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Home & garden.

Updated: 17 Dec 2021

How to buy the best slow cooker

Find out what you need to consider before choosing your new slow cooker, with our expert guide.
Lisa Galliers
Unpacking new slow cooker

Looking for a delicious dinner, but trying to save some cash? A slow cooker could be the answer. 

The best slow cookers make it easy to create recipes from cheaper cuts of meat, a variety of veggies, or whatever’s left over in your fridge, for a fuss-free, low-cost meal. 

And what’s even better is that the cooking’s done for you. 

If you're not sure where to start, this guide will explain what you need to consider before picking a slow cooker.

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

Types of slow cooker

Chicken in a slow cooker

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

  • Round – usually smaller cooking capacity, can be cheaper, smaller size.
  • Oval – can be larger, with more room to fit bulky food, such as a whole chicken or leg of lamb

An oval-shaped slow cooker is more versatile, so if you’re planning on batch cooking a veggie chilli, or tackling a whole chicken or leg of lamb, then you'll be better off with an oval shape. Its trickier to wedge a chicken in a round slow cooker, and you'll struggle to remove it in one piece. The larger capacity also lends itself well to batch cooking.

A smaller, round slow cooker can be ideal if you’re cooking for one or two people, or aren’t fussed about having lots of leftovers to freeze. 

If you plan to cook only stews or curries, then either shape will be absolutely fine - simply choose one that is big enough for your needs. 

Looking for an easier way to cook rice? See our round-up of the best rice cookers.

How much should I pay to get a decent slow cooker? 

Slow cookers can be inexpensive. We’ve seen some for as little as £9 in the past, but our Best Buys start at around £35, which proves you don’t have to spend a lot to get a decent slow cooker. 

Some of the priciest slow cookers we’ve tested cost up to £100. These models have digital controls, timers and even some multi-cooker options., but price doesn’t’ always equal good value.

Our tough testing has also revealed a £13 Don’t Buy, so before you commit to spending more than you need to, it pays to read our independent slow cooker reviews to avoid a useless slow cooker - even if it does seem a bit of bargain.

Filter our slow cooker reviews to find one for your budget.

What size slow cooker do I need?

Vegetables in a slow cooker

Don’t rely on what the box says about the size of your slow cooker, and don’t be swayed by the marketing blurb promising litres of space.

It might promise six litres on the box, but you won't get six litres’ worth of your favourite recipe in the cooking bowl. 

Most slow cookers have a large claimed capacity, but the usable cooking space is around two thirds of its stated capacity – that’s because it’s a safety risk if you overfill your slow cooker. 

We check claimed and actual cooking capacities, and list these under specifications, so that you can find a slow cooker that’s the right size for your household.

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 6 litres (which translates to a usable volume of around 4.5 litres). This will feed five to eight people in one go or is ideal if you like batch cooking for the freezer. 

If you’re cooking for one or two and have no plans to freeze leftovers, choose a smaller 3.5-litre slow cooker (usable volume of around 2 litres).

Best slow cooker features to look out for

What settings do I need?

The range of settings on your slow cooker will depend on how much you spend. The most basic slow cookers will have high, low and possibly a keep -warm setting, which you’ll need to select manually.  So if you’re not too bothered by anything more fancy, then save yourself some money and opt for a basic slow cooker. 

Slow cookers with digital controls and other cooking options are usually more expensive, but have more options and are a bit more versatile.. Find out about the various slow cooker settings 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 an indicator light will show you instantly that your slow cooker is on and working. Not every slow cooker has one, especially the very basic models. 

Keep warm

This useful setting does exactly what it says: it will keep your food warm after cooking has finished. Generally, this is a setting you select manually on many slow cookers, but some more expensive models have an option to switch over to the keep-warm setting automatically.

Auto cook

Cooking on auto means the machine starts on high and then drops down to low power for the rest of the cooking time. Some will even switch over to ‘keep warm’ for you automatically, at the end of cooking. Auto cook settings can be found on mid-range slow cookers, so you don’t need to spend too much more to get this useful addition.

Timer

A built-in timer is handy, but these are generally found on more expensive models with digital controls. They’re ideal  if you’re 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 will either switch to a 'keep warm' setting or turn off. This means your food will still be ready to eat as soon as you are, without it getting overcooked.

Hob-proof pots

Some slow cookers have an inner pot that can be used on the hob first. Some can be used on electric, gas and (less commonly) induction hobs, but you’ll need to check before you buy. This is a great feature to look out for if you’re a fan of searing meat or caramelising vegetables before slow cooking. It also helps cut down on washing up, makes cooking easier and can add to the flavour of your dish

Pot material

Ceramic and stoneware pots are generally  heavier than aluminium ones, especially when they’re filled with hot curry or casserole. If you find it hard to move heavy pots around, then opt for an aluminium pot. Sometimes these also have a non-stick coating, which makes cleaning up much easier.  All our reviews will tell you which parts of the slow cooker can go in the dishwasher or need to be washed by hand.

Microwave/oven-proof

A few slow cookers, such some Crock Pots, have cooking dishes which can be put in the microwave and/or oven. This can be handy for reheating food or doubling up as a casserole pot in the oven. If this feature sounds appealing, check that the cooking dish check fits in your microwave before you buy.

Popular slow cookers compared

If you’re after a cheap slow cooker, 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.

Head straight to the best slow cookers to see the models we recommend.

Morphy Richards Sear and Stew Rose Gold 460016, £40

Morphy Richards Sear and Stew Rose Gold 460016 slow cooker
  • 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 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

Crock-Pot CSC052 Lift & Serve slow cooker
  • 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.

Best slow cookers - get straight to the models we recommend

Slow cooker recipes: where can I find them?

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

But if you're short of inspiration, a quick internet search will give many more slow cooker recipes to try. There’s no end to what your slow cooker can do, and even your favourite recipes can be adapted.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Stews, casseroles and curries
  • Risotto
  • Pulse-based dishes such as dal
  • Chilli, Bolognese and even lasagne
  • Porridge
  • Hot drinks such as mulled wine and hot chocolate
  • Fudge 

Slow cooker vs pressure cooker

Slow cooking uses low temperatures, while pressure cooking uses high-pressure steam, but both methods allow you to make meals with tender meat and great depth of flavour. The main difference is time. Slow cookers take several hours to cook a meal, while pressure cooking times are much shorter. 

Like some slow cookers, electric pressure cookers can also act as multicookers, with some able to slow cook, steam or even air-fry your food. This extra functionality makes these slow cookers more expensive than basic models.

Pressure cookersSlow cookers
Uses high-pressure steam for meals with tender, juicy meatSlow cooking gives tender results and deep flavours
Short cooking timtes can be better if you don't have as much time to prepare dinnerLong cooking times allow cooking to happen while you do other things, such as go to work or shopping
Some act as multi-cookers including rice-cooking and air-fryingSome can include multi-cooking options
More expensive models can include pre-programmed recipesMore expensive models can have more functionality


Don’t have time to slow cook? Head to our best pressure cookers instead.