Compared to other kitchen appliances, slow cookers are actually on the cheaper side. They are more energy-efficient than ovens, and allow you to use cheaper cuts of meat because the slow cooking tenderizes them so well. Depending on the model you choose, you should expect to pay anything from £15 to £80 for your slow cooker. On the more expensive end, what you’re paying for are the extra features, things like a searing function, digital controls and timer options. For some these are highly useful, but they are not necessary for everyone. The basic models will still serve you well for a tasty stew or casserole.
Bear in mind that the litre value advertised won’t be the same as the quantity of food that the slow cooker will make, as you should only fill the pot by around two thirds. As a guide, here are the recommended sizes per number of people:
- Small pot for 1-2 people = 1.5-3 litres
- Medium pot for 3-4 people = 3-5 litres
- Large pot for 5 or more people = 5-6.5 litres
If you’re going to be using your pot to do lots of family cooking, or if you like to cook in bulk, then a 6-litre pot is a good size to aim for. If it’s mostly just the two of you, you could make do with a smaller pot of around 3.5 litres.
The right shape for you depends on what you will mostly want to use the appliance for. Round models do a better job at cooking stews and curries, so if you will mainly be using it for these then you can stick to a round pot. However, oval pots are a better choice for cooking a whole chicken or a rack of lamb, for example, as it’s an easier shape for fitting in these large pieces, and it will work perfectly fine for a stew as well.
Digital vs. Manual
There are two variations of slow cooker – digital or manual. A digital modelis one that allows you to choose and program your cooking time. These often have a keep-warm setting that they switch to when the timer ends, so you don’t come home to a cold dinner. Manual cookers are more simple – you just switch it to the desired setting – high or low – and it will keep going until you turn it off. With manual cookers you shouldn’t really leave them, so if you will leave it running all day you would be better off with a digital option.
Here are some common useful functions:
- Keep-warm setting: does what it says on the tin – keeps your food warm once cooked
- Timer: switches the appliance off after a certain amount of time, so you don’t have to monitor it
- Indicator light: lets you know that the appliance is working (they can take a while to warm up)
- Auto-cook: the appliance starts on high to get things going then drops to a lower temperature for the remainder of the cooking time (mostly found on the more expensive models)
- Sear function: means you can use the same machine to brown meats and vegetables before cooking them, to speed up the process
Most crock pots are ceramic, porcelain or metal, which are all good at conducting heat. A lot of it is down to personal preference. The main thing is to find one with a removable pot, as it makes cleaning much easier. If you use a dishwasher, make sure it’s dishwasher-safe. Transparent glass lids (avoid clear plastic) are also preferable, as it means you can see how the food is getting on without taking the lid off and letting the heat out.