What’s the best slow cooker?
Want a delicious and nutritious feast without any hassle? Kate Hilpern puts this favourite piece of kitchen kit to the test...
Slow cookers took kitchens by storm back in the 1970s — and now, they’re back in vogue. All slow cookers do the basics of cooking slowly — but cheaper ones don’t have fancy features such as a timer, digital controls, keep-warm function and inner bowl that can be used on the hob first. Some pricier models have these functions while doing a lot more besides slow cooking, with some promising to bake, roast, saute and steam as well as slow cook.
Size matters, but remember that even if it promises 5-litre capacity, you won’t get 5 litres’ worth of dinner out of it. That’s because you can’t fill it to the top, with the usable cooking space generally around two-thirds of the stated capacity. As a general rule of thumb, a 1.5-3l slow cooker will feed one or two people; a machine that’s 3-5l will serve three or four people; and anything between 5-5.5l will feed four to five people; while a 6.5l machine will feed six to eight people.
If you want to do extra things like roast a joint of meat, especially a chicken, an oval-shaped machine is better.
Morphy Richards Sear and Stew Slow Cooker 460016: £38.28, Amazon
With most slow cookers, you have to forgo searing your meat unless you’re prepared to brown it off in a separate pan first. This clever machine allows you to do both, making this a one-stop pot for a hearty dinner. The dishwasher safe glass lid means you can check on your meal as it cooks without releasing any heat, and the 3.5l capacity easily feeds three to four people (and fits a whole chicken). It’s smarter looking than most, even featuring the notoriously trendy rose gold colour. But unfortunately, there’s no keep-warm function.
Crock-Pot Lift & Serve 4.7l Digital Slow Cooker: £45, Amazon
This machine, from the original slow cooker brand, produces mouth-watering tagines, succulent joints and tasty puddings — and there’s enough to feed a family of four. The hinged lid is great for clean freaks as any condensation just drips back in, and you can remove it for easy cleaning (this, plus the bowl, can go in the dishwasher). Other handy features include the adjustable timer (from 30 minutes to 20 hours) and digital display, so you never have to guess how long is left. There are three settings — low, high and keep-warm, and we thought the recipes in the booklet were rather good too.
Sage The Fast Slow Pro: £124.99, Argos
As pricey as this may be, it is so much more than a slow cooker. You can use this one-pot wonder for fast cooking too, as it doubles up as a pressure cooker, as well as being able to sear, saute, reduce and steam. We enjoyed some delicious soups and rice dishes. It’s got all sorts of features (this is a brand with Heston Blumenthal behind it) that tell you what’s happening during the cooking process. There’s a keep-warm function that lasts up to two hours and it’s easy to clean, too.
Russell Hobbs Digital Searing Slow Cooker 22750: £49.63, Amazon
You can invite all the neighbours round with this slow cooker, which has an extra large 6l capacity to feed eight people. But it’s also nice and lightweight. As with the Morphy Richards machine, you can sear your food first, but it’s a bit more of a faff as you have to use a separate pot and put it on the hob first.
We like the precision cooking, thanks to the three heat settings, and digital controls allowing you to not only adjust the heat, but the timer (including delay timer — handy if you have to go to work and want the cooking process to start a bit later). Our food was succulent and tender and it’s a breeze to clean.
Bella Cook and Serve 3 Pot Slow Cooker: £69.99, Lakeland
The USP here is the option to cook more than one dish at a time, with a keep-warm function that means the food can all stay in its respective pots until you’re ready to eat. It doesn’t get much more hassle-free than that. Great for small dinner parties, the pots even have spoon indentations and lid stands.
We tried making curries, with good results. There’s more washing up (although the stoneware pots and glass lids can go in the dishwasher) and you’ ll have to find extra storage space as it’s pretty bulky. But for slow-cooking en masse, we think it’s worth investing in.
Crock-Pot Family Multi and Slow Cooker: £119.99, Lakeland
This will set you back a bit, but costs hardly anything to run. It’s big at 5.6l and is much more versatile than most, enabling you to bake, roast, sauté, steam and slow cook. It’s a doddle to work and use, with the five preset programmes (although you can manually change the cooking times and temperatures too, which is good for precision cooking). We tried fish, veg and a cake and minimalised the washing up to practically zero. It’s got a keep-warm function, a robust glass lid and even a countdown timer so you know when to bung the rice or tatties on. Cookworks 6.5l Slow Cooker: £24.99 This is our top recommendation for students, or anyone on a tight budget who is after something cheap and cheerful to use for batch cooking, or a big get-together. Other slow cookers at this price can dry out meat or pulses, but this one keeps food rich and moist on all three heat settings. It was quick to cook on the high setting — although we would recommend the low setting for the best results. It’s not as durable or non-stick as some and there’s no keep-warm function.
Lakeland 1.5l Slow Cooker: £22.99, Lakeland
This makes sumptuous stews, with rich, smooth sauces, both on the low and high settings — for one to two people. It’s easy to use and clean, as the crock and lid are dishwasher safe, and it’s small and light. It comes with two heat settings and an auto-warm function to keep food piping hot, although it’s a shame that you can’t use the inner bowl on the stove first. If you need to cater for a large family, there are bigger ones available in the same range.
Vonshef 3.5l Slow Cooker: £19.99, Vonshef
Available in black or silver, this feels wellmade and has three settings of low, warm and high, all of which produce tender and tasty stews, curries, sauces and roasts. The parts are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning afterwards. It comes with some good recipes (including coq au vin and beef stroganoff ), but it is a no-frills machine whose efforts are focused on the basics. Wrong size? There are smaller and larger sizes available too.
The Morphy Richards Sear and Stew Slow Cooker is easily the most good-looking slow cooker on the market — and it’s not a case of style over substance, with practicality being at the heart of the design. And for something really fancy, try the Sage The Fast Slow Pro — there’s practically nothing it doesn’t do.