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...

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FEATURE -

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 VERDICT

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.

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