9 best slow cookers that help you rustle up stews and casseroles with minimal effort

If you’re looking to cooking a little easier, brands like Crock-Pot and Morphy Richards have saved the day with these must-have appliances

Kate Hilpern
Thursday 24 September 2020 20:44
We tested these machines on durability, cleanability, fancy features (where there were some) and ease of use – but mostly we rated on them on the culinary results
We tested these machines on durability, cleanability, fancy features (where there were some) and ease of use – but mostly we rated on them on the culinary results

Slow cookers are simple to use, even for amateur cooks, and they have the ability to liven up cheap cuts of meat and cheap as chips vegetarian ingredients because by slow cooking flavours are developed and ingredients are kept moist.  

Whether you want to make spongy puddings, soups, curries or even a Sunday roast, they also have the advantage of getting on with minimal – or usually no – input from you. Plus, they’re one of the cheapest small kitchen appliances around.

Is it a case of you get what you pay for? No, some of the cheapest machines we tested produced excellent results (although others suffered from hot spots that dried out food or gave inconsistent results).  

With the expensive machines (which can also suffer from hot spots), you’re really paying for additional features such as a timer, digital controls, keep warm function and inner bowl that can be used on the hob or in the oven. Some even do more besides slow cooking – searing, steaming and even sous vide or rice cooking, to name a few.

The shape matters – round designs produce the most even results for casseroles, while oval is better for roasts. Think about size too, remembering that even if it promises 5l capacity, you won’t get 5l worth of dinner out of it. That’s because you can’t fill it to the top, with the usable cooking space generally around two-thirds of the stated capacity.

 

As a general rule, a 1.5l to 3l slow cooker will feed one or two people; 3l to 5l will serve three or four people; 5l to 5.5l will feed four to five people; while a 6.5l machine will feed six to eight.

We tested all the following machines on durability, cleanability, fancy features (where there were some) and ease of use – but mostly we rated on them on the culinary results.

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Crock-Pot 5.6l time select slow cooker

Capacity: 5.6l

Number of heat settings: 3

Dishwasher safe: Cooking pot and lid

Digital display: Yes

The brand name Crock-Pot is as synonymous with slow cooking in the US as Hoover is to vacuum. This is the brand’s latest offering which allows you to select the food type, quantity and the time you want to eat, and it does the rest for you, switching to the keep warm function until you’re ready. The result was a delicious and consistently cooked meal. The capacity is big enough for larger families, as well as entertaining, and the bowl can go on the hob, in the oven and (together with the lid) in the dishwasher. The stainless-steel finish with digital display looks the part too, especially in more modern kitchens. Shame there’s no recipe book, though.

Swan 1.5l retro slow cooker

Capacity: 1.5l

Number of heat settings: 3

Dishwasher safe: Cooking pots and lid

Digital display: No

If you want a compact slow cooker to match your kitchen décor, this is a great find. It’s available in a wide range of colours – from cream to pastel blue, and inside there’s even a white ceramic pot in place of the standard black. It cooks on the high setting to kick things off, then switches to low for the rest of the time but as with many slow cookers, you may still need to sauté in a pan first. It comes with some great recipes and our results were succulent and consistent, with the bowl and lid dishwasher friendly, there’s no keep warm option. It’s good for households of one or two people max.  

Sage fast slow pro

Capacity: 6l

Number of heat settings: 11 pressure cook settings

Dishwasher safe: Cooking pot and lid

Digital display: Yes

Before you balk at the price tag, take note that this is so much more than a slow cooker. Aimed at complete novices through to experienced cooks, it can be used for fast cooking, pressure cooking, searing, sautéing, reducing and steaming. There are sensors at the bottom and top, which monitor temperature (even according to different food types), meaning that everything from puddings to roasts, and casseroles to soups are cooked to perfection. It tells you what’s going on at different stages of cooking and you can set it to a whopping 12 hours for cooking and two for keeping warm. Be careful when searing, though – it can get too hot.

Russell Hobbs sous vide slow cooker

Capacity: 6.5l

Number of heat settings: 3 cooking options – sous vide, slow cook and temperature probe

Dishwasher safe: Cooking pot and lid

Digital display: Yes

We took a deep breath before opening this heavy box – we assumed it would be a mega complicated bit of kit, but it’s actually a cinch to set up and use. The slow cooker works as usual and is generous in size – easily enough for cooking in bulk or for a big family – and the sous vide element is a rack that sits in the pot into which you put bags (not included) of food. We also love the temperature probe for reassurance – something we’ve not come across on any other slow cooker. It’s easy to clean, with a dishwasher friendly pot and lid. Niggles include the sheer size and lack of searing function (and you can’t put pan on the hob), but all in all a great bit of kit.

Crock-Pot lift and serve 4.7l digital slow cooker

Capacity: 4.7 litres

Number of heat settings: 3

Dishwasher safe: Cooking pot and lid

Digital display: Yes

When it comes to cooking a succulent roast, this lightweight machine won, hands down, against all the other slow cookers we tried. It produces mouth-watering stews, tagines and puddings too, with easily enough capacity to feed a family of three to four. There are simple electronic controls for the three settings – low, high and keep warm – and there’s a timer from 30 minutes to 20 hours. The hinged lid means any condensation just drips back in. The pot and lid can go in the dishwasher, although sadly not on the hob. Top tip – use the low setting whenever possible as the high one can dry your food out.

Morphy Richards red sear and stew digital slow cooker 6.5l

Capacity: 6.5l

Number of heat settings: 3

Dishwasher safe: Cooking pot and lid

Digital display: Yes

This vibrant looking, family-sized slow cooker is big enough to cook a whole chicken with impressive results. We had great success with a hearty vegetarian chilli too – nothing dried out or overcooked. You can use the pot on the hob to sear first and it comes with some delicious recipes. It’s got two heat settings as well as a keep warm function that it switches to automatically (handy if you’re still out and running late) and you both the pot and lid can be cleaned in the dishwasher. Be warned the handles can get red hot so you’ll need to use oven gloves whenever handling it.

Judge slow cooker

Capacity: 3.5l

Number of heat settings: 3

Dishwasher safe: Cooking lid

Digital display: No

It would be easy to have low expectations from this basic looking machine with its no frills, stainless steel casing, and simple black switch for low, high and keep warm. But what it loses in fancy features, it gains in excelling at the task in hand, providing easy heat distribution for everything soups to stews to puddings. It’s easy to keep clean and is more affordable than many, plus spares and support are readily available. While we tried the 3.5l, which feeds around three people, there’s also a smaller 1.5l option for one to two people, and a bigger 5.5l for larger families. But the pot isn’t dishwasher safe and can’t go on the hob and we do wish there was a power light too.

Lakeland digital slow cooker 6.5l

Capacity: 6.5l

Number of heat settings: 3

Dishwasher safe: Cooking pot and lid

Digital display: Yes

The white exterior and digital display make for a striking looking machine that you’ll probably be only too pleased to leave out on your worktop, even though it’s on the large side. Practically, it doesn’t disappoint either – our wholesome lamb stew and large roast chicken both smelt and tasted delicious and the low and high settings work well. You can use the pot on the hob and in the oven and those who go out to work will like the delayed start and automatic switch to keep warm; although the auto setting did undercook our meal slightly. It’s easy to clean. 

Cookworks 3.5l slow cooker

Capacity: 3.5l

Number of heat settings: 3

Dishwasher safe: No

Digital display: Yes

Other slow cookers at this price can dry out meat or pulses, but this one will keep your food rich and succulent. It is quick to cook on the high setting – although we would recommend the low setting for the tastiest results if you can spare the time. We cooked a delicious curry for two adults and two kids, and the oval shape meant it did a decent job of roasting a small chicken, although you might want to opt for the 6.5l version for an even better roast (there’s a 1.5l version too for smaller households). It is worth noting that the pot can’t go in the oven, on the hob or in the dishwasher and the “warm” function isn’t great.

The verdict: Slow cookers

Just when you think Crock-Pot can’t come up with a better slow cooker, it does. The brand’s latest offering, the time select slow cooker, looks the part and delivers great tasting meals for the whole family. Thumbs up for the Swan 1.5l retro slow cooker too – for just over £20, it’s a wonderful accompaniment for smaller households.

For more ways to make week night meals a little easier, read our guide to the best recipe boxes delivered straight to your door

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