The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

8 best slow cookers for delicious dinners with minimal fuss

Dish up soups, stews and casseroles with these hard-working appliances

Siobhan Grogan
Thursday 09 September 2021 16:32
<p>A slow cooker with a capacity of 3.5l or more should serve four people comfortably </p>

A slow cooker with a capacity of 3.5l or more should serve four people comfortably

A slow cooker can transform weekday meals so you always come home to a hot, nutritious dinner, however busy your day gets. And as slow cookers work especially well with cheaper cuts of meats and vegetables, they can even help cut household costs too.

There’s no need to spend a fortune to get started with slow cooking. Although pricier appliances come with extra functions, including keep-warm and delayed start, the basic slow cook setting provided pretty similar results across the board.

Whatever your budget may be, everyone should consider capacity before buying. Most slow cookers hold between 3.5l and 4.5l which should comfortably serve four people, but if you have a larger household or plan to batch cook, it’s worth going for a bigger model.

How we tested

We used a range of slow cookers in our kitchen over several weeks to find our favourites, judging each on ease of use and cleaning, extra features, appearance and the all-important taste test. We made a variety of dishes including chilli, tagine, pulled pork and chicken casserole, and any included recipes that came with the appliance to really put them through their paces.

Read more:

The best slow cookers for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Crockpot sizzle and stew 6.5l slow cooker: £39.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for smaller kitchens – Morphy Richards sear and stew 3.5l titanium slow cooker: £42.99, Morphyrichards.co.uk 
  • Best for recipe inspiration – Instant Pot pro 5.7l 10-in-1 multi pressure cooker: £149.99, Instantbrands.co.uk 
  • Best no-fuss slow cooker – Judge slow cooker: £49.50, Horwood.co.uk 
  • Best for cooking the night before – Lakeland 3.5l digital slow cooker: £39.99, Lakeland.co.uk 
  • Best for maximum flavour – Sage the fast slow pro: £199.95, Sageappliances.co.uk 
  • Best for aspiring chefs – Russell Hobbs sous vide slow cooker: £79.97, Currys.co.uk
  • Best one-pot wonder – Ninja foodi max 9-in-1 multi-cooker 7.5l OP500UK: £229.99, Ninja.co.uk

Crockpot sizzle and stew 6.5l slow cooker

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

  • Capacity: 6.5l
  • Number of heat settings: 3
  • Dishwasher safe: Pot and lid
  • Digital display: No

A much-loved name in American kitchens, crockpot are already slow cooker experts but their new model makes life even easier. The sizzle and stew includes a hob-safe bowl so you can speedily sear meat or brown vegetables first to add extra colour and flavour before transferring the same pot to the slow cooker.

Even when we skipped this step on busier days, we were still seriously impressed by the results, coming home to a melt-in-the-mouth chicken curry and an unbelievably tender beef casserole. Just remember to set the appliance to low rather than high if you intend to leave it for several hours and get on with your day.

The large capacity was a real bonus too. It meant meals lasted the whole family for more than a day and we could also batch cook a huge portion of bolognese or soup to keep us going all week. It even managed a huge joint of pulled pork when we had hungry visitors, while the manual keep warm function held everything at the perfect temperature until we were ready to eat.

The sleek stainless steel finish ensured we were happy to keep the slow cooker out on the worktop, while both the bowl and lid go straight in the dishwasher after eating. A decent recipe book would have been welcome but there are plenty of suggestions on Crockpot’s website for inspiration and we reckon this no-nonsense gadget might even make us look forward to midweek cooking.

Morphy Richards sear and stew 3.5l titanium slow cooker

Best: For smaller kitchens

Rating: 8/10

  • Capacity: 3.5l
  • Number of heat settings: 3
  • Dishwasher safe: Pot and lid
  • Digital display: No

There’s no need to clear out an entire cupboard to squeeze this compact slow cooker into your kitchen. The dinky device takes up very little room alongside other pans and looks smart enough even when it’s left out on the worktop. Plus it still has a decent capacity and serves up four hearty main portions, while the oval shape means it’s possible to cook awkward-shaped cuts of meat – although we did find it a little shallow for the biggest joints.

It couldn’t be easier to use too. The removable, lightweight aluminium pot goes straight on the hob to sauté ingredients before slow cooking, then turn the dial to low, medium or high and you’re done. The pot can be lifted directly onto the table to eat and the lid can even be used as a bowl for the ultimate all-in-one meal. Both the pot and lid are dishwasher-safe too.

We would have loved an automatic keep-warm function for when we were unexpectedly late home, but found cooking on the lowest setting kept everything just as toasty and we never returned to a dried-out dinner.

Instant Pot pro 5.7l 10-in-1 multi pressure cooker

Best: For recipe inspiration

Rating: 9/10

  • Capacity: 5.7l
  • Number of heat settings: 5
  • Dishwasher safe: Pot
  • Digital display: Yes

If you’re simply hoping to throw ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning and come home to dinner, this do-everything model is probably far bigger (and more expensive) than you’ll need.

However, more adventurous chefs will find plenty to experiment with besides the slow cooker on this Instant Pot, including a steamer, sous vide function, excellent rice cooker and even a yoghurt maker. The pressure cooker is particularly effective at making speedy meals in minutes, with a quiet steam release and a safe locking lid that plays a tune when secure so you won’t panic that it might explode at any second.

Slow cooking is super-simple too, with five dedicated settings including ones for chicken, beef, soup and beans. It can even cook for up to 99 and a half hours if you really want to take things slowly (dinner after a mini break anyone?).

The cooking progress bar is a useful addition to keep track of time and we particularly liked the silicone handles on the inner pot so you can lift it straight from cooker to dinner table without oven gloves. There’s even an app and official Facebook group filled with Instant Pot recipes to inspire you to try something new.

Judge slow cooker

Best: No-fuss slow cooker

Rating: 7/10

  • Capacity: 3.5l
  • Number of heat settings: 3
  • Dishwasher safe: Pot
  • Digital display: No

Craving hearty stews and rich casseroles but don’t need any extra frills? This straightforward slow cooker is a cinch to operate so you won’t even need to read the instruction book before it’s simmering away. It has a simple stainless steel exterior with one easy-to-operate dial that can be turned to low (for eight hours cooking) or high (for four hours cooking). There’s also a manual keep warm function if you’re not quite ready to eat as soon as you walk in the door.

The removable dishwasher-safe ceramic pot is on the heavy side but is oven-safe so you can easily reheat leftovers the next day. It doesn’t go on the hob though, so you will have to sear ingredients in a separate pan if required, although it’s not always necessary.

We followed the included recipes to cook a roast chicken and curried squash soup and both had us going back for second portions. Though we tested the 3.5l version, this model is also available with a 1.5l or 5.5l capacity instead, so you can be sure to buy the slow cooker that best suits your needs – and appetite.

Lakeland 3.5l digital slow cooker

Best: For cooking the night before

Rating: 9/10

  • Capacity: 3.5l
  • Number of heat settings: 3
  • Dishwasher safe: Pot and lid
  • Digital display: Yes

If you can barely make coffee in the morning let alone sort that evening’s dinner, this brilliant Lakeland slow cooker is the perfect solution. It comes with a delayed start function to allow you to postpone cooking for up to 24 hours, so you can chop and prepare ingredients the previous evening and let the cooking take care of itself the next day.

A smaller version of the company’s best-selling 6.5l capacity model (£59.99, Lakeland.co.uk), this stylish, white powder-coated slow cooker is just as versatile. It comes with an aluminium inner pot that goes in the oven or on the (non-induction) hob plus an easy-to-read LED display so you know exactly how long your food has been cooking.

We particularly loved the warm setting, which cooks food on high until it’s ready then automatically keeps the dish at the perfect temperature until you’re ready to eat – a real bonus on a busy weeknight when you’re not sure when you’ll be home. The pot and lid go straight in the dishwasher too. Our only grumble is we would have loved more than the three included recipes, though the suggested caramel mud cake was a big hit in our house.

Sage the fast slow pro

Best: For maximum flavour

Rating: 9/10

  • Capacity: 6l
  • Number of heat settings: 11
  • Dishwasher safe: Pot and lid
  • Digital display: Yes

As the name suggests, this machine automatically adjusts time, temperature and pressure between fast and slow cooking as required to guarantee every dish is packed with the most flavour possible. Dual sensors at the top and bottom monitor settings for the perfect meal every time while useful slow cooking pre-sets include stock, bone-in meat and chilli.

There’s no need to sauté ingredients first either as it can all be done in the same pot without a hob. Plus, the countdown timer will keep track of cooking progress so you can get on with your day. The pressure cooker is excellent too and cooked our risotto in minutes without any stirring at all by sealing in steam and allowing heat to build inside.

We especially appreciated the reducing function, which was ideal after slow cooking a lamb shank casserole to produce a thicker, tastier sauce for mopping up with crusty bread. It’s a dream to clean afterwards too, thanks to the ceramic coating and dishwasher-friendly pot and lid.

Russell Hobbs sous vide slow cooker

Best: For aspiring chefs

Rating: 8/10

  • Capacity: 6.5l
  • Number of heat settings: 3
  • Dishwasher safe: Pot
  • Digital display: Yes

We can’t lie, we felt a bit like we were on MasterChef using this slightly scary-looking slow cooker that comes with a temperature probe to test whether meat is properly cooked. Heavier and quite a bit bigger than most of the slow cookers we tested, it has a generous capacity that will suit larger households or keen entertainers.

Its real USP, however, is the flash sous-vide function. This is a metal rack that sits in the dishwasher-safe pot and cooks food in (not included) vacuum bags to seal in extra flavour, perfect for delicate fish and steak. A handy LED displays means the slow cooking setting is just as straightforward to use, while the machine will automatically keep food warm for up to four hours after cooking.

Stand out results included a hearty beef stew with a decadently rich gravy and a tender tagine made from fall-off-the fork lamb. But we also liked the suggested recipes including a delicious chickpea, sweet potato and spinach curry. We would have loved a hob-safe pot so we could sear ingredients first without a separate pan but were suitably impressed by this slow cooker despite that.

Ninja foodi max 9-in-1 multi-cooker 7.5l OP500UK

Best: One-pot wonder

Rating: 9/10

  • Capacity: 7.5l
  • Number of heat settings: 9
  • Dishwasher safe: Pot
  • Digital display: Yes

Skip this section if you want an unobtrusive slow cooker to stash in a cupboard and whip out to make stew once in a while. The foodi is a kitchen whizz but it’s definitely not small or easily stored, and is best suited to anyone with plenty of worktop space where it can be left on display all the time.

If you can find the room, you’ll use this for much more than slow cooking as it includes a handy pressure cooker, a dehydrate function and even an impressive roast and bake setting to rustle up loaves of bread without using your oven. The huge capacity makes it unbeatable as a slow cooker in the family home too as we made giant portions of chilli and casserole that kept us well fed for days with minimal effort, revolutionising busy weekdays. Plus, everything can be thrown in the dishwasher afterwards too.

On the days we didn’t prep a slow cooked dish in the morning or fancied something a little less nutritious – don’t judge us – we were also wowed by the built-in air fryer, which transformed frozen sweet potato chips and breaded chicken into a restaurant-worthy feast in no time. If you’re looking to completely overhaul dinner time, this is definitely the one for you.

Slow cookers FAQs

What are the benefits of slow cooking?

There are many benefits to using a slow cooker, including that you can create delicious dinners with minimal prep and without spending hours in the kitchen. Once your ingredients are in, you do not have to check on or stir, because the pot warms up evenly and should never overheat.

Cooking for a long time at a low temperature is also perfect for tenderising meat and can preserve nutrients that are sometimes lost when cooking via other methods.

What are the key features to look for?

Slow cookers often have a number of important features that you should consider when choosing the right one for you.

  • Capacity – As a general rule, a 1.5-3l slow cooker will feed one or two people; 3-5l will serve three or four people; 5-5.5l will feed four to five people; and a 6.5l machine will feed six to eight.
  • Timer – Some slow cookers also have built-in timers, which mean that once the set time has been reached, it will either switch off completely or automatically change to a “keep warm” setting.
  • Temperature controls – Most appliances come with different temperature controls including “low”, which is used for longer, slower cooking throughout the day and “medium” and “high”, which are both used for speedier cooking but with similar results.
  • Sous vide – A French term that means “under vacuum”, some models come with the ability to cook with the sous-vide method using a sealed pouch. By doing so, the juices and subtle flavours that would otherwise be lost during conventional cooking are retained, making for a tastier meal.

The verdict: Slow cookers

There was little to choose between any of these slow cookers when it came to taste with all delivering consistent, top-notch results, However, the Crockpot sizzle and stew just nudged ahead thanks to its family-friendly capacity, hob-friendly inner pot and easy cleaning.

If you have an induction hob or want a few extra frills, go for the Instant Pot pro 5.7l 10-in-1 multi pressure cooker so you can sauté, sous vide, pressure cook and slow cook all in one ingenious appliance.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on home appliances, try the links below:

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

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.