We went in search of the very best slow cooker, cooking batches of everything from chilli to Irish stew (filling the freezer in the process). We considered each slow cooker in terms of its size, heat distribution, versatility and how easy it was to use and clean – and, of course, the deliciousness of the results.
The good news is that you don't have to shell out loads for one of these useful kitchen appliances. Our favourite slow cooker comes in at around the £50 mark – and there are other perfectly serviceable products out there for less than that (although admittedly they tend to be smaller, and so cook less food in one go).
They're all safe to leave on overnight or while you're at work, so you can have beef bourguignon, creamy porridge or even mulled wine ready and waiting. At the moment, we're loving Nadiya Hussain's slow-cooker mushroom lasagne recipe (scroll down for everything else you need to know about the nutrient-retaining wonders of slow cooking).
Below, we've picked out the best slow cookers, tried and tested.
- See also: Telegraph Recommended's review of the best air fryers
Russell Hobbs 6L digital slow cooker
Why we like it: A programmable timer and generous capacity make this ideal for big-batch cooking
This stainless steel model from Russell Hobbs has three heat settings: high, low and warm. That's pretty normal for a slow cooker – but what sets this one apart is the programmable timer. It meant I could prep my food in the morning, and use the time delay function so that the unit commenced cooking at midday, rather than straight away. As I walked through the door at 7pm, my meal was just right; it hadn’t been overcooking for an extra five hours while waiting for my return.
The Russell Hobbs slow cooker renders sauce infused with flavour, and leaves meat tender, but not over-stewed and soft. Other slow cookers without the time delay option meant I left my food cooking a few hours too long if I was out all day, resulting in a slight sogginess and less bite (apart from that, there’s not a huge variation in the taste of the resulting food – slow cooked is slow cooked). The function also made the prospect of cooking for friends on a weeknight far less stressful.
Which brings me onto the size. 6L is a comparatively large capacity; it produces roughly eight portions, depending on what additional side dishes you plan to serve (I also tried cooking with 1.5l, 3.5l and 4.5l slow cookers, on which more later). Given the size of it, it’s not too heavy: the overall weight is 3.7kg, and the detachable bowl is much lighter than that.
The size means it works particularly well if you have a large family or if you enjoy entertaining, but it was also my preference when cooking solely for myself. If you’re slow cooking food, the chances are you’re doing it as much for ease as taste – in which case, you may as well go large and freeze the leftovers, for convenient and healthy ‘ready-made’ meals. Certainly, after testing it for this article, my freezer is packed full of chilli, stew, soup and bolognese. You could easily cook a whole chicken in there.
The removable cooking pot is made of aluminium, and can be easily used for searing meat, frying, sautéing or perhaps browning onions with herbs, spices and garlic; important for locking in flavour. The digital display means it’s easy to monitor the progress of your cooking, and the lid is transparent – handy if you’re trying to work out if you’ve got time for a bath before dinner.
The cooking pot removes swiftly and is easy to clean, but it does gets hot: I found it best to use oven gloves when handling the appliance. The cooking pot and lid can go in the dishwasher, although that might affect the surface finishes. Russell Hobbs offer a one-year guarantee for manufacturer defects only.
I was impressed by the comprehensive cooking guidelines that came with the cooker: they provided 21 recipes to get you started, including tips and timings for everything from vegetables and fish to poultry. I like the simplicity of the recipes, such as ratatouille and braised brisket of beef, as well as the more adventurous pork and pineapple curry.
In conclusion, an excellent all-round package.
Crock-Pot 4.5l DuraCeramic sauté slow cooker
Why we like it: A classic slow cooker with a chemical-free ceramic coating and a useful hinged lid
The 4.5l capacity of this Crock-Pot means it’s well suited to catering for a small family (serves approximately four to five people). Alternatively, it gives you a meal and leftovers for freezing; the nourishing Irish lamb stew I cooked in it comforted me for the best part of a week.
The pot is oven safe, so it doubles up as a faster-cook casserole dish. The appliance has a “warm” setting for keeping food for up to four hours, as well as a low and high setting. Both the pot and lid are safe to use on gas, electric and induction hobs. All in, then, it's a versatile thing.
The classic white design, with toughened glass lid, won’t look out of place in a country home – and since the brand is so well-established (since 1970), in my eyes, it’s both nostalgic and trustworthy.
While the pot is mainly constructed of aluminium, it boasts a specialised ‘DuraCeramic’ coating, which transfers heat quicker while cooking and gives the pot a chemical-free non-stick surface (for more on this subject, see our search for the best frying pan on the market). It also cleans like a dream, with a cloth and soapy water. However, it’s not recommended for the dishwasher, which equates to minus points in my eyes enough to disqualify it from the top spot in this article.
Anyway, so far, so solid. What stood out for me was the thoughtfulness of the removable hinged lid. Yes, that might not sound like the most exciting invention since sliced bread, but it’s actually rather clever – it means that you don’t need to faff around looking for a heat-proof surface for your lid and generally make a mess when you come to serving up. It also saves space, if you’re short of it.
The instruction manual provides a useful guide to adapting standard recipes, as well as 24 creative recipe ideas to try, such as Tuscan bean soup, 5-spice belly pork, enchiladas, tagine and chocolate orange pudding, and all the classics. The creamy rice pudding and the indulgent triple hot chocolate it produces (serves 6) are very cheering.
With the usual three standard settings – high, low and medium – and a capacity which produces around three or four surprisingly generous portions, this slow cooker does what it says on the proverbial tin.
I used it to make a chilli. The sear and stew function meant it was easy to heat some oil and brown my mince first on the hob (the removable cooking pot is compatible with most hobs, with the exception of induction).
The large, transparent oval lid is made from toughened glass and it’s clear, so it’s easy to see how your food is getting on without having to open it up. There's no time display or time delay function though (I just left my chilli on overnight, and hoped for the best, which seemed to do the trick). In black, it looks smart when left on the side, and because it's small, it doesn't require much storage space.
Handily, both the glass lid and cooking pot are dishwasher safe (although as with all slow cookers, you should never immerse the main electric unit in water). It’s made with strong materials, aluminium and stainless steel, so despite being good value, I suspect it will last a long time (but there’s a guarantee of up to two years for piece of mind, if you register with Morphy Richards).
The recipe booklet and instruction manual provides more than 25 specially developed recipes (I like the look of the curries, and the dessert of pears in red wine goes down a treat). At this price point, for me, it seemed a sensible purchase for anyone new to slow cooking.
The best of the rest
My favourite one-person slow cooker is the Breville 1.5l stainless steel compact slow cooker, available for £14 from Robert Dyas (ceramic bowl, three heat settings, dishwasher safe). The autocook function is brilliant: it does the work of judging the progress of your food for you.
The Breville produces one or two hearty meals, so it's not good for batch cooking, but on the plus side it doesn’t take up very much space at all: perfect for a student, who can use it to elevate a sausage and baked bean casserole, or perhaps for a single person to keep in a pied-a-terre flat.
It’s not suitable to use on the hob, and the ceramic cooking pot shouldn’t be placed on any surface affected by heat. A trivet or an insulated pad is recommended.
For sheer novelty value, the Russell Hobbs 3.5l chalkboard slow cooker (£20, John Lewis) also deserves a mention. You can scribble on the outside of the pot, which is effectively a blackboard (although not when it’s hot). It’s fun for keeping track of recipes, for teaching people how to cook or for leaving cute messages in the kitchen for the family or for when your other half gets home (“Dinner’s ready!” “Rachel’s boiled ham!” “All in good thyme!” etc etc.)
Design-wise, it looks the most stylish of those tested, if the aesthetic is important to you, and the heavy ceramic black cooking pot feels robust and well made. My main criticism is that it’s tall rather than wide – good for taking up less surface space, but perhaps not so good for even cooking.
We also rated the VonShef 6.5L slow cooker, with a removable oven to table dish and toughened glass lid, which serves up to 8 people (£27.99, Amazon). Perfect if you're precious about your surfaces, and want to save on washing up but still enjoy the convivial atmosphere of a central serving pot in the middle of the dining room table.
Slow cooker FAQ
What is the benefit of slow cooking?
The benefits of slow cooking are many. Health-wise, it retains nutrients and reduces damage to the vitamins found naturally in food, as well as amplifying flavour. Vegetables benefit from slow cooking, because it allows them to develop their full flavour – they often overcook in the oven or the hob. Slow cooking is also economical, since it can tenderise cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, like shin.
Convenience is obviously a major advantage, as you can time it so your meal is waiting for you when you get home (or, in the case of porridge, wake up).
What can be cooked in a slow cooker?
In short... everything. Slow cooking food is healthy and tasty and no British staple food will become dangerous if prepared this way.
That being said, we did learn some valuable tips and tricks while reviewing the products in our test kitchen. In no particular order...
Insert a meat thermometer into joints of roasts, hams or whole chickens to ensure they are cooked to the desired temperature
When selecting meat, look for the leanest cuts. Trim any visible fat from the meat because the slow cooking process will result in too much liquid in the form of fat.
Pre-browning meat and poultry prior to cooking seals in the moisture, intensifies the flavour, and provides more tender results.
Root vegetables and potatoes take longer to cook than meat and should be thinly sliced or placed near the sides or bottom of the cooking bowl, because of their starchy cellular structure.
Not everything benefits from the slow cooker: while slow cooking turns tough joints tender, it can render lean cuts leathery, and more delicate vegetables like courgettes and peas can end up mushy.
Use whole leaf herbs for a fuller, stronger flavour
There’s no direct heat at the bottom, so generally it’s best to fill your slow cooker at least half full for even cooking
Use canned or fully pre-cooked kidney beans; dried beans should always be fully cooked before added to a recipe
Thaw frozen food completely before adding it to the cooking pot
To cook fish in a slow cooker, grease the base with butter, clean and trim the fish, season and sprinkle with lemon juice, add stock, water or wine and cook on a low heat.
Always make sure an appliance is unplugged and has cooled down before attempting to clean it.