Any technology which saves time and effort while cooking immediately seems like a good idea, but is it really worth investing in a slow cooker? Or can you get the same effect by using your oven?
What is a slow cooker?
Slow cookers are a bit of kit that sits on the kitchen worktop. It consists of a large, lidded ceramic pan with a control panel which you plug into the wall.
The idea is to put your chosen recipe ingredients into the slow cooker before you go to work and program it to slowly cook the food while you are out.
How does a slow cooker work?
Slow cookers work by condensing steam onto the lid of the device which then slowly cooks the food, this is known as ‘moist-heat cooking’ and ensures that the food stay nice and juicy.
What is best to cook in a slow cooker?
You can cook almost anything in a slow cooker but the best types of food are wet or sauce-based foods such as casseroles, stews, curries or soups.
Because everything is cooked gently and slowly in a slow cooker it is a good idea to use cheap cuts of meat such as beef shin, chicken thighs, lamb shoulder or pork belly which benefit from a long, slow cook.
And – obviously – the cheaper cuts help save money too.
How long does it take to cook in a slow cooker?
Obviously it depends on what you’re cooking and which slow cooker model you have but… broadly, most slow cookers have a high and low setting.
On a low heat a slow cooker can take up to 8 hours. On a high heat it can cook in 3 to 4 hours.
Remember not to lift the lid while it is cooking as this lets all the heat escape. It can take up to half an hour for the cooker to get back up to temperature, slowing down the cooking time.
Never add frozen food to a slow cooker, always defrost it first, as the low heat of a slow cooker cannot defrost frozen food properly.
What size slow cooker should I get?
Slow cookers come in many shapes and sizes.
Before you invest in one you should consider:
Questions to ask yourself before buying a slow cooker
- How many people you are cooking for?
- Do you want to cook extra for the freezer?
- How much space you have on your kitchen worktop?
|Size of slow cooker||Makes enough for|
|1.5 litre||1 person|
|3.5 litre||2 to 3 people|
|6.5 litre||4 to 6 people|
The best slow cookers for every budget
Best small slow cookers
If you will be cooking for just one or two people then a 1.5 litre slow cooker is just the right size and will take up less space on your worktop.
Best 1.5L Slow Cookers on Amazon
This one from Lakeland is great value at just £19.99 and has three settings: Low for a long slow cook, High for a slightly faster cook and Auto which keeps the food warm at the right temperature once it is cooked.
This 1.5 litre slow cooker by Breville can be washed in the dishwasher and has a glass lid so you can see what’s cooking, it’s another good value option at £19.99.
The best Medium sized slow cookers
A 3.5 litre slow cooker should be enough for 3 to 4 people. This Lakeland slow cooker is really good value, has three settings and is dishwasher proof – and just £29.99.
Crock-Pot are the original slow cooker company and this stylish red model has a 3.5 litre capacity – at £26.49 from Robert Dyas, with free delivery in the UK is a great option.
If you want a slow cooker that you can sear the meat in first then this Morphy Richards model is for you.
The pot is hob-proof so you can pop it onto the hob to sear meat and fry onions before plugging it in to slow cook your food while you are out:
The best Large slow cookers
This 6.5 litre slow cooker from Lakeland is large enough to cook for the whole family.
It is hob and oven proof and has a handy digital display so you can see how long you have left. the Lakeland Digital Slow Cooker 6.5 litre:
Oval slow cookers, such as this 6.5 litre capacity Swan model are good because they can fit in a whole chicken or a large cut of meat!
It’s just £34.99 and comes in six different colours: retro blue, cream, grey, black, red or green.
This Morphy Richards 6.5 litre slow cooker has a removable stainless steel pan which makes it much lighter to handle (which when dealing with a slow cooker this big is a bonus!).
It also means you can sear meat on the hob in the dish before popping it on to slow cook.
How energy efficient are slow cookers?
This is one of the best reasons to get a slow cooker – they are extremely energy efficient! An average slow cooker uses the equivalent energy of a light bulb making them an energy and cost effective method to cook your food.
Does food from a slow cooker taste good?
Some people complain that food cooked in a slow cooker is less tasty than food cooked on the hob or in the oven.
This can be for a number of reasons, firstly because you don’t fry and brown the meat in a slow cooker like you do when cooking on the hob the meat can be less flavoursome as it is this technique which brings extra texture and flavour to cooked meat.
This can be circumvented by browning meat on the hob before adding to the slow cooker, but this adds extra time to the preparation process so somewhat mitigates the convenience.
Additionally some slow cookers come with a browning function so meat can be browned in the slow cooker before setting it to slow cook mode.
Another reason why food can taste a bit bland in a slow cooker is due to the ‘moist-heat’ cooking technique which means it is quite a wet way to cook, this can mean that sauces don’t become as thick or rich as when cooked on the hob.
To counteract this use more flavouring than usual, especially whole herbs and spices such as large sprigs of rosemary to maximise the flavour. Additionally add some extra garnish at the end from parsley, coriander or fresh chilli to pack some extra punch.
What are the down sides of a slow cooker?
Some people find chopping and preparing meat and vegetables in the morning before work can be arduous and not the way they want to start their day.
It takes a bit of forethought and planning to make sure you build time into your morning routine to prepare the food and set the slow cooker running.
However this can be negated by buying ready prepared veg and pre-chopped meat – however this then puts the cost up.
Another tip is to prepare all the meat and veg the night before and store it in a Tupperware in the fridge overnight ready to be popped straight into the slow cooker in the morning. Or, buy a slow cooker with a delay timer function (like this one from Lakeland) so you can do the prep when you want and set it cooking at the correct time too.
Because slow cookers have a lid the sauce will not reduce as it cooks, this can mean that can be a bit thin and watery. To counteract this you can dust the meat in flour before you cook or thicken it up at the end with some corn flour.
What are the plus sides of having a slow cooker?
- They are energy efficient
- Dinner is ready when you walk in through the front door
- Money saving – they are great for cheap cuts of meat into tasty meals
- You can batch cook, make extra portions for the freezer and save even more time and money
- It’s safe to leave on for a long time without risk of fire.
How to convert hob cooking times to slow cooking times?
|Hob Cooking Time||Slow Cooker: ‘High’ setting||Slow Cooker: ‘Low’ setting|
|15-30 mins||1-2 hours||4-6 hours|
|30-60 mins||2-3 hours||5-7 hours|
|1-2 hours||3-4 hours||6-8 hours|
|2-4 hours||4-6 hours||8-12 hours|
Alternatives to a slow cooker
If you like the idea of food cooking while you are out but don’t want to spend money on a slow cooker or don’t have the space in your kitchen for another kitchen gadget then as an alternative you can use the timer function on a standard oven.
This allows you to set your oven to come on at a certain time and temperature to cook a dish while you are out at work.
The pros of this is that you are not limited to stews and casseroles – you could put a pie in the oven with a timer set so it is piping hot by the time you return.
However this would not work if you are out of the house for hours as the pie would need to sit in a cold oven until it was time for it to be cooked and that could make the food start to turn.
Also – with your oven, if you’re late home from work or stuck in traffic the meal could be spoiled.
Whilst you can (and should) set your oven to turn itself off at a certain time too – if you’re not home at the time you planned, the food will sit in the oven, slowly cooling down.
Most slow cookers have the ‘auto’ function to maintain food at a good temperature until you come home to turn it off – e.g. when you’re ready to eat.
The best slow cooker cookery books
If you decide to invest in a slow cooker then you need some recipes books which are specially adapted for use with a slow cooker.
Most good slow cookers come with some recipes but investing in a proper cook book can mean you get the most out of your slow cooker.
The Slow Cook Book by Heather Whinney is packed full of classic slow cooker recipes but what is especially good about this book is that it has instructions to convert the recipes for hob or oven too so you have all cooking options open to you.
Ultimate Slow Cooker by Sara Lewis includes over 100 recipes.
If you have the time and planning skills to prep food before work and pile it into a slow cooker then this could be a real time and money saver.
A slow cooker means you can have dinner ready for when you walk through the door, it is very energy efficient and it allows you to use cheaper cuts of meat meaning it is a real money saver.
However it will take up a chunk of space on your worktop and unless you are going to use it a couple of times a week it probably won’t pay off for a long while.
What do you think?
What are you slow cooking tips?
Leave us a comment below and we can help more people save time and money.
Last update on 2021-06-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API