Slow cooking is an ancient method used by almost all cultures around the world, from a British beef stew to an Indian lamb curry. Happily, slow cooking tends to use cheaper ingredients, such as braising steak, pork cheeks or root vegetables, that are cooked low and slow and transformed into delicious, flavoursome dishes.
Speaking of making your kitchen more money savvy, electric slow cookers are also an energy-efficient way of cooking when compared to an electric oven, for example, so you can come home with a hot meal ready and waiting for you without ramping up the energy bill in the process.
Although slow cookers are rightly associated with dishes such as soups and stews, we were able to branch out with a wide variety of meals during testing – we even proved and baked a loaf of bread successfully in a slow cooker.
There’s a lot of inspiration online, especially on YouTube, and in books (we loved The Easy Indian Slow Cooker Cookbook by Hari Ghotra, £11.99, Blackwells.co.uk) so think outside the box and you’ll get the most out of your investment.
While you can easily find a basic slow cooker with an entry level price point, be prepared to pay extra if you want to be able to saute and brown food in the cooker or have additional functionality such as more precise control over cooking times and temperatures or to be able to use your slow cooker for sous vide cooking.
We got great results from all the cookers we tested and found even the smallest of them were fine for a family of four, but consider the larger models if you regularly batch cook or feed a crowd.
We cooked a number of dishes in each of the cookers, assessing their capacity, functionality, ease of operation and use and the flavour of the finished results. We also considered how easy the cookers were to clean and store.
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If you want a slow cooker that delivers a little bit more, the good to go multi-cooker will be good for you. The cooking pot’s generous proportions meant we could brown half a dozen chunky short ribs at once using the sear function, then cover them in red wine and stock, select the slow cooker low programme and gently cook them to tender perfection in eight hours. We then use the boil setting to reduce the cooking liquid to a sauce.
The roast programme worked well too, producing evenly cooked peppers, although at about 90 minutes the process did take longer than it would have in a conventional oven. We achieved excellent results with the rice setting and the steam setting, highly adjustable sous vide function with a variable temperature of between 38C and 96C and maximum cooking time of up to 20 hours were real bonuses.
While we found the small and closely set buttons on the digital display unit a little fiddly to use, the operation of the cooker was straightforward and we loved that the unit and mains lead were easily removable making the pot (and lid) dishwasher safe. Easy to use, easy to clean and delivers all round great results, we have to agree that this multi-cooker is good to go.
Buy now £80.00, Argos.co.uk
This entry-level celebrity chef-endorsed slow cooker couldn’t be easier to use. Making a split pea soup was as simple as piling all the ingredients into the capacious cooking pot, pouring over some stock and pressing the mode button to select “low”. The soup cooked away for the default eight-hour duration and then just needed a blitz in the food processor.
We found the digital timer particularly useful. We could adjust the default cooking times of 8 hours for high and 4 hours to low in increments of 30 minutes from anything from 30 minutes to 20 hours to suit a particular recipe. The delay function allowed us to delay the cooking start time for up to 20 hours, meaning we could prepare food well in advance and have it ready when we needed it.
We enjoyed cooking from the included recipe booklet, written by James Martin himself that included braised lamb shanks and onion soup, but we found other uses for the cooker too. Using the keep warm button, we proofed some bread dough, then baked the loaf for two hours on the high setting, which then just needed a short blast in a hot oven to finish browning.
Although we found the stoneware pot heavy and a little difficult to handle when cleaning (however, both the pot and lid are dishwasher safe), overall the cooker was difficult to fault. If you want a slow cooker that does what it says on the tin and won’t break the bank, the James Martin digital slow cooker fits the bill.
Buy now £119.50, Amazon.co.uk
If you’ve got a big family to feed or are a habitual batch cooker, then this beast of a slow cooker is for you. The large LCD display and simple eight button control panel made accessing the cooker’s eight preset programs easy. We particularly liked the brown/saute function that is adjustable from 50C-205C so we could gently sweat onions for a stew or quickly brown them for a curry.
The non-toxic, PFAS-free diamond-infused ceramic non-stick coating on the capacious removable and dishwasher-safe inner pan (the tempered glass lid is also dishwasher-safe) worked like a dream. A mirepoix of vegetables for a lentil soup browned quickly and evenly with no burning or sticking.
We achieved great results with both the “lo” (cooking at 95C) and “hi” (99C) slow cooking setting and the steam function also worked well. We liked the handy reheat setting for bringing cooked food back to temperature and the simmer/buffet function kept the food warm so we could go back for second helpings. The only minor issue we had was the too-short mains lead that limited where we could position the cooker on the countertop.
There is no getting away from the fact that the Green Pan slow cooker is a big unit but there is also no getting away from the fact that it does a great job. If you have the space to accommodate it and you’ve got more than a few hungry mouths to feed, this versatile cooker is a great choice.
Buy now £198.95, Hartsofsur.com
If you want dinner waiting for you literally the minute you get home, this family-sized slow cooker has the solution. The “schedule meal” option allows you to set an end of cooking time up to 12 hours in advance. By choosing either meat, poultry, soup and veggies and the amount of food being cooked (+1kg or 0-1kg for meat and poultry or full pot or half pot for soup and veggies) the cooker will calculate the correct heat setting so the food will be ready when you need it. We achieved great results using the function to cook a whole chicken with tomatoes, chorizo and peppers, with the very roomy cooking pot accommodating the bird with ease.
We liked the manual function which allowed us to select the high or low setting and a cook time of up to 20 hours in 1-minute increments so we had more control over the cooking process. We also liked the large easy-to-read digital display and the simple to use 10 button control panel.
The stoneware cooking pot was particularly unwieldy to handle for cleaning purposes, being both large and heavy, but it is dishwasher safe, as is the cooker’s tempered glass lid. The price is a little higher than some other basic slow cookers, but the schedule meal timer function adds value and makes it worth the extra investment.
Buy now £74.99, Onbuy.com
It’s swings and roundabouts with this versatile countertop cooker. On the positive side, the adjustable temperature of between 90C-220C means you can slow cook to your heart’s content in the large, deep, rectangular non-stick dishwasher-safe pan.
We were delighted with the chilli we made, transforming basic range supermarket braising steak into super-tender meat in about four hours. The higher cooking temperatures meant we could brown the meat and fry the onions and garlic before adding all the other ingredients, reducing the heat, popping on the glass lid and leaving it to simmer away gently. We also loved that a grill pan and streaming tray were included as part of the package.
However, the lack of a display panel (there are just two small LEDs on the front of the cooker – one glows red to show the cooker is on and heating up and one glows green when the cooker has reached the set temperature – along with a temperature control knob marked off, low, medium and high) meant we didn’t know exactly how hot the pan was. The cooker also lacks a timer and won’t shut off automatically like most slow cookers.
We compensated for the shortcomings by using a handheld temperature probe and the timer on our phone. This is not the sort of cooker you can leave all day while you’re out of the house, but it is a useful and adaptable piece of kitchen kit that does an excellent job of slow cooking.
Buy now £160.00, Cuisinart.co.uk
No, you didn’t read that price incorrectly, the Cook Expert really is the cost of a small secondhand car. It’s a lot of money for a slow cooker, but it is also a lot more than that.
Billed as an “all-encompassing cooking food processor” (think of it as an alternative to a Thermomix), the Cook Expert comes complete with a hardbound 360-page cookbook that includes soup and desserts and everything in between. There really isn’t much you can’t do with this multifaceted machine and it slow cooks like a dream.
Using the 3.5l capacity metal bowl and the manual “expert” mode, we made a stellar chickpea curry. The blades rotate intermittently to ensure even cooking and automatically shuts off at the end of cooking time meaning that, once it’s up and running it can be left to its own devices. The temperature can be adjusted between 30C and 160C and the time from five seconds to four hours, allowing for very precise cooking.
We loved the large, clear and colourful digital display and the simple six button control panel that made accessing the Cook Expert’s numerous settings (including 18 speeds) straightforward. And we well and truly explored all the possibilities, knocking up everything from banana bread batter in 90 seconds to an empanada dough in 30 seconds. Plus, if you switch to the transparent bowl set, the Cook Expert acts like a traditional food processor for mixing, chopping, emulsifying, slicing and grating.
If you are a passionate wannabe chef who uses slow cooking as part of an arsenal of cooking techniques, and you have the budget, the Cook Expert could be a transformative addition to your kitchen.
Buy now £1195.00, Magimix.co.uk
The aluminium cooking pot of this stylish black and rose gold slow cooker isn’t just lightweight, it can also be used on a gas hob. That means you can fry and sear ingredients in the same pot you slow cook in, cutting down on the washing up. With just one dial that has off, high, low and medium settings, the cooker couldn’t be easier to use.
We fried off some onions on the hob, added marinated pork shoulder, put on the lid, selected low and eight hours later we had beautifully tender cochinita pibil pork for tacos. Although this was one of the smaller cookers we tested, it accommodated 1kg of meat easily, which makes it plenty big enough for a family of four. The fact that it is compact and relatively lightweight also meant it was easy to store and could be parked in a corner of the worktop leaving plenty of space to get on with other kitchen tasks.
Ideal for soups, stews and small joints, as well as desserts such as rice pudding and poached pears, the stew and sear is attractively priced for those with modest cooking needs.
Buy now £44.50, Onbuy.com
You can’t really go wrong with this generously proportioned, good-looking cooker. The large capacity pot accommodates whole chickens and family-sized joints as well as big batches of stews and curries. We prepared a simple spicy butternut squash soup using the high setting that was perfectly cooked in three hours. The cooker is simple to use with just one dial to select the low, high and keep warm settings and a tempered glass lid so you can see what’s going on.
At 6.5l, the pot is quite a lump of stoneware to manhandle but is dishwasher safe, however the lid is not. At the price point, a timer and automatic keep warm function would have been a bonus, but if capacity is a more important consideration than extra functionality, this slow cooker is well worth considering.
Buy now £49.99, Onbuy.com
Not only can slow cookers help you knock up some seriously delicious dinners, but they are also energy efficient, with energy company USwitch noting that they use a little more energy than a traditional light bulb to run. While they take a little while to cook food, they use just 1.3 kWh per meal cooked.
According to research by energy company Utilita, an electric oven is one of the most energy-intensive cooking appliances, costing on average £1.05 per day to run, whereas a slow cooker is typically five times cheaper to run.
There are many benefits to using a slow cooker, including that you can create delicious dinners with minimal prep and without spending hours in the kitchen. Once your ingredients are in, you do not have to check on or stir, because the pot warms up evenly and should never overheat.
Cooking for a long time at a low temperature is also perfect for tenderising meat and can preserve nutrients that are sometimes lost when cooking via other methods.
Slow cookers often have a number of important features that you should consider when choosing the right one for you.
Slow cookers work best cooking cheaper cuts of meat such as brisket, ham hock, pork or lamb shoulder and chicken thighs so bear this in mind when shopping for your slow-cooked meal.
The liquid in a slow cooker won’t evaporate as it would in a standard pot, thanks to the appliance’s tightly sealed lid. You can reduce the liquid in your pot by roughly a third so that it covers the meat and vegetables but make sure to not overfill your slow cooker as the food won’t cook as well.
If you have added too much liquid and need to thicken the sauce, mix a small amount of cornflour with some cold water and at it into your slow cooker contents at the end.
Use the low setting on your slow cooker so that whatever dish your making can benefit the most from a slow, gentle heat which makes investing in and using a slow cooker worth it. It also is the safest option, should you be putting something to slow cook overnight or if you nip out to the shops with the appliance on and cooking a dish.
If you’re looking to optimise a relaxed form of cooking and not have to stand by the pot, you’ll want to choose recipes featuring ingredients that can be added in altogether at the beginning and then left to cook.
The general rule of thumb is that, if a dish usually takes:
In our opinion, the functionality and versatility of the Russell Hobbs good to go multi-cooker put it ahead of the pack, delivering an awful lot of bang for a very reasonable amount of buck. However, we would also highly recommend the James Martin digital slow cooker which provided everything you’d want from a classic slow cooker but with the very useful bonus of a digital timer and delay function.
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