How to pick the best slow cooker

Imagine a cooker where you simply throw all your desired ingredients into a bowl and return a few hours later to a perfectly cooked home-style meal. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well that appliance exists and it’s called a slow cooker.

What is a slow cooker?

A slow cooker is a kitchen appliance used for simmering or cooking at low temperatures. As the name suggests, a slow cooker is used for recipes that require food to be slowly cooked, including soups, stews and boiled meat.

slowcooker guideHow do slow cookers work? 

Slow cookers are comprised of three components: A heating element, a ceramic bowl and a glass lid. The heat generated by the element spreads evenly through the bowl.  The generated steam inside the bowl creates a vacuum seal with the lid, helping to retain moisture during cooking.

The low temperature and moisture retention of slow cookers makes it virtually impossible to burn food. This means certain slow cooker recipes permit you to leave the slow cooker unattended for hours. If you’re often too tired to cook after work, slow cookers give you the option to start cooking dinner in the morning and come home to a perfectly cooked meal in the evening.

What to look for when buying a slow cooker:

Litre capacity

Slow cookers come in a number of sizes with maximum capacities usually ranging between 3.5L and 6L. Larger slow cookers will also have large heating elements, so size should not affect performance. With that said, high capacity slow cookers are also generally more expensive.

Shape

Most slow cookers are oval in shape, however certain models are rectangular. These different shapes don’t amount to any considerable difference in effectiveness, however rectangular slow cookers are generally considered easier to store.

Settings

Cheap slow cookers usually have two settings: Low and high. Some mid-range slow cookers will include a medium or ‘warm’ setting. For those who are serious about slow cooking, some top-tier models have temperature controls that let you perfectly set your cooking temperature.

Features

Like many modern kitchen appliances, certain slow cookers include features to make cooking that little bit easier.

  • Timer: Some slow cookers include timers that alert you to when the set cooking time is reached. This isn’t an essential feature these days since most of us can set an alarm on our phone, but it’s always a bonus if there’s one built in.
  • Automatic adjustment setting: When a certain temperature or time is reached, the slow cooker will automatically adjust from the high setting to the low setting, ensuring your food stays warm without overcooking it.
  • Touch interface: Buttons and dials are the enemy of any messy cooker – the fewer crevices, the better. Touch interfaces are easier to clean, however are generally only found on more expensive models.
  • Delayed start setting: This feature lets you set your slow cooker to start at a later time. This is a handy setting if you’re going out but your recipe doesn’t require all that much time to cook.

guide to slowcookersHow much do slow cookers cost? 

Slow cookers are rather affordable appliances given how useful they can be, though of course the price will vary depending on the size, brand and features of the appliance. Our friends at Appliances Online have a range of slow cookers on offer with prices ranging from $44 to $249. For those on an even tighter budget, Home Maker produces a 5L slow cooker for only $20.

Should you buy a slow cooker?

The short answer is yes. To explain why, here are some of the highlights of slow cookers.

  • Sturdy: Slow cookers are hardy appliances that will last you for many years depending on the quality and treatment of the appliance.
  • Low fat: There is enough moisture inside of a slow cooker that it won’t stick to the ceramic pot. This means there is no need to add any extra oil to your cooking.
  • Cheaper ingredientsSlow cookers cook the meat in way that makes it fall straight off the bone. This means that you can use cheaper cuts of meat to achieve the same delicious meaty dish.
  • Simple cooking: As we’ve mentioned, making a delicious meal in a slow cooker meal can be as easy as piling in all the ingredients from the start and waiting.
  • Easy to clean: The ceramic bowl inside a slow cooker is removable in most models for ease of cleaning. Also, since it’s difficult to burn anything in a slow cooker, you won’t have any burn marks to scrub away.

What are the downsides to a slow cooker?

The most glaringly obvious downside to a slow cooker is of course that it’s slow at cooking. This means its cooking application is rather restricted. While some of the best slow cookers will boast a myriad of features that let them cook a wide range of foods, most cheap models will be limited with three settings – low, high and warm.

Slow cookers also tend to be very large and bulky, which can be troublesome if cabinet space is at a premium in your kitchen. If space is an issue, then keep in mind that oval slow cookers take up more space than rectangular models.

What is the best slow cooker?

Slow cookers vary considerably in price and quality, so it’s difficult to assess which brand produces the best slow cookers. With that said, many of the appliance giants have gotten in on the slow cooker market. Here are some of the leading slow cooker brands to consider.

slowcooker guideSunbeam slow cookers

Sunbeam has 10 models of slow cookers. Prices begin at $54.95 for its 4.5L SecretChef slow cooker (pictured) and its original 3.5L Crock-Pot Slow Cooker. Sunbeam’s most expensive model is its Sous Vide slow cooker at $199. This is a 5.5L rectangular cooker with temperature controls to a 1° increment. Its temperature capability ranges from 40°C to 90°C, making it capable of cooking succulent meats. All Sunbeam slow cookers have a 12 month warranty.

slowcooker guideKambrook slow cookers

The Kambrook website advertises four slow cookers, including one multi cooker, with prices ranging from $39.95 to $129.95. Kambrook’s cheapest model is its Essentials slow cooker (pictured) which has the basic three settings (low, warm, high). Its most advanced model is the Pressure Express Multi Cooker – a pressure cooker, slow cooker hybrid which boasts a slew of settings and features including audible alerts and timers. Kambrook slow cookers have a 12 month warranty.

slowcooker guideRonson slow cookers

The only model of Ronson slow cooker is the RSC100 (pictured), which is available only at Target for $39. This is a standard three-setting 6L stainless steel slow cooker. Warranty information is not available, but customers can still return it to Target if they have any problems or change their mind.

slowcooker guideRussell Hobbs slow cookers

Russell Hobbs produces three slow cookers – the RHSC650 (pictured), RHSC600 and 4443BSS. The RHS650 is a 6L, three-setting, stainless steel cooker that costs $79.95. It has digital controls, a timer function and an auto function that switches the slow cooker to low once the target cooking temperature is reached. The RHS600 also has a 6L capacity but is a bit more basic with a three-setting dial. It can be purchased for just $45. The 4443BSS is just smaller version of the RHSC600 with a 3.5L capacity for $39.95. These slow cookers come with a two-year warranty.

slowcooker guideKitchenAid slow cookers

The only KitchenAid slow cooker advertised on its website is the Artisan Slow Cooker (pictured) for $249. This is a 5.7L oval slow cooker with a digital display, 24-hour programmability and four settings – low, medium, high and warm.  KitchenAid also advertises a Multi-cooker for $749 which has slow cooker capabilities. Both of these products include a two-year warranty.

slowcooker guideBreville slow cookers

Breville has two slow cookers and three multi-cookers on offer: the Flavour Maker, the Smart Temp (pictured), the Fast Slow cooker, the Fast Slow Pro, and the Multi Chef. Prices start at $109.95 for the four-setting, 6L Smart Temp cooker.

The Flavour maker comes in 5L and 7L models and has an in-built sear pan, so you can sear your meats without losing all of the juices. The 5L is priced at about $120, while the 7L is about $200. Breville’s multi-cookers are slow cooker/pressure cooker hybrids – the most advanced of which, the Fast Slow Pro, is marketed as knowing the time, temperature and pressure different foods require. Breville slow cookers come with a one-year replacement warranty.

Which slow cooker should you buy?

We have listed a few great brands of slow cookers but there are many more out there. What the best slow cooker is for you will depend on your personal needs and preferences.

When considering the size of slow cooker you might need, factor in storage space and how many you need to cook for. If in doubt, then probably play it safe with a larger model. When it comes to features, consider how often you might use the slow cooker while not at home. The busier you are, the more utility you’ll gain from a slow cooker with plenty of features.

Finally, while price doesn’t always correlate to quality, some of the better slow cookers can last many years, so it may be more economical to invest in a quality product now.

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