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Home & garden.

Updated: 20 May 2022

How to use your slow cooker

Find out how best to cook different meats, and how your new slow cooker can help you save money and effort at mealtimes.
Lisa Galliers
Slow cooker containing a beef stew

Slow cookers – there’s nothing more exciting than unboxing your new gadget, except maybe trying out a brand-new recipe. As well as being a convenient way to cook tasty and wholesome stews, a slow cooker is a great for cooking cheaper cuts, so perfect if you’re on a budget. 

Not sure where to start? Our guide explains which settings are best for different types of meat and which cuts are worth considering. Slow cookers are also a great way to make a range of vegetarian and vegan dishes, plus other recipes you may not have thought of. 

If you’re reading this for inspiration before you buy a slow cooker, great news we’ve got Best Buys from as little as £33. Head straight to our slow cooker reviews to find the perfect cooking companion.

Slow cookers: What's the best setting for my recipe?

Slow cookers come with different temperature settings - basic models usually only have high, low and off settings, while premium models may have a medium setting and an auto setting, which will automatically swap between cooking settings for you. The best setting to choose depends on the food you’re cooking:

High setting

This is recommended for cooking pale meat such as chicken. A high setting will cook the meat faster (in three to six hours) and at a slightly higher temperature. And it’s also a good option if you’ve forgotten to put your recipe on and need it cooked quicker.

Medium setting

Typically found on Morphy Richards models, you can use the medium setting for cooking cuts of red meat. This setting is useful for cooking more quickly without losing all the benefits of slow cooking, but the results won’t be as impressive as cooking on low for longer.

Low setting

This is recommended for cooking cheap cuts of red meat, and is great for recipes such as pulled pork, as it breaks down the meat to make it melt-in-the-mouth. It also gets better results than cooking on the medium or high setting. Cooking on this setting usually takes around 8-10 hours, depending on your slow cooker. There are ‘faster’ slow cookers, which give results on the low setting quicker than others.

Auto cook

This setting is a great option if you want a more hands-off approach to your recipes. It starts cooking on high, and after a set amount of time (usually an hour) will switch to cooking at a low heat. Some models will even flick over to the keep-warm setting, to stop your recipe from spoiling.

Keep warm

A keep-warm or hold setting can be handy, especially if your dinner is delayed - it prevents food from drying out while stopping it from getting cold. On some models, though, it can actually keep cooking the food.

 Visit our best slow cookers page to find a top-performing model.

Which cheap cuts of meat should I try slow cooking?

A slow cooker is a great way to experiment with cheaper cuts of meat, so is perfect if you’re looking to cut back on your shopping bill but without compromising on taste or flavour. Beef shin, mutton shoulder) and ox cheek are just the beginning of a list of cheaper meat cuts that benefit from slow cooking. 

You don’t need to go to MasterChef level though - diced beef or chicken from the supermarket will also work just as well. 

As a general rule of thumb, the more work a muscle does, the more it benefits from slow cooking. For example, a shoulder of lamb can be quite tough and gristly with normal cooking, but whack it in your slow cooker and it will soften beautifully, resulting in a delicious dish.

There are several cheaper cuts of meat that are good for slow cooking and available from butchers:

  • Beef – brisket, ox cheeks, ox tail, beef shin, beef skirt
  • Pork – gammon joint, pig’s cheeks, pig’s knuckle, neck of pork, pig’s trotters
  • Lamb – lamb shanks, scrag end (neck), shoulder
  • Mutton – all cuts

Cuts such as clod, blade and chuck are often lumped together in supermarkets and labelled as ‘braising steak’, and these are great when slow cooked too.

Food shopping on a budget? Read our guide on how to spend less at the supermarket.

Can I roast meat in my slow cooker?

Yes – and it can be a more energy efficient to do so. Roasting in a slow cooker uses an average of 246W, a tiny amount of power, heating a small space. Compare this with the average oven, which uses around 700W. However,  the ‘roasting’ results won’t be identical to oven-roasted meat. 

An oval-shaped slow cooker is best if you’re aiming to roast chicken or large joints of meat, such as a leg of lamb, as they fit easier.

Find out more about slow cookers in best slow cooker guide. 

Vegetarian and vegan recipe ideas – what can I use my slow cooker for?

There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan recipes to cook in a slow cooker, despite many people associating slow cookers with warming stews and meaty dishes like chilli con carne. 

Ideas include bean and lentil chilli, mushroom stroganoff, sausage casserole using vegan or vegetarian sausages, to name just a few tasty dishes, but the list is endless and only limited by your imagination.

Most traditional slow-cooker recipes, such as stew, casserole and curry, can easily be tweaked to suit a vegan or vegetarian diet. 

If you prefer to use dried beans, lentils and peas to cook with, make sure you read the instructions and prepare them carefully. Usually, they’ll need to be soaked overnight to soften, and then boiled for a minimum of 10 minutes to get rid of any toxins.

Canned alternatives are easily available in most supermarkets and are inexpensive.

What other recipes can I make in my slow cooker?

Some of the more adventurous recipes to try include pulled pork, lasagne and risotto. You can even make fudge in your slow cooker. Search the internet and you’ll find countless recipes for cake, gammon in Coke, and even a full cooked breakfast. It’s even possible to make certain types of bread, though the results won’t be the same as oven-baked bread.

You can make an easy and tasty pudding in your slow cooker by adding pudding ingredients into individual bowls, which you then place into the main pot. Pour boiling water in between the bowls, halfway up their sides, to gently poach the puds. Any mess created by the puddings boiling over will be contained if you have an easy-clean ceramic pot.

Slow cookers are also great for jam – they speed up the jam-making process by softening fruit without drying it out. Slice fruit and slow cook on a low heat overnight to make a great jam base.

And for a festive favourite, find out how to make perfect slow cooker mulled wine.