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Top three festive hacks for your slow cooker

Perfect mulled wine and other ways to make use of your slow cooker this Christmas

If you’re planning some festive gatherings, or simply like to have an endless supply of mulled goodness over the Christmas period, the humble slow cooker could be the answer to your prayers.

You might not think that a slow cooker has much of a place at the Christmas table, but it can be a handy way to keep things warm and free up space if you’ve got multiple dishes cooking on your hob or hotplate. It also means one less thing to keep an eye on when you’re tackling party prep.

We’ve pulled together three classic Christmas recipes you can prepare in your slow cooker, along with advice on tasty twists to experiment with. Watch our quick video guide to making slow cooker mulled wine below and get all our recipes and advice further down the page.

Best slow cookers – see the models we recommend for perfect results.

Making mulled drinks in your slow cooker

Using a slow cooker means you can leave the flavours to infuse while you get on with other things, and the gentle heat means there’s less risk of overheating your concoction and boiling off the alcohol. By switching to ‘low’ or ‘keep warm’ when it’s ready, you can keep your brew at the perfect drinking temperature throughout the evening, so it’s easy to top up thirsty guests.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can also make these recipes on the hob, you’ll just need to cut down the heating times and stick to a gentle heat.

1. Slow cooker mulled wine


  • 250 ml water
  • 4-5 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 star anise, 6-8 cloves
  • 1 orange and 1 lemon, sliced
  • 3/4 bottle red wine
  • 1-2 capfuls rum or brandy (optional)


  1. Slice the lemon and orange, and stud half of them with cloves.
  2. Cook the sugar, water, spices and clove-studded fruit for 20-30 mins on high to allow the sugar to dissolve and the flavours to infuse.
  3. Add the wine and brandy and switch to low for approximately one hour.
  4. Serve in small mugs or glasses, with spare slices of orange and lemon to garnish.

Variations to try

Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavours to find your favourite blend. Try a splash of blackcurrant liqueur instead of brandy, clementines instead of oranges, or a handful of cranberries or allspice berries.

Jamie Oliver uses sliced lime, and adds grated nutmeg and bay leaves to the mix, BBC Good Food recommends squeezing half the orange juices in to sweeten the mix, and adds a splash of Cointreau. Sliced ginger or a ginger tea bag is another way to add some zing.

Shortcuts and cheats

If you’re in a rush, you can buy pre-mixed bottles of mulled wine which are sweetened and spiced already, and simply warm and add some sliced citrus fruits. Or you could buy a mulled spice kit – these are like small tea bags with pre-mixed spices. Cinnamon sticks can be pricey in big supermarkets, so it’s worth checking in health food shops or independents to see if you can get better value.

Ready-mixed mulled wine usually works out cheaper, but you’ll have less control over the flavour and they tend to be less alcoholic too.

Best wine for mulling

We asked Helen McGinn, one of our Christmas wine tasting experts, for her top tips on which wine to use. She suggested using a soft, fruity red. Think inexpensive Spanish, Chilean or Australian reds, and avoid anything too heavy and tannic, otherwise the post-mulling mellow spice flavours will struggle to get through. Her recommended extra is a splash of ruby port.

See our list of the best red wines for winter.

2. Slow cooker mulled cider


  • 550ml cider
  • 1 orange and 1 apple, sliced
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, 1 star anise, 6-8 cloves, 1 teaspoon allspice berries
  • 2 tablespoons honey or brown sugar
  • 200ml apple juice
  • 1-2 capfuls rum (optional)


  1. Slice the apple and orange, and stud half the slices with cloves.
  2. Cook the honey, apple juice, spices and fruit for 20-30 mins on high to allow the sugar to dissolve and the flavours to infuse.
  3. Add the cider and rum, and switch to low for approximately one hour.
  4. Serve in small mugs or glasses, with spare slices of orange and apple to garnish.

Variations to try

Try adding some pear slices instead of apple. Nigella Lawson adds cardamom, bay leaves and ginger to her mix, while Jamie Oliver takes things up a notch fruit-wise with sliced clementines and pomegranate seeds.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall uses a splash of sloe gin instead of rum. You could also experiment with other festive tipples such as Winter Pimm’s.

Shortcuts and cheats

As with the wine, you can buy mulled cider for warming, or a ready-made spice bag, which you can heat up with some sliced fruit for added interest.

Best cider for mulling

If mulling cider, Helen suggests using a good-quality traditional cider (not too fizzy) and if you want to extra oomph, add a slug of your favourite spirit once the mulling is done.

Whether you’re mulling wine or cider, the secret is to cook it on low and not for too long. The trick is getting the spice flavours to emerge without heating off the alcohol – which is where your slow cooker comes in.

3. Slow cooker mulled punch

This non-alcoholic version is ideal for kids, non-drinkers, or those on driving duty.


  • 275 ml apple juice
  • 200 ml cranberry or cherry juice
  • 250 ml orange juice
  • 1 orange and 1 apple, sliced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, 6-8 cloves, 1 star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, or ginger tea bag
  • 1 tablespoon honey


  1. Slice the apple and orange, and stud half the slices with cloves.
  2. Pop everything into the slow cooker and give it a good stir.
  3. Leave to cook on low for 1.5-2 hours.
  4. Serve in small mugs or glasses, with spare slices of orange and apple to garnish.

Variations to try

Look out for festive juice options; Ribena sells a limited edition ‘Winter Spice’ fruit cordial, and Belvoir offers a mulled winter punch drink. You can warm these in the slow cooker to make an easy non-alcoholic brew.

Shortcuts and cheats

Use a mulled wine or cider spice bag. Mixed fruit juice is a good shortcut if you don’t want to buy multiple juice cartons.

Adapting the recipes for your slow cooker

Each recipe above is based on a small (2-3 person) slow cooker. You can then scale this up to match the size of your slow cooker or pan, and adjust the recipe to your preferences and tastes.

Double quantities for medium-sized models, and triple them for larger ones. You don’t need to double the amount of cloves and cinnamon, though – go for half as much again instead. Remember never to fill your slow cooker beyond around two-thirds full.

How to use your slow cooker – advice and tips on getting the most out of slow cooking

Why not also try: Slow cooker hot chocolate

For truly icy winter days, a steaming mug of hot cocoa could do the trick. Add a dash of Baileys to give it an edge, and marshmallows, whipped cream or even a candy cane for a sweeter treat.

Simply mix up cocoa powder with whole milk and a couple of teaspoons of sugar, as you normally would. Cook on low in the slow cooker for 1-2 hours. Add a couple of handfuls of chopped chocolate (dark or milk depending on your preference) and stir in until melted. You can also add a generous slug of cream if you’re feeling indulgent. Cook for a further 30 minutes until hot, garnish and serve.

Other slow cooker Christmas cheats

A slow cooker can help out with more than just hot drinks at Christmas. If you’re a fan of the classic braised red cabbage and apple in cider as an accompaniment to your roast dinner, this is a good dish to make in a slow cooker. If you like generous lashings of sauce with your turkey, why not make up a large batch of bread sauce instead.

For more advice on prepping for the big day, see our complete guide to Christmas cooking.

Aldi Ambiano slow cooker

Choosing the best slow cooker

During the colder months, slow cookers are a great way of making hassle-free and tasty meals. The long, low heat helps to produce tender meat and rich sauces. However, in our lab tests, we’ve found that some slow cookers give out too much, too little, or uneven heat. This can result in dried-out or undercooked food, which is not what you want to come home to.

It’s not always the cheap models that are a letdown either, some pricey models haven’t lived up to the standards set by the best cheap slow cookers. There are some great cheap slow cookers around – if you choose wisely – but you’re less likely to get extra features, so it’s worth thinking about what settings you can’t live without before you buy. See our slow cooker buying guide for more advice on finding the best option for you.

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