Slow cooking appliances have been popular since the 1950’s when they first hit the market. They’re now found in most households and used as a great way for making delicious meals with minimal hassle.
By simply throwing in some core ingredients into the crock pot, delicious meals practically make themselves leaving you to go about your day, or start working on other courses of your evening meal while your slow cooker simmers away.
In short, a slow cooker is good to have and finding the right one for your kitchen can be a lifesaver. Whether you need to replace your trusted crock pot with an upgrade, or if you’re moving into a new apartment and need your very first slow cooker, we’ve created a useful guide to inform of everything you need to know when buying your next best slow cooker!
What is a slow cooker?
Slow cookers come with a wide range of prices and functions but they are essentially all one thing: a countertop electrical appliance used to cook meals for long periods on low temperatures. It’s a simple way of cooking and an alternative to other methods like baking, boiling, and frying.
To use a slow cooker, you simply place raw food and liquid into the pot and turn on the appliance using one of its temperature settings. Some recipes might need you to pre-cook food before placing it into the pot, but it’s easy to find meal ideas that involve no preparation at all – simply chuck your favourite vegetables, stock and spices into the pot and letting it cook itself to perfection.
The most basic cookers will only have a few temperature settings and must be turned on and off manually. Other more advanced cookers will have timing devices that let you programme specific temperatures for set periods of time.
Why do people like slow cookers?
The low temperature of slow-cooking makes it almost impossible to burn food, even when you leave it unattended for a whole day. It is also a great way to utilise cheaper cuts of meat, such as lamb shanks, which is a popular cut of choice for slow cooker meals that can deliver great taste and texture at a very low cost.
Cooking the meal in a single pot reduces the amount of dishes you need to wash up, reducing water waste and saving time during clear up. The glazed pot found in most slow cooker crock pots are typically easy to maintain and clean too, making it a good choice for kitchens with limited space.
Finally, slow cookers require minimal energy to operate, which is great for families that are environmentally conscious or concerned about their energy bills being too high.
Do I need a slow cooker?
A slow cooker is a convenient and versatile appliance. With a minimal amount of liquid, you can craft beautiful soups, casseroles and stews, without attending the cooker constantly. If you like to cook these kinds of meals (and who doesn’t during the winter months!), a crock pot is an essential addition to the household.
Also, if you’re trying to cook healthier food and are struggling for ideas, the crock pot can easily cook vegetables, pulses and legumes to great effect.
- Lets you cook for long periods without attending
- Makes cheap cuts delicious
- Reduces mess from cooking and preparation
- Doesn’t require much stirring (or any at all, depending on our model)
- Uses a low amount of heat and energy
- Require long periods of time and advance planning to cook anything
- Large items that can be difficult to store
- If your power goes out, your meal will stop cooking
What to look for when buying a slow cooker
A great number of slow cookers heat the pot from the bottom only, while others have heating elements that enclose the sides of the removable pot as well. The latter situation is preferable as it allows for a more evenly distributed heat throughout the pot.
Realistically, a bottom-heat-only device gets the job done well enough too and simply requires you to stir the ingredients once in a while, if you’re using chunky ingredients that might block the passage of heat from bottom to top.
Alternatively, you may prefer that heat comes from the bottom and want to use it to your advantage, placing harder to cook ingredients at the bottom and lighter ingredients at the top.
Crock pot design and material
Crock pots are typically made using ceramic and porcelain, however, you can also find completely metal crocks too. Both do a decent job of conducting heat, so it’s really up to you which one you prefer. Many enjoy the more rustic feel of ceramic pots, which can be removed from the heating device and placed on the table, while others aren’t fussy about this aspect.
The most important thing about the crock design is how easy it is to remove and clean. You won’t want a crock pot and heating device to be joined together as this will make it incredibly hard to wash without damaging the electrics of the appliance.
You’ll probably think of an oval shaped slow cooker if asked to imagine one. These options have been the most popular due to their ability to cook various ingredient of differing shape and size. For instance, oval pots are good for placing entire chickens inside with enough room for extra vegetables to create a lovely veg stew for winter.
If your kitchen space is limited; your budget is lower or you simply don’t care, you can also pick up a number of round slow cookers for a cheap price that will easily tuck away into your cabinets.
You’ll probably want to check the progress of your slow cooked meal now and then to see how it’s getting on. To do this, it’s better if you have a lid that is made from glass rather than opaque materials like plastic or metal.
Similar to shape, the size of your cooker really depends on what you’ll be cooking and your preferences. Having said this, if you’re going to cook a delicious meal over the course of a day, you’ll probably want a large volume of it to feed you and your guests, as well as give you the option of leftovers. In these situations, bigger is obviously better.
Timers are a great little addition to the slow cooker. A simple digital timer and an automatic shut off function can make sure you don’t overcook any of your dishes. For soups and stews, this is less important, but for other meals where you want to retain a certain mount of form, timer devices stop your food from turning into mush if you forget that you’ve left your crock pot on!
Good slow cookers should also come with a decent warming option so that you can keep your meal at optimal heat, ready to be served when your guests arrive or when your family is ready to eat. This will simply hold the food at a low temperature. If you have a timer device on your crock pot, you may be able to set your slow cooker to automatically switch to warming mode after a certain amount of time.
The biggest benefit to this is that you don’t have to worry about your food overcooking if you’re out of the house longer than you thought, or you simply forget that it’s cooking.
Our top recommendations for best slow cookers
Lakeland Digital slow cooker 6.5-litre
Sometimes you simply need a larger slow cooker for the holiday periods when you have greater numbers of guests attending your various parties and gatherings. Or you may just have a large family. Either way, this is a good choice for cooking large slow cooked meals without much hassle.
Tefal RK302E15 Multicook 8-in-1 multi-cooker
This is one of the best value slow cookers on the market, which comes with multiple functions, safety features and a reasonable price tag. The Tefal 8-in-1 multi-cooker comes with everything you need for standard slow cooker meals, as well as a tidy design that matches almost all kitchen settings.
Ninja Foodi multi-cooker OP300UK
This well-built multi-cooker is great for multitasking with slow and pressure cooking functions, air frying, roasting and even grilling. It also has a decent sear function that means you can prepare meat and veg without having to pre-cook them on the hob. It might not be necessary if you simply want a no-nonsense appliance to cook your veg stew in, but if you like to cook using a range of different methods, this is a great all-in-one device.
Sage – The Fast Slow Pro
The Fast Slow Pro belongs to a slightly higher price range than most slow cookers due to its additional functionality and aesthetic appeal. Again, if this isn’t necessary in your house, then you can look to a cheaper model. However, if you’re upgrading from something more basic and want to enjoy the benefits of additional searing, sautéing and reducing functions, this is a good choice.
Tower Infinity 3.5-litre slow cooker
The Tower Infinity 3.5-litre slow cooker is a good no nonsense slow cooker choice. This model has good basic functionality and looks decent enough to sit on any kitchen worktop. Most households don’t need all the extra add-ons that come in the slow cooking world, so if you simply want decent cooking performance and value for money, this is a great choice!
We’ve rounded up a few of the best slow cookers on the market, but there a plenty of options out there that will do just fine for you and your family. Just keep in mind the reasons you’re buying it and the important features that matter the most to you. And if you’re concerned about the safety of leaving the cooker on all day, opt for a global manufacturer brand that comes well-reviewed by customers.