What is a Slow Cooker and How Does it Work?
A slow cooker is usually a ceramic or metal pot which sits within a metallic surround holding the heating element. This small, portable electric appliance sits comfortably on your kitchen counter and can cook a whole range of meals.
Why Should I use a Slow Cooker?
A slow cooker can be used to provide a wide variety of meals from stews and roasts, to chilli, soup, pizza, lasagne and so much more. Whatever you decide to cook, the longer cooking time allows for the best distribution of flavours within the food.
Other notable benefits include:
- convenience as slow cookers are easy to use, can be left unattended while you do other things and require just the one pot to clean.
- longer cooking time best tenderises meats, allowing you to use some of the cheaper cuts like chuck steaks if you are on a budget.
- the cost of buying a slow cooker is considerably less than the price of a convection oven.
- uses less energy than a regular oven, saving you money on your energy bills.
- cooking at low temperatures reduces the chance of burning the food or food sticking to the bottom of the pot
- less heat given off compared to a regular oven, meaning a more comfortable kitchen environment.
Types of Slow Cooker
Slow cookers come in different shapes and sizes and you should review what you will be using your cooker for and select the best and most appropriate option for your budget.
Round slow cookers are ideal for stews and soups, while the deeper sides of rectangular pots are best for larger cuts of meat. Slow cookers can range in capacity too and this should be taken in to consideration for the size of dishes you will be cooking and for how many people.
Innovations have added to the range over the years, including triple pot cookers which consist of three separate pots, complete with their own lids, allowing you to cook different meal elements separately, or to cook three completely different meals for the family or for guests.
Possible Defects and Problems to Look Out For
Although considered a safe way to cook, as with any electrical unit problems can arise. Before using your slow cooker it is best to review the basic safety tips included with the appliance manual and to check the unit yourself. Firstly make sure your slow cooker is sited on a flat, stable counter top, away from touching any walls or units as the outside can get hot.
Other potential issues to be aware of include:
Consulting a Respected Product Test
Buying any kitchen appliance can seem a little overwhelming at first with all the choice offered today. After completing your own analysis on the meals you may want to cook with a slow cooker and the capacity required, it is time to start weighing up the options in terms of quality, safety and value.
One of the best ways to begin your research is to look at independent product tests performed by well-known and respected consumer sites. Which and the Good Housekeeping Institute both provide an up to date list of practical tests on a range of market leading slow cookers for your comparison.
How Are the Slow Cookers Tested
Both Which and the Good Housekeeping Institute run a variety of product tests to study each appliance to review ease of use, cooking quality, best design, practicality and how clear the accompanying instructions from the manufacturers are. By combining these factors they aim to allow the consumer to make a more informed choice.
Different meals including stews and roasts are cooked, testing the different temperature settings and checking the food is evenly cooked and that some elements are not underdone compared to other ingredients. Meats will be tested for how tender they are and as part of the test run if an appliance has a keep warm setting this will be tested too.
Slow cookers are bought for their convenience and so they will be tested for how easy the component parts are to clean and whether the pot and lid can be placed in the dishwasher or washed in hot water. A slow cooker should also have settings which are clearly marked for simple use and it should be easy to separate the component parts and put back together again. All this should be capably summarised in the manual accompanying the slow cooker, as well as providing clear guidance on cooking times and settings for different foods and how to adjust recipes to a slow cooker.
Analysis of a Test Result
Using a comparison table is perhaps the best and easiest way to review such a practical test of slow cookers. Slow cookers are easy to use appliances but they can vary in results between the large range of brands. One of the major evaluations of any suitability test for a slow cooker is the end result, how well it cooks the food at different temperatures.
If you are leaving the food cooking so you can look forward to a nice family meal later in the day you want confidence the food will be cooked as you expect.
This can be the main juxtaposition between two otherwise similar cookers. Product testing results will indicate how well a slow cooker prepares food at all settings and the worst scoring can struggle to adequately cook the food at a low temperature setting.
Brands on the Market
When you browse for slow cookers you will find a host of manufacturers and brands offering cookers across various price ranges. Independent sites which review household items will help direct you to the best appliances currently on the market.
Listed below are 10 of the best brands for slow cookers:
- Crock Pot
- Morphy Richards
- Russell Hobbs
Lakeland for Half a Century of Homeware Experience
Lakeland have been supplying homeware for over 50 years and have a range in excess of 4000 products. This includes a set of slow cookers ranging in capacity from 1.5L to 6L, catering to most budgets. The Lakeland 3.5L slow cooker is consistently among the best rated in reviews. Ideal for meals catering for 3 to 4 people, the heating element encircles the pot to ensure even cooking. An easy to use slow cooker, it has three settings and a keep warm facility. This easy to clean model has a glass lid, allowing you to monitor the progress of your cooking without the need to remove the lid to review the food and thereby releasing any of the steam.
Crock Pot, the Original Slow Cooker
Crock Pot introduced the design for the slow cooker to the larger market in the 1970s with their bean cooker. Since then they have continued to innovate, with their energy efficient slow cookers using only between 75 and 150 watts on a low temperature setting. The Crock Pot SCCPRC507B-060 slow cooker reviewed by the Good Housekeeping Institute was a product test winner. With a capacity of 4.7L it is a large slow cooker which can cook a meal for a family of 6. The keep warm setting is automatically applied once cooking has finished and it is easy to clean afterwards since it can be loaded in the dishwasher. Crock Pot stock a complete range of classic, digital and sauté slow cookers.
Morphy Richards, Pioneers of Affordable Electrical Goods
Morphy Richards were founded in the mid 1930s, recognising the need for electrical goods the average household could afford. They offer an extensive range of slow cookers which you can review on their website. They range up to a capacity of 6.5L and come in their recognisable red or silver colour. The Independent reviewed the Morphy Richards Sear and Stew slow cooker 460016 as their best buy, with one of the main draws to it being a test winner the fact that the inner pot can be transferred to a hob. This means you can sear your meat or soften vegetables in the same pot. The inner pot is metallic rather than ceramic, with both pot and lid suitable for the dishwasher.
A Slow Cooker With a Twist at Russell Hobbs
Russell Hobbs have become another household name in kitchenware since their formation in 1952. Offering two 3.5L slow cookers, the quirky version of the pair is the chalk board slow cooker. With a capacity to cook a meal for up to 4 people, this slow cooker offers the same benefits as the standard 3.5L cooker but with the added feature you can write your messages and reminders on it too. Their larger 6L searing slow cooker is lightweight and includes three heat settings. The timer also includes a useful delay timer for when you want to start the cooking process some time after you have left the house.
Auto-Cook with Breville
Australian small home appliance manufacturers Breville have 1.5L and 4.5L slow cookers available. The larger capacity option comes in a gloss black finish, while the 1.5L appliance has a brushed stainless steel finish. Both have removable ceramic pots and are easy to clean with dishwasher safe components. There are settings for low, high and auto-cook functions on both of these slow cookers. The auto-cook function is useful if you are going to be late home as it helps keep cooked meals warm until you are ready to eat.
Swan and Their Colourful Slow Cookers
British kitchenware company Swan have a strong heritage and are known for their bold design, whether in a modern or traditional style. Their slow cookers offer a variation to the stainless steel and glossy black designs of many of their competitors. The outer unit of the cooker comes in a range of colours including red, blue, grey, black, pink and more. Offering slow cookers with a range of capacities, the Swan 3.5L retro slow cooker is included in best slow cooker reviews, with the fact you can prepare a meal before placing it in the fridge, unlike many ceramic pots, an attractive selling point. It comes with a comprehensive recipe book too, with the lid and pot also suitable for dishwashers.
A Three Pot Slow Cooker Option from Bella
Bella offer a good range of capacities and colours in their slow cooker products. One of their products which has come to the attention of best buy and review sites is the Bella Cook and Serve 3 Pot Slow Cooker. Although requiring a little more counter top space, the main feature of this slow cooker is it has three individual pots allowing you to cook three separate dishes at the same time, handy in particular for dinner parties. Alternatively it can be used to cook meat, potatoes and vegetables separately to be ready just as you like them when returning from work. The pots and glass lids are dishwasher proof, saving you extra washing.
Sauté and Sear With Sage
Sage slow cookers consistently appear in the best buy listings of review sites. BBC good food guide included the Sage Fast Slow Pro 6l slow cooker as their best multi-cooker. It can be operated as a pressure or slow cooker depending on what is best for your meal requirements. It has sautéing and searing settings to allow a dish to be cooked in the pot from start to finish. Sage have a range of slow cookers in association with renowned chef Heston Blumenthal, including the 3.7L capacity Risotto Plus, which is accompanied with a rice paddle, a measuring cup and a large stainless steel steaming tray.
Cookworks for Value Cookers
Cookworks is an own label brand available through Argos and is aimed at those on a tight budget. The Cookworks 6.5L slow cooker is a value appliance suitable for cooking large batch meals. Review sites include this cooker as a best buy option because it manages to keep meat moist on each of its three settings, whereas similarly priced cookers on analysis have tended to produce meat which was dry. As to be expected for an appliance geared for the budget end of the market there is not a keep warm facility and it is neither dishwasher or microwave proof.
Judge Offer Energy Efficiency
Judge have an established range of slow cookers of varied capacities which are easy to use, including only a few features for the user to select from. They are designed with energy efficiency foremost in mind, with a self-insulating lid helping to best control the temperature in the cooking pot. With a compact design and ceramic pots the range is easy to clean and can also go in to the dishwasher. Compact enough to place in an oven if you wanted to finish the meal off there, these slow cookers also come with a glass lid, making monitoring the food that much easier.
Origins of the Slow Cooker
The concept of the slow cooker has been around for some time now. Back in 1936 an American inventor called Irving Naxon applied for a patent for a portable cooking device. Based on an idea conceived after listening to stories his Grandmother told of cooking in a bakery in Lithuania, the patent was approved in 1940.
The device he brought to market was a bean cooker called the Naxon Beanery, a forerunner of today’s slow cookers. The patent for the Naxon Beanery was acquired in 1970 by Rival who rebranded it as the Crock Pot.
Rival recognised the convenience of the slow cooker and how it was seen as the best way to have a meal ready in the evening as more women entered the workplace. Its low energy consumption also gave it a boost in 1973 at the time of the oil crisis.
The Facts About Slow Cookers
When Irving Naxon first brought out the Naxon Beanery it retailed at $25, not too dissimilar to some of the lower priced appliances on the market now. Today slow cookers come in capacities ranging up to at least 6.5L for family meals, and catering to all budgets. They remain comparatively economical to run allowing you more control over cooking energy costs. One of the appeals from its inception has been the ability to leave your food slowly cooking through the day unattended, to be ready with flavoursome, tender meals when you return from work.
After Rival acquired Naxon they saw sales of the Crock Pot boom to 3.7 million units in 1975. At their peak over 40 companies were manufacturing slow cookers. Although their popularity took a dip, especially with the introduction of microwaves in the early 1980s, the benefits of slow cookers are being appreciated once more.
Using Your Slow Cooker Safely
Maintaining Your Slow Cooker
Maintaining and cleaning a slow cooker is a simple process, although it is always best to check the accompanying instructions manual to review if there are any maintenance tips specific to your model. The vast majority of cookers now come with a removable inner pot which can be cleaned along with the lid in soapy water or in a dishwasher, providing your model is dishwasher proof.
If any tough food stains or debris remain one of the best methods you can try is filling the insert pot with water before adding a few tablespoons of baking soda and some drops of dish soap. You can set to a lower setting before thoroughly rinsing out the pot prior its next use.
A damp cloth using warm water will often be sufficient to wipe down the outside of the cooker and also the bottom. If this does not remove all marks then a mixture of water and baking soda may be best. Only clean when the appliance is switched off at the plug and has been allowed to cool down.
Accessories for Your Cooker
Apart from spares for your slow cooker such as replacement pots and lids, there are a number of accessories on the market to make using your slow cooker even easier and more beneficial. Liner bags to make cleaning easier have been discussed, but there are utensils available to ease the cooking process.
These include shredder claws which make shredding meat in the pot much simpler than with a knife and fork, plus are handy at lifting larger items such as a whole chicken out of the pot when cooked. One of the best recommendations is surely a good pair of heat resistant oven mitts, as the outside of a slow cooker can become hot.
One of the benefits of these cookers often mentioned in a review is how portable they are, so purchasing a travel bag will mean you can comfortably transport your slow cooker wherever you need it. A pot lid lock will best help prevent any leakage when you are transporting a cooker containing food.
Alternatives to a Slow Cooker
Reviewing and adapting a slow cooker recipe for the hob or to roast in an oven is the simplest alternative to using a slow cooker. However the flavours associated with food cooked over a long period in a slow cooker can then be missing.
One of the best alternatives if you do not possess a slow cooker is to use a heavy casserole dish. Using pulled pork as an example you could cook the dish on a low heat for a similar amount of time as you would with a slow cooker, just checking at the end that the meat has a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit inside. You could also opt for a Dutch oven instead, a thick walled pot, usually of cast iron, which comes with a tight lid.
When you do not have the time available to wait for a slow cooker then a pressure cooker could be the best option. There is a similarity between the two methods, but pressure cooking produces much faster results.
Ten Frequently Asked Questions About Slow Cookers
What Vegetables Can You Cook in a Slow Cooker?
You can slow cook most vegetables in a slow cooker, with the extra cooking time bringing out the flavour and making them tender to eat. As with all cooking, success with vegetables relies on good preparation and adding them to the cook at the best time. The hearty tough vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips and butternut squash should go towards the bottom while more delicate vegetable like broccoli, peas and cauliflower are best placed on the top.
Will a Slow Booker Burn Food?
If you add too little liquid when cooking it is possible to burn the food in a slow cooker. This can also happen if you have the temperature setting too high or set the cooking time for too long a duration. Always review the manual which accompanied the cooker for best practices and make sure the lid is left on when cooking to prevent the cooking liquid evaporating.
Will Milk Curdle in a Slow Cooker?
If you add dairy products such as milk too early in the cooking process they can curdle. Milk can be used in recipes when slow cooking but it is usually best added only during the last 30 to 60 minutes of the cook to obtain the best results.
Why is a Slow Cooker Healthy?
Using a slow cooker can make cooking simpler and less intimidating, which can lead to more home cooked foods eaten and less reliance on convenient, less healthy processed foods.
Will a Slow Cooker Overflow?
There is a similarity to cooking on a hob where if you overfill a pan it will spill over when it boils. If you fill a slow cooker with too much liquid during the simmering period, almost right to the top, some of the liquid can get forced out and drip down the side of the appliance. As always it is best practice to review the appliance manual for specific recommendations around the use of the cooker model you are using.
What Slow Cooker Size Should You Buy?
There are a good range of cooker sizes on the market, offering cooking pots from 1.5L capacity up to 8L. When cooking for the average family of 3 to 4 people a cooker size of 3.5L should usually be ample. The larger sized cookers are best for larger families, when hosting dinner parties or for batch cooking. It is always best to review how you will be using a cooker and buy the appliance which best suits this requirement within your set budget.
Are Slow Cookers and Crockpots the Same?
Although they both carry out the same cooking function, a crockpot will have a stoneware pot while a slow cooker tends to have a pot made from metal.
Can a Slow Cooker Cook Rice?
White or brown rice can be cooked in a slow cooker, but as it often is when cooked with other methods rice can be a little tricky to perfect when slow cooked. Wild rice can also be cooked, although it tends to take longer than white or brown rice. There are lots of recipes and best tips available to help you perfect cooking rice in a slow cooker.
Can a Slow Cooker Be Used Without Liquid?
Using a slow cooker is similar to cooking by other methods in that if there is no liquid then the food is going to dry up, stick to the pot or possibly burn. Check the appliance manual for reference and read a relevant recipe to guide you to the best level of liquid to add to the pot for the meal you want to cook.
Are Slow Cooker Ribs Good?
A slow cooker is one of the best ways to cook ribs to get them tender and moist. It is an easy way to cook ribs, not requiring much work at all. They are best if seared first as part of the preparation, before cooking on a low heat. Basted with the sauce of your choice, people who review this way of cooking ribs certainly recommend them.
Links and Sources
- 10 Rice Recipes for the Slow Cooker
- 72 Slow-Cooker Recipes That Will Make You A Food Prep Believer
- Slow cooker recipes
- 45+ delicious slow cooker recipes
- Easy Slow Cooker Recipes