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How to buy the best slow cooker

By Haddi Browne

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 as they become tender during the slow-cooking process. 

But some slow cookers cost up to 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.

In this guide:

Just want to see the best models? Head to our round-up of the best slow cookers.

Types of slow cooker 

 Slow cookers are simple appliances that tend to be easy to use. They come in two basic shapes:

  • Round – cheaper average price than oval models and smaller footprint.
  • Oval – tend to be larger, with more room to fit bulky food, such as a chicken or pork chops

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.

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.

Generally speaking, the sizes fall into the following categories (showing stated capacities):

  • Small (1-2 people): 1.5 to 3 litres
  • Medium (3-4 people): 3 to 5 litres
  • Large (5 or more people): 5 to 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 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.

Many cheap slow cookers still come with a 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.

Indicator light

It sounds obvious, but a 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.

Timer

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.

Auto cook

Cooking on auto means the machine starts on high and drops to low for the rest of the cooking time. Auto cook is a setting that's more commonly found on premium slow cookers.

Hob-proof pots

Some slow cookers have an inner pot that can be used on electric, gas and (less commonly) induction hobs. This allows you to use the pot to sear meat and vegetables on the hob before slow cooking, helping you cut down on the washing up and make cooking easier.

Pot material

Ceramic and stoneware pots tend to be a bit heavier than aluminium ones. Aluminium pots have a non-stick coating, which is easier to clean. On the other hand, stoneware pots can be put in the oven.

Microwave/oven proof

A few slow cookers have pots that can be put in the microwave and/or oven, which can be handy for reheating food or doubling up as a casserole pot in the oven.

Slow cookers compared 

We’ve tested the most popular slow cookers from a range of brands, including Morphy Richards, Russell Hobbs, Crock-Pot and cheaper rivals by Argos, Sainsbury's and Tesco.

Read on for a quick summary of how the key models measure up on specs, including capacity, price and features: 

Morphy Richards Sear and Stew Rose Gold 460016, £40

  • Capacity: 3.6 litres
  • Features: Oval shape, medium size, three settings (low, medium and high), aluminium inner pot with non-stick coating

You can get around three or four portions of food out of this stylish slow cooker, which has a matte black finish and a rose gold trim. The pot can be used on electric and gas hobs to sear ingredients before slow cooking. It has manual controls and comes with cooking instructions plus 13 recipes. The oval shape is useful if you fancy branching out from stews by roasting meat.  

See the full Morphy Richards Sear and Stew Rose Gold 460016 review to find out whether it can make a tasty casserole on both settings.

Take a look at all of our Morphy Richards slow cooker reviews.

Crock-Pot CSC052 Lift & Serve, £45

  • Capacity: 4.3 litres
  • Features: Round shape, medium size, three settings (low, high and keep-warm), stoneware inner pot

This premium slow cooker has a dishwasher-proof hinged lid to make serving easier. The pot can’t be used on the hob but this slow cooker has electronic controls and a countdown timer to let you know how long cooking will take. It’s big enough to feed three people and there are nine recipes included for cooking inspiration. The lid and pot are dishwasher-safe and the keep-warm function will keep food warm for at least an hour.

See the full Crock-Pot CSC052 Lift & Serve review to find out whether it’s worth the high price.

Take a look at all of our Crock-Pot slow cooker reviews.

Argos Cookworks 4.5L Searing Slow Cooker, £39.99

  • Capacity: 4.5 litres
  • Features: Oval shape, large size, three settings (low, high and keep-warm), aluminium inner pot with non-stick coating

This Argos slow cooker can feed around five people and the keep-warm setting should keep food hot for an hour. The pot can be used on electric and gas hobs to sear meat before slow cooking. It has manual controls and the pot and glass lid aren’t dishwasher safe.

See the full Argos Cookworks 4.5L Searing Slow Cooker review to see whether we recommend it.

Take a look at all of our Argos slow cooker reviews.

Tesco 3L SCSS12, £14

  • Capacity: 3.2 litres
  • Features: Oval shape, medium size, three settings (low, high and keep-warm), ceramic inner pot

This cheap slow cooker from Tesco is controlled using a simple manual dial and can cook four portions of soup or a casserole for three people. The removable ceramic pot can’t be used on the hob and it’s not dishwasher-safe. The glass lid should make it easy to check on the food without disturbing the cooking process.

See the full Tesco 3L SCSS12 review to see whether this budget slow cooker can get the basics right.

Best slow cookers - get straight to the models we recommend

Where can I find slow cooker recipes?

Many slow cookers come with a recipe book, or at least some recipes in the instruction manual to get you started. And they should also give a guide on how to convert recipes for slow cooking – by reducing liquids for example. 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! 

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