Help! How do I choose what slow cooker to buy?
It’s something I hear a lot!
We have a massive slow cooker review page for you to compare the models in detail HERE, but there are still many other factors to consider that can be overwhelming.
So today we are going to break down one by one the various features you may want to consider when purchasing your new slow cooker 🙂
- Size of the slow cooker
I think this has to be the first consideration you make. It has to suit your family.
Slow cookers are measured in litre capacity and the average slow cooker on the market is a 6L.
However they can range from really small ones like 1.5L (which are great for sides, desserts, singles or couples) … right up to 7.5L which is the largest on the Australian market.
When considering size you want to be able to feed your family, but also store the cooker too within your space limitations.
While it might be tempting to get just a really small one for a small family, remember that this will limit what you can cook in it (for example a large roast, shanks or soup etc won’t fit). Likewise you don’t want to have a huge one if you’ll rarely need that size because also remember that an emptier cooker will cook hotter/faster. So you need to find the cooker just right for you. I adore my 1.5L cookers for many, many dishes, I even have 3 of them they are so useful, but I think they are best to go in company of a larger one also.
I’d suggest 3.5L or larger for a smaller family or couple, 6L or larger for a large family or any who like to do big batch cooking etc.
- Does shape matter?
Generally speaking, no. However over the years I’ve constantly been surprised by folks who insist they want a round one not oval, or a rectangular one not square – so it definitely matters to some. Because I have around 40 slow cookers (see photo below) I have EVERY shape imaginable and while the average slow cooker is oval, they also come in round and rectangle too.
I do see the benefit of the larger rectangular type shapes when doing non traditional recipes like baking, slices, scrolls, or anything that lay out flat – it gives you the most surface area to work with. Likewise some like a round one for cakes.
If you don’t mind though it won’t matter 🙂
The main distinction between slow cooker controls is if they are digital controls or manual knobs.
The digital controls can be daunting in some models to program at first, but you soon get familiar with them. They usually allow you to set the cooking time and temp, but another important feature of digital controls is that they almost all include a keep warm function. This means that after your chosen programmed cooking time has elapsed, your slow cooker will automatically switch to a keep warm setting (usually up to 4hrs – though I personally find food quality is a little lost after 2hrs so that’s my preferred maximum).
Keep in mind that some digital controls have minimum cook times or set intervals to increase your programmed time by so that’s something else to consider also.
By comparison many prefer a traditional knob that you just turn on in one twist and you are done. You can usually turn it to low or high etc, and many do still have the keep warm as an option too.
Of course, with the manual knob it won’t change settings, temperatures, or even turn off until you tell it to. It’s one you need to be there to adjust if needed.
Special mention here to indicator lights! I’m a big fan of slow cookers that have a little red light glowing on its display when turned on. I see so many people who’ve lost meals because they thought they’d turned it on, or plugged it in, or switched the power on – but they hadn’t! So a quick glance at the little red light glowing can be very reassuring 🙂
- What is an AUTO function and do I need it?
The auto function often means that the dish will begin cooking at HIGH for approximately 2hrs then it will switch itself down to the lower temp of LOW. (The dial itself doesn’t move though it will remain pointed to auto). Not to be confused with an automatic setting that continues to fluctuate during cooking.
It can be really useful for getting large roasts etc up to a higher temp faster, then kicking itself back to a steady low to cook on through the day.
If you are someone who is home while you slow cook though, this is something you can do yourself manually instead if your chosen slow cooker doesn’t have this feature.
- SEARING slow cooker vs TRADITIONAL slow cooker vs MULTI cookers
All slow cookers generally fall into these 3 types based primarily on the cooking bowl inside the unit.
A traditional slow cooker has a heavy ceramic cooking bowl. It’s not one that can go on the stove and almost always cannot go in an oven either (though a few can so always check your manual before trying). If you wish to pre brown or sear your meat prior to slow cooking it (read pros and cons of that here) then you’ll need to use another pan on the stove top to do so. This can mean extra dishes, extra mess, and some loss of flavour left behind.
A searing slow cooker has a metallic type, non stick cooking bowl that can usually be lifted out of the slow cooker, taken to the stove top to brown in, then put right back into the slow cooker unit to carry on slow cooking. No extra mess, no extra dishes and no lost flavour left behind in the pan. Some of the newer searing slow cookers even take it one step futher and they sear in themselves, no stove required. They have an extra high heat setting within the slow cooker itself, that you can use to sear then switch back to lower slow cooking temps after that.
A multi cooker is essentially a pressure cooker, with some extra features thrown in, and slow cooking is only one of them. They can have a lot of limitations when compared to an actual slow cooker. Space limitations, cooking temp limitations, cooking settings limitations, tea towel limitations and more. However if you are someone who does like to pressure cook they are a great second unit in your repertoire to complement an actual slow cooker.
- Multiple pots in one
Modern day slow cookers offer so many options these days and you need not be limited to just a single pot to cook in.
You can get double and triple slow cookers with multiple cooking bowls that can be used together or alone. Great for cooking multiple meals, multiple courses, or catering to various tastes or allergies within the one family.
You can also get the one slow cooker bowl that is split into two halves
Or even the one slow cooker with interchangeable sized bowls to cook in it with.
You’ll find all these variations on our Slow Cooker Review Page here
- Washing your slow cooker
I’ve always found slow cookers easy to wash, but for those times you may have baked on food or stains we have a blog we have written here that covers all that – How to clean your slow cooker!
When purchasing your slow cooker, you may want to prioritise one that allows dishwasher use if that’s what you prefer.
Otherwise most can be washed in warm soapy water with non abrasive cloths
Be mindful that some do not have a sealed base to the ceramic pot so while it’s ok to wash them, and to soak water IN them, the bowl as a whole cannot be soaked in a sink of water or the underneath will absorb water and risk cracking your bowl when you next use it.
- Removable power cord
If space is at a premium in your kitchen you may like to choose one of the units on the market that have a removable power cord. This allows you to store it inside your slow cooker when not in use and saves some valuable cupboard space when storing between uses.
Most slow cookers will come with a warranty.
Always check the length of yours when purchasing.
Lastly, let me finish by sharing my slow cooker collection with you.
Remembering this is my job, so it makes sense that I have a lot!
I review slow cookers, I test my recipes across all types of slow cookers, and I help others every day with questions about theirs.
So the more I have, the more help I can give.
When I’m asked … “BUT AREN’T THEY ALL THE SAME” … this article you’ve just read will now clearly demonstrate – No. They are not.
I’m adding to my collection all the time, so be sure to check back on our SLOW COOKER REVIEW page for all the latest models on the market!
Happy slow cooker shopping!!