Cheap to buy and economical to run, slow cookers are great for cooking budget cuts of meat – and as you don’t need to add any oil, the end results are healthier too. Deciding to buy a slow cooker is an easy decision, but choosing the perfect model for you can be harder. Our guide explains everything you need to consider when shopping for the best one.
How much should I pay for a slow cooker?
A basic slow cooker can be bought for as little as £15 or you can pay up to £100 for a premium slow cooker model. More expensive slow cookers have extra features such as timers or sear functions, but a delicious slow-cooked meal can be accomplished with even the most basic model.
What size slow cooker do I need?
Slow cookers come in a range of sizes, with capacity measured in litres. For one or two people, a slow cooker with a capacity of 3 litres is perfect, while a mid-sized model with a capacity of 3 to 5 litres will provide three or four servings. For larger families or for batch-cooking meals to freeze later, look for a large model that has a capacity of 5 or 6 litres.
Bear in mind that slow cookers work best when not full and the actual usable capacity of a model is around two thirds of its stated capacity. So for a slow cooker that boasts a capacity of 3.5 litres, the usable cooking space will only be around 2 litres.
What shape should I buy?
Slow cookers come in round or oval shapes. Whole chickens and large pieces of meat such as brisket or shoulder fit better in an oval-shaped slow cooker, while a round-shaped model is well suited for soups, stews and casseroles.
Essential slow cooker features
Typically, the more you pay for a slow cooker, the more features it comes with. Knowing which features are worth paying can help you decide which slow cooker is right for you. Here’s our guide to handy slow cooker features.
- Indicator light Not all slow cookers have lights and if they do, what they indicate can vary, so check the manual. The light on a slow cooker can be just a power light, for example, rather than anything more sophisticated.
- Pot material Most are ceramic and porcelain, although there are some metal crocks, too. All work well at conducting heat but look for one that’s easy to clean.
- Glass lids When using a slow cooker, it’s best to avoid opening the lid as this extends the cooking time. A glass lid lets you see how the cooking is progressing.
- Sear function Some slow cookers let you brown meats or sautée vegetables in the same pot that’s used for slow cooking. This works in one of two ways: either with a sear setting that lets you brown food before switching to slow cooking or by using the pot directly on the hob before inserting it back into the slow cooker. Although this means one less pan to wash up, it’s not an essential feature especially if you’re on a budget.
- Timer A timer is a useful feature, if you’re not at home when the slow cooker finishing cooking. Once the cooking time set on the timer has finished, the slow cooker switches to a keep warm function to stop food overcooking.
- Keep warm function Whether linked to a timer or not, a warming function is useful for keeping food at a safe temperature without overcooking it. Handy for dinner parties or for when you’re out of the house longer than intended.
- Auto cook Usually an option more expensive models, the slow cooker starts by heating on high and once a high temperature is reached, it automatically switches to the low setting.
- Programmes Some slow cookers have digital programming units that can be set to cook for a set number of hours, temperatures or according to the type of food being cooked, then automatically switch to a warm setting.
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