simply transfer the pot to the cooker in the morning.

The cooker performed well in taste tests – the korma came together nicely, reducing until thick but remaining saucy. The chicken was tender and absorbed the flavour of the spices.The included recipe book was the best of the brands we tested. Both lid and pot are dishwasher safe.

 

Specifications
Settings: high, low, auto
Indicator light: yes
Capacity: 3.5-litre
Dimensions: L38cm x W28cm x H24cm
Pot: ceramic
Lid: glass
Hob safe: no
Oven safe: no
Multicooker functions: no
Dishwasher safe: yes, lid and pot

Slow cooker recipes... 

Our best ever slow cooker recipes
Healthy slow cooker recipes
Slow cooker chicken recipes
Summer slow cooker recipes
Slow cooker curry recipes
Slow cooker beef recipes

Slow cooker chicken tikka masala in a bowl with rice on the side

Buyer’s advice

Why buy a slow cooker?

The main advantages of slow cookers are ease and convenience. You can put a stew on in the morning, let it cook gently for 8-10 hours and then simply serve in the evening. Slow cookers, preserve nutrients are energy efficient and largely keep the smells of cooking contained in the pot. 

Slow cooker review – our criteria

Slow cooker couscous on white plate

There is a big variation between slow cookers in flavour, texture and sauce consistency. We looked for cookers that produced flavourful dishes, tasting as good as oven or hob-cooked alternatives. Below are the criteria we considered.

Sauce consistency: We looked for slow cookers that melded flavours in a dish and reduced liquids to a good consistency – neither too wet nor too dry. We rejected sauces that were undercooked, that tasted ‘winey’ due to under-reduced alcohol, that split or were excessively watery.

Texture: We looked for slow cookers that produced tender, moist meat and vegetables. We rejected those that cooked too quickly causing meat to dry out and disintegrate and vegetables to turn to mush. Tough, undercooked meat was also rejected.

Heat 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. We rejected cookers that produced uneven results.

Transparent lids: For monitoring purposes, it's useful for a slow cooker to have a transparent glass 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 five-litre model will probably produce around four litres of food. 

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

How we tested slow cookers

We tested 12 slow cookers using the same BBC Good Food beef bourguignon and chicken korma recipes in each. We tested on both the high and low settings. We also tested extra functions such as sauté, sear, and pressure cook.

How to get the best results when cooking

Stew casserole on plate

  • 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've 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. 

How to use a slow cooker: video

 

Slow cooker storecupboard essentials

Porridge with blueberries and honey in large white bowl

  • If 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. Because the liquid in the food doesn’t reduce, flavours won’t become more concentrated with this cooking style, so you need to pack in as much flavour as you can.

This review was last updated in April 2019. 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@immediate.co.uk. 

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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Gina Bassett's picture
Gina Bassett
2nd Feb, 2019
I've recently bought a 3pot slow cooker and use it so much more than the previous one. Even for 2 people use 1pot, friends 2pots, variety of dishes 3pots. So many combinations. Marvelous
MCP
16th Jan, 2019
These reviews are out of date. The Morphy Richards 'compact sear and stew' is no longer made. Time for some new 'Best buys'
Gillfr
23rd Nov, 2017
I bought a Tefal slow cooker in September 2005 and it is still going strong, despite heavy use over the years. This one has a round metal bowl which is starting to look a bit marked now and I have just bought the 2017 model of the same which promises 8 functions (not sure which ones yet). For rice I use basmati rice and make variations on the Gordon Ramsey pilau rice which is on this site and adapts perfectly to the slow cooker with no change in quantities.
jacquietinch
5th Oct, 2017
I have had two slow cookers and both times the internal ceramic glaze has crazed and the food ends up with an 'off' taste. I can't work out why it happened as I always followed the instructions carefully (especially the second time!) and haven't ever allowed them to cook dry or any other logical reason. I still have my second one but only use it for cooking and re-heating Christmas puddings for which it is excellent and as the food is not in contact with the water, there is no taste cross-contamination.
twohoots
29th Jan, 2017
slow cookers are brilliant, have had one for as long as I can remember. Even made Christmas puddings in it one year. Definitely cut back on the liquid added, but if you do nothing else, put your chicken carcass in with a few vegetables and liquid in the morning and at the end of the day you have a large amount of stock ready to portion, cool and freeze, ready for the next casserole.
fragrantfran
22nd Sep, 2016
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
6th Sep, 2016
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
3rd Feb, 2016
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.
jacquietinch
5th Oct, 2017
A modern twist on the hay box. You still need to be able to cook your meat dishes for 30 minutes before they go into the Wonderbag, so not a complete replacement for a slow cooker where the pre-cooking is minimal, if at all.
abitterpill
14th Feb, 2014
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.
Ginger1964
11th Dec, 2016
I have a crockpot that has low, high, and warm settings. I'm having a big family Christmas dinner and I was wondering if I could make the mashed potatoes ahead of time and use the warm setting as a warmer to keep the potatoes warm for dinner. If so, how long could I keep them in there without a crust forming on the potatoes?
goodfoodteam's picture
goodfoodteam
17th Dec, 2016
We haven't tried this ourselves but know, for food safety reasons, the food must be piping hot if you're going to use the warm setting. Most instruction manuals will tell you how long you can use the warm setting for so check what they suggest. With the lid on the slow cooker, there's no reason why a crust would form.
spitfire
11th Sep, 2016
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
goodfoodteam
13th Sep, 2016
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
7th May, 2016
Do I have to put water under the inner pot?
irish66
21st Mar, 2016
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
goodfoodteam
20th May, 2016
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
28th Jan, 2016
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
2nd Feb, 2016
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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