How to buy the best slow cookerby Yvette Fletcher
Find out what you need to consider before choosing your new slow cooker with our expert guide.
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A slow cooker is a convenient and easy way to make a delicious meal. It can also help reduce costs, as cheaper cuts of meat are perfect to use in a slow cooker and they tenderise during the slow cooking process.
But which slow cooker is right for you? Pricier slow cookers cost five times as much as the cheapest models on the market. Before you commit to spending more than you need to, use our independent slow cooker reviews to find the best slow cooker for your budget.
If you're not sure where to start, this guide will explain what you need to consider before picking a slow cooker.
How much do I need to spend on a slow cooker?
Slow cookers aren't too expensive compared to other kitchen appliances - models we've tested range from as little as £10 up to £85. Some of the cheapest models have outshone pricier models in our testing - check out our list of slow cooker Best Buys to see which.
If you pay more you're likely to get more features, such as a bowl that is made of glass, or can be used on the hob first to sear meat. Pricier models usually have fancier digital controls, more timer options and some even have an auto-stir function. But you don't necessarily need any of these features to make a tasty stew. We make sure each cooker - whatever extras it has - can make a really good stew or casserole, as there's no point having a high-tech slow cooker if it can't do the basics well.
What size slow cooker do I need?
It might promise six litres on the box, but you won't get six litres worth of stew out of it. Most slow cookers boast a large capacity, but the usable cooking space is around two thirds of its stated capacity, as you can’t fill the cooking bowl to the top. We check claimed and actual cooking capacity, and list these under specifications, so that you can find the right-sized slow cooker for you when buying.
Generally speaking, the sizes fall into the following categories (showing stated capacities):
- Small (1-2 people): 1.5-3.0 litres
- Medium (3-4 people): 3.0-5.0 litres
- Large (5 or more people): 5.0-6.5 litres
For bulk family cooking, look for a stated capacity of around six litres (which translates to a usable volume of around 4.5 litres). This will feed six to eight people in one go, or is ideal if you like batch cooking for freezing later. If you are more likely to be cooking for one or two, choose a smaller 3.5-litre slow cooker (usable volume of around 2 litres).
Do I need a round or oval slow cooker?
If you want to cook a whole chicken in your slow cooker, then you'll be better off with an oval shape, as its trickier to wedge a chicken in a round slow cooker, and you'll struggle to remove it in one piece.
If you plan to cook only stews or curries, then you will find round slow cookers do the best job.
Do I need a timer or fancy settings?
Will you need a keep-warm setting, or would you prefer a timer that turns the machine off if you’re not back when cooking has finished? Slow cookers with digital controls are usually more expensive than more basic models with just a couple of settings.
Even the cheapest slow cookers usually have a low, high and auto or keep-warm setting, so you could save money by choosing a basic model over something fancier. Find out about common features below, or use our guide on getting the most from your slow cooker for help knowing which settings are best for different foods.
It sounds obvious, but an indicator light is a good visual indicator that your slow cooker is working. This is useful as they take a while to warm up and you won’t be able to tell straight away that cooking has started.
Not all models have a timer, but it's handy if you are going to be away from the slow cooker for longer than the recipe states. Once the cooking time you've set on the timer has been reached, the slow cooker switches to a 'keep warm' setting. This means your food will still be ready to eat as soon as you are, without it getting overcooked.
Cooking on auto means the machine starts on high and drops to low for the rest of the cooking time. On the models Which? has tested, we've found that auto-cooked meat stews taste better than those cooked on either the high or low setting. Auto cook is a setting that's more commonly found on premium slow cookers.
Where do I find the best slow cooker recipes?
Most slow cookers come with a recipe book, or at least some recipes in the instruction manual to get you started. Most of your favourite recipes can be adapted for making in a slow cooker, you'll just need to reduce the amount of liquid used. But if you're short of inspiration, a quick internet search will give many more slow cooker recipes to try - the sky's the limit!
The instruction manual included with any slow cooker should also give a guide on how to reduce liquids, and convert recipes for slow cooking.