Slow cookers are, quite frankly, a lifesaver if you’re passionate about serving up awesome food but can’t quite find the time to do so. Whether you’re a nine to fiver, have several mouths to feed or you’re looking to go on a soup and stew health kick after continuous bouts of the flu, slow cookers are the magic pots that turn a bunch of raw ingredients into a kick-ass awesome meal full of flavour and goodness.
There are a ton of slow cookers out there which, for the most part, do the same thing. However, there are some subtle differences that you may want to look out for.
Nine times out of ten, they feature a removable insert – it makes cleaning it a heck of a lot easier, and some inserts are even hob friendly if you want to minimise the washing up by sealing meat in the same pot.
Some slow cookers, like our second pick, the Crock-Pot 5.6l, feature an internal saute function so you don’t even need to use the hob during prep.
The other important factor to consider is the size of the slow cooker. While it’s pretty obvious that families should go for a larger size and couples should go for a smaller size, don’t forget that freezing leftovers is the ultimate ticket out of cooking a full on meal from scratch.
Aside from that, the best slow cookers will feature a glass lid - these allow you to keep an intermittent eye on your food without letting all the heat out, and some have an in-built timer so can monitor just how long you’ve left your ingredients to mingle.
If you’re looking for the best slow cooker with price in mind, household regulars such as Morphy Richards, Tefal and Lakeland offer the best on a budget. If you’re looking for a singing and dancing slow cooker that stands out from the rest, look out for Crock-Pot and Sage.
And if you have no idea how to create a tasty slow-cooked stew, scroll to the bottom of this page for some sage advice from casserole guru Alan Rosenthal.
This budget friendly medium sized slow cooker from Morphy Richards is a great all-rounder. With a 3.5L capacity, it should be large enough to feed 3 mouths (or 2 with a spare portion leftover) and the internal pot is hob safe so you can brown your meat off and benefit from the intense seared flavours produced.
With low and high heat settings, a ‘warm mode’ for keeping your meal on standby and a timer, this slow cooker has literally got everything
Basically, you can do away with your hob and your oven with this American inspired slow cooker. It can bake, saute, roast and steam as well as doing its main function; so whether it’s a cake for dessert, a sunday roast, or a steamed veg stirfry, the scope for delicious eating is endless. With 5 pre-set programmes, the digital interface is easy to use and thanks to its 5.6l capacity, cooking for your family or your mates is a walk in the park.
Rice can be a pain in the bum to get right. Too high it turns out al-dente, too low and it becomes a sticky, mushy mess. Now, you can pop it in your slow cooker, pour in the recommended amount of water and let the slow cooker do the work.
It’s not just rice, though. Want to cook up a batch of porridge? No problem. How about steaming a naughty dessert? Sticky toffee pudding coming right up.
Aside from that, its slow cooking function is pretty good, too, and with an easy to use interface, there’s minimal risk of choosing the wrong function.
There’s absolutely no doubt that a risotto is an extremely yummy meal choice - especially when you chuck in chorizo, chicken and mushroom or just a load of trusty vegetables and a dusting of parmesan.
It’s one that you have to guard while cooking, though, unless you have a the Sage Risotto Plus. In addition to its risotto functions, you can slow cook meals and steam rice with minimal effort, and thanks to its inbuilt saute function, you don’t even have to think about using the hob. Coming in cheaper than the Crock Pot, this is a good buy when it comes to multi-functionality.
Whether you’re the chef of the relationship or a singleton looking to make life easier for yourself, this small capacity slow cooker will get the job done well. There are three heat functions, a circular element for even heating and best of all, you can chuck the internal pot and the lid in the dishwasher once you’ve finished.
There are no airs and graces to this slow cooker; it’s purely functional and that is reflected in the very low price. For a basic model on a tight budget, you really can’t go wrong.
Whether it’s a group gathering and you want to let everyone know what’s inside the pot, or you’re part of a busy household where no one is ever in at the same time, communicating the logistics of dinner couldn’t be easier with this 3.5-litre chalkboard slow cooker.
Functionality wise, it may be basic (high, low and warm functions only), but when it comes to keenly-priced, medium-sized slow cookers, this one passes much muster.
If all you want is a good quality, functional slow cooker to feed a family of four, you can’t go wrong with this 4.5-litre model from the house of Breville.
It comes with a worktop-to-table ceramic bowl and low, high and auto-cook functions. According to Breville’s bods, it also whips up a mean slow-cooked triple chocolate peanut butter pudding cake.
How to slow cook a feast
Alan Rosenthal, author of ‘Stewed! Nourish Your Soul’ and lecturer at Leiths School of Food offers some tips on how to make the best stew
One of the joys of making a stew is that you can often get away with using cheaper cuts of meat, as the slow cooker will tenderise them and bring out their flavour. Avoid braising steak and go for chuck steak instead. Braising steak tends to have quite a dense grain which gives the meat a dry, grainy texture. Chuck steak, however, has more of an open structure because of its fat and connective tissue. Once trimmed of excess fat and cooked for a couple of hours or more, it’ll be meltingly tender and soft with none of the graininess of braising steak. If using chicken, I’d suggest thigh meat which stays much more moist during the long, slow cooking process.
Browning (or searing) the meat is a crucial element. It gives stew both good colour and flavour so it’s important that it’s done properly. Make sure the oil or butter in your pan is hot before adding the meat so it seals it the moment it touches the pan. Avoid crowding the pan and instead brown the meat in batches. And don’t be tempted to move the pieces around too frequently; allow them to cook for a couple of minutes first.
Stock is another important factor. Home-made is best, but these days you can easily buy decent fresh stocks in most supermarkets. However, do check the salt content as it’s better to use a salt-free variety. If your only option is a stock cube, don’t add any salt to the recipe until you’ve tasted the cooked dish.
Follow these simple guidelines and you should achieve a full-bodied and exceptionally flavoursome stew.