The Best Slow Cookers And How To Use Them

Looking to buy a slow cooker? Read our round-up of the top products to meet a range of budgets and requirements. Follow our tips for how to use a slow cooker and recipe advice.

What is a slow cooker and what can you use them for?

Slow cookers are plug-in electronic appliances that use a gentle heat over a long period of time (usually four hours or more) to cook liquid-based dishes. This allows you to prepare a meal in the morning and leave it unattended during the day, before returning to a ready-cooked meal later on.

The machines vary in price, you can pick one up for as little as a tenner or as much as a few hundred pounds. Different models meet different criteria and come with additional features.

Slow cooker recipes are hugely popular and can be used to cook a range of delicious stews, casseroles, soups and curries, as well as less obvious dishes such as yogurt, grains, dhal and puddings.

See our collection of the best ever slow cooker recipes, and check out our further recipe suggestions below the main review.

Best slow cookers at a glance

  1. Best Slow Cooker: Cuisinart 3-In-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker
  2. Runner Up: Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Programmable Slow Cooker
  3. Best Budget Slow Cooker: Elite Gourmet 2-Quart Electric Slow Cooker
  4. Best Portable Slow Cooker: Crock-Pot 6-Quart Cook & Carry Programmable Slow Cooker with Digital Timer
  5. Best Multi-Use Cooker: Instant Pot DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker
  6. Honorable Mention: Calphalon Digital Sauté Slow Cooker

What are the benefits of using a slow cooker?

There is much to love about a slow cooker. Their main advantage is the ease and convenience of arriving home to a hot meal ready to eat. There is no need to stir the contents in between, as slow cookers apply an even heat and don’t get hot enough for the food to catch.

They also allow you to get the best out of cheaper cuts of meat, as cooking on low for a long period can tenderise the meat and enhance the flavour. Slow cookers are also less energy intensive than conventional electric ovens, and therefore more economical.

Finally, they often offer a healthier, low-fat way of cooking and often preserve more nutrients than other methods such as baking, boiling and frying. Check out our collection of healthy slow cooker recipes.

Tips on how to use a slow cooker

  • No liquid escapes from a slow cooker, so when adapting a recipe not specifically written for a slow cooker, reduce any added liquid by a third.
  • Don’t remove the lid too often to avoid heat loss.
  • The inner pot needs to be at room temperature before you start cooking. If you’ve kept a slow cooker dish in the fridge, you must wait for it to warm up before turning it on.
  • Slow cookers vary considerably, so follow your manufacturer’s manual for guidelines on temperatures and cooking times.
  • Rice and pasta dishes work best cooked on high for the shortest time possible. Always use easy-cook rice, rinsed well first – the more starch you rinse from the rice, the better the finished result.
  • Take time to brown your meat really well. Slow cookers tend to leach meat of its colour, so it’s important for appearance and flavour that they are well browned to start with. Flavours won’t become more concentrated because the liquid doesn’t reduce, so try to pack in as much flavour as you can.

Which slow cooker should I buy?

With so many variations of slow cookers out there, choosing can be confusing. Here are a few questions you might want to consider.

How many are you cooking for?
With sizes starting at 1-litre through to a whopping 6.5-litres, choosing the right size for you is imperative. The smallest sizes are suitable when cooking for one or two or those with small appetites. 3-litres to 4.5-litres (one of the most popular sizes on the market) serve four, and the large 6 – 6.5-litre models are super for families and batch cooking. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the capacity stated on the sales blurb is the size of the bowl, not the working capacity, which can sometimes be half that.

How much space do you have?
A slow cooker takes up space on the worktop and in the cupboard. There are two shapes, the round and tall, which has less of a footprint, and the oval, which takes up more room but can be more versatile.

What is your price range?
If it is a straightforward, no-frills slow cooker you’re after, then you can pick these up from £10. Choose digital models with additional features or multi-cookers with multiple cooking functions and the price jumps. These can also be cost-effective if you use all the extras.

So, which is the best slow cooker for you? We extensively tested a wide range of models to find our top 6 slow cookers.

The Best Slow Cookers to Buy in 2020

Best Slow Cooker: Cuisinart 3-In-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker

Cuisinart 3-In-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker

Cuisinart takes best in show with their multi cooker that allows for slow cooking, browning, and steaming all in one. The cooking base on this multi cooker is shallow and wide, which gives you a more even distribution of heat. This also allows for heat to reach a larger surface area for browning or sautéing. It is also the only other slow cooker tested besides the Instant Pot® that features a steaming function.

“While some slow cookers slowly bring heat up over the first half hour or so, this slow cooker kicks the cooking process along with a good amount of heat.”

Although this is the highest priced slow cooker of all those we tested, it’s at the top of the list for its browning and steaming abilities, plus its unique flat and wide design.

Buy It: Cuisinart 3-In-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker on Amazon

Runner Up: Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Programmable Slow Cooker

Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Programmable Slow Cooker

Hamilton Beach is known for providing reliable kitchen equipment at affordable prices, and this slow cooker is no exception. One of the biggest selling points for this top-rated slow cooker is its secure lid, which has a rubberized gasket lining the edges of the lid, preventing heat from escaping. It also features clips to hold the lid in place, for simple portability.

This slow cooker also boasts a temperature probe that can be inserted into the lid while in use, to test the internal temperature of meat. The digital screen allows you to cycle through preferred heat settings and your desired cooking time, before automatically switching to warm when it’s done. We found the digital control panel to be somewhat confusing, but easy enough to understand after one use. Overall, this slow cooker is great for the tech-savvy cook who is looking for extra features and portability without going over budget.

Buy It: Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Programmable Slow Cooker on Amazon

Best Budget Slow Cooker: Elite Gourmet 2-Quart Electric Slow Cooker

Elite Gourmet 2-Quart Electric Slow Cooker

Ideal for small apartments or anyone with limited storage, this no-frills slow cooker will give you the perfect portions every time.

“While this slow cooker may appear too small for any real benefit, the high-sided stoneware pot and powerful heating element make this slow cooker ideal for small kitchens and portion control. This slow cooker makes plenty of food to serve three to four people”.

Because of its size, this slow cooker is a breeze to store and clean (the lid and ceramic insert pot easily fit in any dishwasher). Its high sided ceramic pot allows food to be fully submerged in liquid, for moist, flavorful dishes. To be expected at such a low price point, this slow cooker must be manually shut off and does not feature a timer. We also found that the body of the machine became too hot to touch while in use. For the price, this is a reliable slow cooker that makes just the right amount of food for individuals or small families.

Buy It: Elite Gourmet 2-Quart Electric Slow Cooker on Amazon

Best Portable Slow Cooker: Crock-Pot 6-Quart Cook & Carry Programmable Slow Cooker with Digital Timer

Crock-Pot 6-Quart Cook & Carry Programmable Slow Cooker

Perfect for tailgates or potlucks, this slow cooker from Crock-Pot has a locking lid and wide handles for easy transport. The power cord also wraps around a hook on the back of the unit to keep it secure while not in use. Not only does the locking lid allow for safe and easy transport, but it also locks in heat and steam during cooking.

Use the digital timer on this slow cooker to set your cooking time down to the minute. When the time is up, this slow cooker automatically shifts to the warm setting.

“This slow cooker is easy to clean and easy to transport, perfect for taking large portions of meals to the office, a neighbor’s house, or any other community food gathering.”

At a reasonable price, this slow cooker earns high marks for both functionality and portability.

Buy It: Crock-Pot 6-Quart Cook & Carry Programmable Slow Cooker with Digital Timer on Amazon

Best Multi-Use Cooker: Instant Pot® DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker

Instant Pot® DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker

Although the Instant Pot® possesses far more than just slow cooking abilities (like pressure cooking, rice cooking, steaming, and even yogurt making), it came out at the top when tested purely for slow cooking and browning ability. One of the standout features is the lid that locks into place, preventing virtually any heat or steam from escaping during the cooking process.

The multi-cooker also includes an inner pot, steam rack, serving spoon, soup spoon, and measuring cup (all of which are dishwasher safe). The pot roast did require an additional 30 minutes of cooking time in the Instant Pot®, suggesting that it may require a bit of timing adjustment when using the slow cooker function.

“In the nature of a true ‘multi-cooker’, the Instant Pot allows for the entire cooking process to be completed inside of the unit. From searing to slow cooking, the Instant Pot adapts relatively well to any situation. This adds more value to the already reasonable price point.”

Buy It: Instant Pot® DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker on Amazon

Honorable Mention: Calphalon Digital Sauté Slow Cooker

Calphalon Digital Sauté Slow Cooker

Although this slow cooker boasts its ability to sear, brown, sauté, and slow cook all in one, it should be noted that the pot must be placed on the stove to sear food. However, this slow cooker does have a sleek design with a user-friendly control pad that will countdown cooking time to the second.

Its tall sides are great for stews, soups, or any foods that are submerged in liquid. The lid has a rubberized lip to effectively seal in moisture and heat. At a reasonable price point, this slow cooker is definitely a top contender when it comes to design and functionality.

Buy It: Calphalon Digital Sauté Slow Cooker on Amazon

How we tested slow cookers

We scored the slow cookers against the following criteria:

Capacity and size: the bowl capacity and the footprint for using and storing in the kitchen

Heat retention: how the cooker holds heat for safety on the worktop and whether the food catches or burns

Ease of use: how easy it is to assemble and use

Functions:  additional functions on the cooker including browning, reheating, reducing and whether it is hob or oven-safe

Versatility: does the cooker make a range of dishes?

Quality of material: the material and the construction of the machines

Design features: the type of lid, handles, automatic warming, countdown and indicator lights

Finished results: the tenderness of the meat and vegetables, the consistency of the cooked sauce and the heat of the food when serving

Manual: how helpful was the instruction book and did it include recipes?

Packaging: excessive use of plastic in packaging was scored negatively

Slow cooker vs Pressure cooker

Both slow cookers and pressure cookers offer a convenient and versatile way to cook, as the machine takes on some of the work. They can both be effective at braising and stewing, however there are some key differences between the two gadgets.

Slow cookers are plug-in electronic appliances that use a gentle heat over a long period of time (usually four hours or more) to cook liquid-based dishes.

Pressure cookers can be hob-top or electronic and operate at high temperatures, employing pressure to quickly work through ingredients that traditionally require slow cooking, such as hard pulses and tough meat cuts. Similar to slow cooking, pressure cooking is a wet cooking technique and liquid should always be used.

As for one versus the other, there are pros and cons to both. Slow cookers can result in watery sauces, while pressure cookers can be intimidating to use. With practice and the right recipes, they can be very useful for busy households. Investing in a multi-cooker is a good way to get the best of both worlds.

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About Maki Hojo

Maki Hojo is a student at the University of Michigan. A foodie since birth, she enjoys cooking, eating, photographing, reading about, and playing with any and all types of food. Her idolization of culinary delights is complemented by her active spirit - she enjoys running, swimming, barre classes, and even spontaneous bursts of interpretative dance if the mood strikes her.

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