The origins of slow cooking are lost in culinary history but modern, electric, slow cookers date only from 1936 when an American named Irving Naxon invented the device for which he received a patent in 1940. Rival Manufacturing acquired the rights to Naxon’s appliance in 1970, re-branding and marketing his slow-cooker as a ‘Crock Pot’. Rival’s timing was fortunate: Large numbers of housewives were entering the workforce and the slow-cooker was seen as a means to put together a meal in advance that would be ready when the family reassembled at home for evening dinner. Rival’s tagline was “Cooks all day while the cook’s away”. This, of course, remains a defining feature of slow-cookers.
Naxon’s cooker, and successive generations, used a cooking pot placed inside a heating device. Today, the pot is typically made of ceramic while the heater in which it sits is a metal sleeve that can have a metallic; enamelled, or anodised exterior finish. The ceramic pot holds heat well and is fitted with either a glass or metal lid. Modern pots can have refinements, too, such as digital displays or a programmable timer and temperature controls, and some manufacturers have even combined other cooking functions into a single appliance such as rice-cooking and pressure-cooking. However, none of our picks is a multi-function machine since we are not convinced these appliances are equally successful at all tasks, and they generally lift slow-cookers into a higher price-range.
Slow cooking has other advantages: Cooks have always stewed tougher – possibly cheaper – cuts of meat to make them more tender, and cooking in liquid allows flavours to develop and mix. Slow cookers use low-temperature simmering to obviate the risk of scorching and sticking, and use less energy than heating a Pyrex casserole in a kitchen oven. And, not least, one-pot cookery limits washing-up.
What to look for in a slow cooker
Slow cookers tend to be either oval or round but otherwise come in a wide range of colours and sizes to match your kitchen and to find room on the counter. We have picks with a capacity of 2.4 litres, perfect for beef bourguignon for two, up to 5.5 litres, ideal for coq au vin for a large, hungry family. One of our choices enables you to seal meat before slow-cooking and there’s a variety of digital- and dial-controls and displays but – even though cost was not a particular focus of our research – none of our picks has a price-tag over forty pounds. We’ve simmered our selections and know we’ve found a slow-cooker that will work for you!
Best slow cookers
Crock Pot Slow-Cooker 2.4 L – Best for Bed-Sits
We couldn’t not include this Crock Pot model in our list! Its small capacity is great for dinner-for-two and its round, taller design in white means that this cooker will fit on most counters. It has a two-setting, low/high dial and the stoneware insert is fitted with a tempered glass lid. It’s cheap and cheerful but has proved reliable over long use.
Crock Pot Slow-Cooker 3.5 L – Best Basic Family Machine
This pot is large enough for family use and is available in several gloss-colours. The single dial control has three settings: high; low, and warm, and a small LED above the dial indicates ‘power on’. The pot is dishwasher-safe, ceramic stoneware and has a tempered-glass lid. This is a no-frills machine but it comes at a great price and really does the job.
Morphy Richards 48718 Oval 6.5 L Slow-Cooker – Best for Entertaining and Large Families
Sometimes size matters! The ‘48718’ has only basic features but is included because of the 6.5 L pot-capacity. The pot’s interior measures 35 cm at its widest which, in our tests, has proved big enough to accommodate a leg of lamb. And, cooking larger quantities can yield one meal-to-eat and one meal-to-freeze, saving on future preparation. Like many other appliances from this manufacturer, the exterior finish is brushed stainless steel, and you may have a match with other pieces already on your kitchen counter. The ceramic pot and glass cover are dishwasher safe.
PureMate 5.5 L PM 13220 Slow-Cooker – Best All-Rounder
We picked the PureMate for its larger pot; good looks and solid feel, all at a very feasible price. The exterior finish is brushed metal and the single temperature control (high/low/keep-warm) is mounted on a black plastic panel that also incorporates the power-on light. The maximum dimension across the oval shape of the complete unit is 42 cm which might deter consumers with small counters or limited storage space. Keep-cool, red, rubber carrying handles on the heater-body are a bright design feature that allow the entire unit to be carried easily to the serving table. Testing demonstrated the durability of this model which should give many years of good service.
Morphy Richards ‘Accents’ Sear and Stew Slow-Cooker – Best Slow-Cooker with Sear feature
The Accents range substitutes a non-stick, aluminium, interior cook-pot for the more usual ceramic pot. This allows you to use the pot directly on a stove-top to sear meat before stewing or to boil off excess liquor; the pot can be lifted directly from the stove into the appliance’s heater for slow-cooking. This slow-cooker, with a 3.5 L capacity, will cook an average family meal. There is a front-mounted four-position control dial (off/low/high/keep warm) and power-indicator. The metal cook pot will resist dropping – unlike ceramics or stoneware – but can still be cleaned in the dishwasher. The ‘Accents’ unit is available in five colours: Black; White; Red; Green and Brushed Steel, so we’re confident there’s one to match your décor,
Crock Pot 4.7 L Digital Countdown Slow-Cooker – Best Cooker with Digital Features
We make no apologies for including another ‘Crock Pot’ slow-cooker in our best picks. The brand has high scores across the range for ‘build-quality’ and price, and this is a better-featured machine with a larger than average capacity. The front-mounted digital control panel features three heat-settings and a programmable timer. The inner pot is stoneware and comes with a glass lid, and both are dishwasher safe. An automatic switch prevents cold meals (or overcooking) by lowering the temperature to ‘keep warm’ when your pre-set cooking time expires; great if you’re running late at work! This slow-cooker’s digital features will give you the fine-control you may need to make the most of your stew- and casserole-recipes.