Best slow cookers – the top models for making effortless stews, curries and more

Long days call for easy dinners, and slow cookers are a brilliant solution. We've tested and reviewed the best slow cookers to buy

How many times have you got home after a long day and not wanted to wait to eat? Or found yourself rushing to make the kids something healthy and filling after school? We all know that cooking from scratch can be time-consuming and sometimes a bit of a chore. Why not give the takeaways and ready meals a rest and invest in a slow cooker instead?

Pop the ingredients in the night before or in the morning and you can be coming home to delicious hot dinners. Prepare warming soups, pulled meats, casseroles, chilli and even lasagne. These are our reviews of the best slow cookers.

See more of our expert reviews by checking out our buying guides

Best slow cookers

1. 6.5L slow cooker by Cookworks – best slow cooker for big families

best-slow-cookers-1 Argos Cookworks 6.5L Slow Cooker - Black

Affordable slow cookers can sometimes be restrictive in size, but not this capacious model. It comes with a 6.5-litre oven-safe ceramic bowl. That’s big enough to fill with enough stew, curry or soup to easily satisfy a family of five or six. On top, there’s a toughened glass lid, while on the base it has three settings – low, high and ‘warm’. However, there’s no sauté function and the pot isn’t hob-compatible, so pre-cooking will need to be done in a pan.

It’s also advisable to preheat it before the contents are added to the bowl. In testing, this slow cooker made a delicious chilli con carne on high, although a few pieces of mince were a little dry. It also slow-cooked a tender beef brisket. Although, once simmered on low and switched to the ‘warm’ function, the meat cooled faster than the sauce.

It was only lukewarm when served, suggesting that the ‘warm’ switch may be better for recipes with more consistency, rather than joints of meat. The bowl and lid aren’t dishwasher-safe but washing by hand was straightforward, if a bit awkward. As this slow cooker is black, so it’s hard to see baked-on food debris. Plus, the bowl is very heavy.

Ideal Home’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Buy now: 6.5L slow cooker by Cookworks, £32, Amazon

2. 4.5L DuraCeramic Sauté Slow Cooker by Crock-Pot – best slow cooker for practicality

best-slow-cookers-2 Crock-Pot CSC038-MAIN

Some things may deter you from cooking. Having to transfer food from a pan to a pot, cleaning up or that annoying puddle of water you get from putting the lid down on the worktop. If that’s you, you need this smart model. This slow cooker has been designed to be easy to clean – food residue just slides off. It’s oven and hob safe, so you can sauté in it. Be aware that the handles get hot, too. Slot in the hinged lid, which also has a seal around the edge, and you’re good to go.

Its manual control features three heat settings – high, low and keep warm – and there’s an indicator light. Given its mid-range price, there are a few extra features you’d expect to have like a timer or automatic controls. The bowl isn’t dishwasher safe. Also, despite being induction-compatible, this type of hob wouldn’t recognise it during testing. Beware, those with older induction hobs may struggle.

It’s also awkward to fit the bowl in the base after the lid, so it has to be put in first and taken out after the lid is removed. Having said all this, it made a fantastic Bolognese sauce in four hours on high. Rich and tasty, with perfectly cooked meat and veg.

Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Buy now: 4.5L DuraCeramic Sauté Slow Cooker by Crock-Pot, £41.99, Amazon

3. AutoCook Multicooker by Bosch – best slow cooker for keen entertainers

best-slow-cookers-3 Bosch AutoCook

There’s one area in which slow cookers truly excel and that’s producing top-notch meals that taste like you’ve been slaving away in the kitchen all day. In fact, all you had to do is pop some ingredients in a bowl and walk away. This is what the AutoCook slow cooker does brilliantly, stewing and simmering away while you enjoy a glass of wine with your guests.

Strictly a multi-cooker rather than a simple slow cooker, Bosch’s AutoCook Pro nonetheless performs the role with gusto. Offering up a five-litre cauldron-shaped round bowl, it provides good capacity without the awkward depth. It also uses induction to heat it evenly, removing the issue of hot spots. Also unlike a traditional slow cooker, there’s an abundance of controls to get to grips with. Some are more confusing than others.

The silver lining of this button bonanza is that you have more flexibility with your slow cooking time and temperature as it goes as low as 40C. In tests, the AutoCook slow-cooked eggs in their shells to gently poach them. The resulting eggs were still slightly watery after an hour. However, this slow cooker could be a time-saver for a dinner party. It made yogurt on a slow cooking programme that took eight hours and resulted in creamy semi-set yogurt. Parts of the lid need to be washed by hand but the bowl and its accessories are all dishwasher-safe.

Ideal Home’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

4. 1.5L Slow Cooker by Lakeland – best compact slow cooker

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Slow cookers rarely come as dinky as this compact model. If you’re only preparing meals for one or two people, its size will be a bonus, both for storage and energy efficiency. Comprising a 1.5-litre ceramic bowl this slow cooker has three manual settings of high, low and auto. The pot heats to a high temperature before dropping to a lower one (120C to 60C). A base element wraps around the bowl for even heat distribution.

It might be small but it’s perfectly formed. It also comes with lots of advice for getting to grips with slow cooking but strangely, only a couple of recipes. The size of this slow cooker will be limiting for anyone wanting to make more than a small meal. In tests, it was used to make chilli. All the ingredients had to be sautéed in advance before placing in the bowl. Once in, though, they simmered away nicely, the glass lid coming in handy for checking on progress.

The exterior also doesn’t get too hot when it’s in use. Both the lid and bowl are dishwasher-safe, making clean-up effortless. Also, as neither are especially big, they’re not overly heavy. The resulting chilli, after six hours on auto, was great, with moist meat, no dry beans and slightly hotter than serving temperature.

Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Buy now: 1.5L Slow Cooker by Lakeland, £22.99, Amazon

5. Chalk Board Slow Cooker by Russell Hobbs – best budget slow cooker

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There’s lots to like about the Chalk Board Slow Cooker. It has a 3.5-litre ceramic bowl that can cook up to three or four portions. Its matt black finish is designed to be written on in chalk. So, for example, you could write on what time dinner will be ready, what’s cooking inside or what time to add a final ingredient. It features standard settings of high, low and warm but the control dial is manual so you’ll need to be there to switch between them.

It’s affordable and a good medium size with enough capacity for newbies to experiment with, without occupying too much room. During testing, a few quirks emerged that you’ll need to work around. One is that adhesive left behind from a sticker made writing on the chalkboard area difficult. Another is that there’s no light to indicate it’s on, so you’ll need to preheat it before decanting dinner.

When used to cook soup on high, some steam and condensation escaped from the lid, leaving a puddle of water on the worktop, while the exterior grew very hot. However, the low setting produced a tasty Bolognese meat sauce and the warm function kept food at a hot enough serving temperature. The pot and lid are dishwasher-safe, too, which is advisable as it’s tricky to see food on the pot’s black glaze.

Ideal Home’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Buy now: Chalk Board Slow Cooker by Russell Hobbs, £19.99, Amazon

6. The Fast Slow Pro by Sage – best for batch cooking

best-slow-cookers-6 Sage the Fast Slow Pro

Removing the need to sauté in a pan before transferring to the pot, the Fast Slow Pro is as useful for slow cooking converts as it is to experienced cooks. Functioning as both a slow cooker and a pressure cooker, it includes sensors at the top and bottom to monitor temperature. This makes inconsistently cooked stews a thing of the past. Also, you can set this slow cooker to heat for two to 12 hours – ideal if you’re going to be out of the house for a long day.

Its slow cook presets correspond to different types of food, such as pudding, casserole, stock, pot roast and legumes – it also has a custom setting. All settings switch automatically to keep your dish warm at the end. In testing, the sear function was a little too hot and caused oil to spit. Also, the bowl was an awkward shape for turning a chicken while browning.

The chicken was cooked on the pot roast programme after, set on a rack over water, and emerged juicy and so tender the meat fell off the bone. The machine also slow-cooked stock on low for six hours. This produced a rich, flavourful broth without making the kitchen smell from hours on the hob. The slow cooker’s ‘reduce’ function was useful for bubbling away excess liquid after slow cooking.

Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Buy now: The Fast Slow Pro by Sage, £199, Amazon

 7. 460005 Sear and Stew 3.5L Digital Slow Cooker by Morphy Richards – best for ease of use

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Feature-packed, versatile and so simple to get the hang of, you’ll be slow cooking everything you can with the Sear and Stew. It could revolutionise your mealtimes. Its pot is made from aluminium rather than ceramic, meaning you can use it on the hob (not induction) to brown meat and veg. You can then transfer it to the base to slow cook on either high or low heat. Then all you need to do is set a cooking time in increments of 30 minutes using its digital display. When the time’s elapsed, it’ll switch automatically to a two-hour keep warm option.

The Morphy Richards slow cooker’s high setting can also be used to reduce liquid after cooking. In tests, it was used to make Bolognese, first sautéing meat and veg on the hob. The pan’s base was slippery on the cast-iron support of a gas burner, so it had to be held in position when stirring. This required gloves as the handles grew hot. After, it was transferred to the base to cook on high for four hours.

The slow cooker was easy to set, though the timer button seems a bit redundant alongside up and down buttons for toggling the duration. While cooking, it bubbled away well. The exterior of the base only grew slightly warm. After the time had elapsed, it switched to keep warm, which was still hot enough to serve. Both the pot and the toughened glass lid are dishwasher-safe so clean-up was straightforward.

Ideal Home’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Buy now: 460005 Sear and Stew 3.5L Digital Slow Cooker by Morphy Richards, £44.99, Amazon

How to buy the best slow cooker for you

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Image credit: Will Heap

Why do I need a slow cooker?

Slow cookers have got so much going for them, it’s hard not to love them. Not only will a good one save you time and effort in the kitchen, it’ll save you money too. Slow cookers transform cheaper cuts of meat into tender dishes and liven up economical healthy pulses, like lentils, beans and peas. Plus, while they can be on all day, it’s at such a low wattage that it will only cost pennies.

See 100s of delicious slow cooker recipes on our sister site GoodtoKnow

Slow cookers are also brilliant for less-than-confident cooks, easily creating all those meals that seem a bit scary on the hob. That’s because slow cooking develops the flavours of food for richer, tastier results. It’s not just dinners that slow cookers excel at making either. They make great porridge, granola, stewed apples, bread and butter pudding, fudge and dips. You can use your slow cooker to melt chocolate, as a Bain-marie.

How much should I spend on a slow cooker?

Slow cookers are one of the most affordable small appliances, and you can buy one for as little as £20. At this price, it’ll be pretty basic in terms of features. Also, the dish may be the traditional choice of heavy, potentially breakable, ceramic. However, you should still be able to simmer and stew whatever you like.

Spend more and you’ll find a greater array of features, such as automatic functions. A bigger budget will allow for a durable metal pot that can be used on your hob and is dishwasher-safe. Stretch your budget to the £100 mark and your slow cooker may also double up as a multi-cooker, so it can cook fluffy rice and steam food, too.

What are the main features of a slow cooker?

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Image credit: Russell Hobbs

Slow cooker capacity

The first thing you need to consider with any slow cooker is its capacity – each will list its bowl size in litres. Bear in mind that this won’t translate to the same amount of food, as you shouldn’t fill slow cookers to the brim. This gap allows your food to bubble and simmer properly. The usable cooking space will be around three-quarters of its bowl size, for example, a five-litre cooker can accommodate around four litres of food.

Slow cookers range in size from a compact 1.5 litres to a 6.5-litre bowl, so be sure to choose the right size for the way you intend to cook. As a rough guide, 1.5-3 litres will feed one or two people, 3-5 litres, three or four people and anything over five litres should suit a large family, with six litres or more ideal for batch cooks who like to fill the freezer. Alternatively, a larger cooker is great for those who like to eat what’s leftover for lunch the next day.

Slow cooker controls

Most slow cookers will have similar standard controls – high heat for meals cooked in less than a few hours, low heat for all-day cooking. A ‘keep warm’ mode should hold food at a serve-able temperature without actually cooking it. Some cookers will switch to ‘keep warm’ automatically after an elapsed cooking time, while more basic models need this altered manually.

Slow cookers with digital controls may also have a delay start, which is ideal if you’re out of the house for more than eight hours. This means you can start cooking at a time to suit you – while it’s hard to overcook recipes with a lot of liquid, this gives more freedom with dishes that could potentially start to dry out. A timer is another handy feature – this will either turn the machine off after cooking or put it into a limited time keep warm mode.

One-pot solutions

Basic slow cookers won’t get hot enough to sauté meat or vegetables, so you’ll need to do this in a pan before transferring the contents to the bowl. However, more expensive models offer a different one-pot solution. This can either be bowls that you use on your hob or in your oven in place of a pan (some will even be induction compatible). They will need to be moved to the slow cooker base. Machines with a sauté function for high-heat browning can simply be switched to slow cooking.

The advantage of this is not leaving all that lovely seared flavour behind in a pan, and it reduces washing-up. Finally, look for a slow cooker with a transparent lid, so you can keep an eye on your food’s progress. Lifting the lid of a slow cooker while it’s in use lets out heat and steam, prolonging cooking time. It’s always best to be able to see what’s going on without doing so.

Are slow cookers easy to clean?

Best-slow-cooker-lakeland

Image credit: Lakeland

You’ll only have a lid and a pot to wash but even so, it’s best to check the cleaning instructions. Budget models with large ceramic dishes may not be dishwasher-safe and the pot can be heavy and cumbersome to clean thoroughly by hand. Dark glazes may also make it hard to see stuck-on food. A non-stick coating on a lighter pot can be a better choice for straightforward maintenance.

What other key questions do I need to ask?

  • Does your slow cooker have good heat distribution? Some can suffer from hot spots that cause drying out in corners or at the base. Uneven heat is something that’s more likely to occur in larger bowls.
  • Do you need a round or oval bowl? If you plan on making stews and curries, round bowls are ideal as the shape provides even heat. However, they can be awkward to use for a whole chicken or lamb shanks – in which case, an oval bowl will make getting meat in and out easier.
  • Do you plan to put food in and dash out of the house? Slow cookers can take a while to warm up, so look for a model with a light to show it’s on. This is a little extra reassurance that you’ve remembered to switch on the socket and aren’t coming home to uncooked dinner.
  • Do you need a separate source of recipes? Most cookers will come with a few ideas, which is useful for getting to know what sort of dishes you can make. However, there’s a huge amount of recipes online, so don’t just stick to what it comes with.

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