Best slow cooker 2020: for soups, stews, cakes and even chicken!
The best slow cooker needn't be the most expensive - as this guide shows.
If you think that the best slow cookers are just for stews and soups, then think again.
From baking cakes to roasting chickens and cooking an entire Full English (or a stack of pancakes!) ready for the next morning, the best slow cookers are more versatile than you can imagine.
For the past month we’ve put this versatility to the test, preparing meals and desserts using 10 of the best-selling slow cookers. They come from established brands like Morphy Richards, Crock-Pot and Russell Hobbs, as well as models from relatively unsung manufacturers including Drew & Cole, Swan and Wilko.
There was a surprise result. The bargain Wilko slow cooker came out victorious. It makes the most moist chicken we’ve ever tasted, while also performing admirably at baking cakes and stews.
Drew & Cole’s Clever Chef is our best value choice because the design, performance and range of options it provides far outweigh its price.
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Slow cooker best buys
The Shortlist: Best slow cooker
1. Wilko 3.5L Slow Cooker
The 3.5L Slow Cooker from Wilko offers three temperature settings – low, high and “Keep Warm” – and comes with a ceramic pot, glass lid with heat proof knob, large handles and a rice paddle. Available in silver.
2. Morphy Richards Evoke Sear And Stew 3.5L Slow Cooker
The Morphy Richards Evoke Sear And Stew gets its name from the fact you can use the bowl as a frying or sauté pan on the hob before slow cooking. It offers three temperature settings – low, medium and high – and comes with an aluminium bowl. Available in red, cream, black, and black and rose gold.
3. Lakeland 3.5L Slow Cooker
This simple slow cooker has a streamlined design and three temperature settings - low, medium and auto. The auto mode is effectively a “Keep Warm” setting and keeps your food at serving temperature until you’re ready to serve.
4. Tower 3.5L Slow Cooker
The Tower 3.5L slow cooker offers three temperature settings - low, medium, high and “Keep Warm – with non-slip feet and large handles which make it easy to move around the kitchen. Available in black, cream, red and silver.
5. Swan Retro 3.5L Slow Cooker
Forming part of Swan’s wider Retro kitchen range, this 3.5L slow cooker comes in a variety of colours, each with an ivory ceramic bowl, reminiscent of slow cookers from the 1950s. It offers three temperature settings - low, high and auto. Available in black, blue, cream, green, grey, orange, pink and red.
6. Morphy Richards Oval 6.5L Slow Cooker
With a huge 6.5L pot, this slow cooker can feed up to eight people. It comes with a metal pot, three temperature settings – low, medium and high – and is available in silver or black.
7. Drew & Cole CleverChef Multi-Cooker
With a large digital display and plastic exterior, the Drew & Cole CleverChef is a futuristic-looking multi-cooker. It comes with a timer, complete with delay function, and 14 settings: slow cook, stew, steam, roast, poach, rice, soup, pasta, fish, sauté, brown, bread rise, bake and yoghurt.
8. Russell Hobbs Chalk Board 3.5L Slow Cooker
A break from its wide slow cooker rivals, the Russell Hobbs Chalk Board 3.5L is tall and thin, and its exterior is covered in a chalk board (the slow cooker ships with three pieces of chalk). This allows you to write what’s in the pot, or what time the meal will be ready. It has four temperature settings - low, medium, high and “Keep Warm – and is available in black only.
9. Crock-Pot 5.6L Family Multi and Slow Cooker
US brand Crock-Pot’s 5.6L Family Multi and Slow Cooker lets you sauté, slow cook, bake, roast and steam. It has a digital display and countdown timer with four temperature settings – low, medium, high and “Keep Warm”. It also ships with a metal rack for baking and roasting. Available in silver.
The expert's view
Our testing proves you can buy an excellent slow cooker for less than the cost of a Pizza Express bottle of wine. However, there's more to consider. Some of the slow cookers we tested can do more kinds of cooking. And others look much better than our Wilko winners, which matters a lot to some.
Read on to find out how our 10 best slow cookers handle cooking a chicken, baking a chocolate cake and making a classic slow-cooked stew.
Best slow cookers: how we selected
Despite the myriad recipes that can be made in a slow cooker, the machines themselves are simple pieces of kit. On paper, little separates the majority of slow cookers in terms of size, temperature settings and design. In reality, however, there can be a vast difference in how one performs compared to a rival.
To create a shortlist of the best slow cookers, we studied customer ratings for 50 models across leading homeware sites Lakeland, Andrew James, AO.com, Argos, Wilko and Amazon.
Any product labelled as a slow cooker was included, which (depending on the site) also pulled in multi-cookers. From this list of 50, we read hundreds of reviews to find the 25 most popular, well-regarded slow cookers based on customer experiences. To narrow the list down to the top 10, we first selected the highest-scoring models from each brand and then handpicked the final models based on features and price.
In terms of features, we looked for slow cookers with at least two temperature settings – high and low – because these are the most common settings used in the majority of slow cooker recipes.
Each slow cooker had to have a minimum capacity of 3.5L because this size can typically create meals to feed a family of four, and is large enough to roast a whole chicken. All of the slow cookers needed to fit comfortably on countertops, too. In terms of price, we wanted at least two budget and two high-end, premium models with the others providing an assortment of options in the mid-range.
This left us with models from Crock-Pot, Swan, Russell Hobbs, Drew & Cole, Tower, Andrew James, Lakeland, Wilko and two Morphy Richards slow cookers – one in the budget category and a mid-range model. The Crock-Pot and Drew & Cole models are classed as multi-cookers so, to level the playing field, we only tested their slow cooking capabilities and comment on their other features purely for reference purposes.
Best slow cookers: how we tested
Across our tests, the slow cookers were ranked out of 10 based on features and performance.
When scoring the best slow cookers for features we assigned points based on price, capacity, the number of temperature settings, their size, weight and colour options. They were also judged on how hot to the touch they got during cooking, how easy they were to use and clean, and their design.
The cheapest model, the Wilko 3.5L slow cooker, achieved a price score of 10, for example but lost points for not offering a range of colour options. The Crock-Pot scored 10 for having the highest capacity but lost points for being the most expensive and largest of the lot.
The slow cookers were then individually tested on their ability to roast a chicken, make a beef stew and bake a chocolate lava cake.
For the roasting challenge, a whole chicken was placed on onions, carrots, garlic and chicken stock and cooked on low for five hours. The stock was removed and the chickens were cooked on high for the final 60 minutes.
Meat from each chicken breast was put into bowls, on the underside of which the name of each slow cooker had been written, and they were blind tasted before being ranked from best to worst. We were looking for a moist texture and strong flavour.
To make the beef stew, we fried the ingredients in the slow cookers to test how well they could brown onions and beef before adding stock and vegetables and cooking on low for eight hours.
The blind tasting process was repeated but this time each bowl was ranked three times – once for sauce, once for meat and veg, and once for overall flavour. When ranking the sauce, we were looking for a vibrant colour and thick consistency.
When ranking the meat and veg, we wanted pieces of tender beef that had been cooked evenly, and soft vegetables that held their shape and hadn’t been overcooked to point of mash. The scores from each were combined to get a total.
When making the chocolate lava cake, we put a chocolate sponge mix in each slow cooker before pouring over a fudge mixture and cooking on high for an hour.
Spoonfuls of the cake were transferred to the labelled bowls and were judged on how well the sponge was cooked, the consistency and amount of fudge sauce, and overall taste.
As a rule, a high temperature on a slow cooker averages around 150-degrees Celcius mark, while a low temperature is in the region of 90-degrees Celcius.
This can, of course, differ by model but it’s fair to assume temperatures are similar because slow cooking recipes tend not to list different cooking times for different models.
If a recipe says it will cook in eight hours on low, for example, the results of whichever slow cooker you use should be similar, or certainly not different enough to warrant a substantial change in timings. In our test, Drew & Cole’s CleverChef was the only slow cooker to show the exact temperature of its high, medium and low settings, and in this instance we left this temperature at whatever its default was.
To test how hot each one was to the touch, we used a thermometer placed on the outside of each slow cooker. The total scores from all 12 food and specification tests were combined to reveal the winners and losers.
Best slow cooker reviews: The results
Topping our list of best slow cookers, beating competition from appliances that cost almost nine times its price, is the Wilko 3.5L slow cooker. It consistently impressed us, cooking food evenly and with ease, and it looks the part.
In second place, we go from the cheapest to the most expensive model in our list – the Crock-Pot 5.6L Family multi-cooker and slow cooker. It’s a beast of a machine, in terms of capacity, size as well as what it’s capable of. Plus it’s incredibly easy to use, despite its vast array of options.
The second of the multi-cookers in our list, Drew & Cole’s CleverChef, took third place for its precision heat settings as well as its unique design and safety features. Its cooking skills didn’t quite match this versatility but it was a well-rounded appliance and it offers far beyond any of the others in this list without an extortionate price tag.
Only one point separated each of the slow cookers in our top four, and Morphy Richards’s Evoke Sear and Stew scored highly for how lightweight and compact it is. It didn’t perform quite as well as our podium places at cooking the food evenly, but wasn’t far off.
Sitting in fifth place, Lakeland’s 3.5L slow cooker fell slightly flat for producing average scores across tests while not offering much in the way of standout features. It’s a mid-range slow cooker for a mid-range price and does the job, just not as well as some of its other rivals on test.
The Tower 3.5L was the most striking of the slow cookers in this list (we reviewed the red model) from a distance. Close up, however, it looks cheaper than it should for its high price. Its overall performance was also lacking, although it did redeem itself by baking the best cake.
The Tower's chocolate lava cake
It was the only slow cooker to burn us when moving it and was average at cooking cake. It did make a cracking stew though; the best of the bunch.
Towards the back of the pack is the Russell Hobbs Chalk Board 3.5L slow cooker. It made a decent stew, a below average chicken and a terrible cake but scored well for its tall design and compact dimensions. This makes it perfect for smaller kitchens. It was also one of the safest on test, not getting too hot to the touch.
Swan’s Retro 3.5L slow cooker is in a similar boat to the Lakeland model. It didn’t do anything particularly well, sitting near the bottom of the pile for how evenly, or not, it cooked the three food items. As much as its ivory pot looks great – and it really does – it is a pain to clean and it quickly looked discoloured.
Finally, we were surprised the Morphy Richards 6.5L Oval slow cooker scored so low considering the much stronger performance of its sister model. This was down to the fact it came last in the stew and chicken taste tests and its design is a little basic. We do have to give it credit, however, for offering the largest capacity on test for such a low price.
The best slow cooker reviewed: Wilko 3.5L slow cooker, £15
The first thing that struck us with the Wilko 3.5Lslow cooker was its ceramic bowl. Typically, ceramic bowls are the reserve of more expensive models because they cost more to manufacture.
They retain and spread the heat more evenly than metal pots. Plus, ceramic pots offer the same, or similar, non-stick properties as coatings found on metal pots without the chemicals.
To find a ceramic pot in a slow cooker that costs just £15 is impressive, and we’re not sure how Wilko makes a profit on these. This addition may go some way into explaining why the slow cooker punches so well above its weight, beating rivals that cost much more.
It is super simple to set up and use and a single dial on the front switches from Off to Low, High or Keep Warm. When the slow cooker is on, a red light above this switch is illuminated. This is far from unique to the Wilko slow cooker – and if you’ve ever used a traditional slow cooker you’ll know this is standard – but it’s worth highlighting when other models in this list aren’t as straightforward, namely the Andrew James model.
Out of the three cooking tests, the Wilko slow cooker achieved top, or close to top marks. Its roast chicken was succulent and full of flavour, scoring maximum points. It came away from the bone easily and was still moist while other models overcooked the chicken until it was dry, such as the CleverChef, or failed to cook it all the way through, as was the case with the Morphy Richards Oval slow cooker. The Wilko model also produced the best tasting cake sponge but dropped a single point because its fudge sauce was thicker, and therefore less molten, than its rivals, particularly the Tower.
The Wilko model’s stew similarly impressed. As with the chicken, it cooked the beef evenly until tender. It pulled apart easily but still held its shape, whereas the beef on the CleverChef was chewy and the Swan Retro’s meat almost melted away and disintegrated into the sauce. The Wilko sauce was decent. It was flavoursome and vibrant, but lacked a little consistency when compared to the winning Andrew James stew. The Wilko stew’s overall taste was also great, again just losing out to Andrew James’.
Onto the negatives. You can’t put the Wilko slow cooker pot in the dishwasher, or at least you’re not advised to. The manufacturer says it is wipe clean only and we can only assume that using it in the dishwasher may cause the pot to crack or for its non-stick properties to deteriorate over time. This makes it a little harder to clean than dishwasher-friendly models.
The design of the Wilko slow cooker isn’t much to look at either. Its metal exterior does get hot during cooking but not as hot as the majority of other similar designs in our test. Its dial and lid knob are made of plastic and look a little cheap, but that’s because they are and there had to be a trade-off somewhere considering this slow cooker’s fantastic performance.
The best slow cooker for versatility reviewed: Drew & Cole’s CleverChef, £59.99
Let’s face it, slow cookers aren’t the most attractive of kitchen appliances. Even those such as Swan’s Retro model which attempt to elevate this aesthetic still fall a little short of being attractive. So it’s refreshing to see Drew & Cole offering a break from the norm with its CleverChef multi-cooker.
Its compact, plastic design could not be further from the metal designs of its rivals. It has a large digital display and hides a large 5L capacity pot inside a streamlined exterior. There’s even room for a handy steaming tray.
This design does give it a slightly space-age feel; poles apart from Swan’s Retro design, and if you prefer the latter the CleverChef may not be for you. If you like your gadgets though, it’s great, plus by housing the pot inside its plastic casing, it got only slightly warm to the touch making it the safest of the machines we tested.
The CleverChef offers a staggering 14 settings – slow cook, stew, steam, roast, poach, rice, soup, pasta, fish, sauté, brown, bread rise, bake, yoghurt – which technically increases to 17 when you consider you can set the slow cook function to cook on low, medium or high. We only tested how well the slow cooking features worked for our test, but having since experimented with its other settings we can confidently say it’s a highly versatile machine.
The downside to this is that it can be tricky to use. The CleverChef, along with the Andrew James model, were the only slow cookers we had to read the manual for before using. The digital display is activated by touch, and you have to press relatively hard to register a press.
Pressing the Menu button repeatedly to scroll through the cooking settings is tedious, especially if the one you want is at the end of the list. The Crock-Pot with its physical buttons and mutiple settings is far more intuitive and user-friendly.
The pay-off is that once we’d got our head around how to use the CleverChef, we were cooking a wide variety of meals with ease. Getting back the time cooking that we’d lost learning how to use it.
The performance of the CleverChef wasn’t bad either. It couldn’t match the cooking skills of the Wilko or Crock-Pot but scored a respectable 8/10 for the chicken, and middle-of-the-road scores for its cake and stew.
Its main flaw, when compared to others in our list, is that its design made it a little too efficient. It cooked all three food items faster than its rivals and without a glass lid this wasn’t easy to spot. This isn’t necessarily a positive because it meant the food dried out quickly. The CleverChef lost points for its chicken because the breast meat was dry. The cake was overcooked and the stew didn’t taste as well-rounded as others because it hadn’t had the time to infuse with flavour.
We have since experimented with different settings to achieve the optimum conditions for each recipe and it has performed better. Plus it comes with a book, and website, full of recipes designed with the CleverChef in mind. If you were already willing to spend around £50 for a slow cooker, it’s definitely worth paying the extra to get such a versatile, futuristic machine.
Comparing the rest on test
Crock-Pot has been a leading name in the slow cooker industry for decades. Its so synonymous with one-pot cooking, slow cookers are often called crock-pots so it’s no wonder the model we tested performed so well. Its digital display is easy to use, as are its delay and countdown timers.
The Crock-Pot 5.6L Family Multi and Slow Cooker cooked succulent chicken and rich stew, scoring 9/10 for both. It dropped points because its cake was a little dry and its price will likely put it out of reach of many. We only tested its slow cooking capabilities but as a multi-cooker it has a huge range of other skills, too.
At the opposite end of the scale price-wise is the Morphy Richards Evoke Sear and Stew. We tested the black and rose gold model and it looks great.
Its metal pot, which helps make the slow cooker so light, feels cheap, as does the large plastic dial. And it performed terribly at roasting a chicken (2/10). That said, it produced the best tasting stew and its cake had a good mix of sponge and sauce.
The Lakeland’s 3.5L model is decidedly mid-range. It has a mid-range price, offers mid-range features and gave a mid-range performance scoring 6/10 for each of the three food tests. At least it’s consistent.
It would have placed higher if the Andrew James model hadn’t made such a great stew, and if it hadn’t been one of the heaviest slow cookers we tested.
Tower’s chocolate lava cake was heavenly; it tasted superb with a great ratio of sponge to sauce. The slow cooker roasted a chicken well, too. But that’s where the successes ended.
With an average score for its watery stew and plastic-looking, cheap design, not to mention being one of the hottest to touch during cooking, the Tower’s performance doesn’t justify its £70 price tag. Especially when the Wilko model, at almost a fifth of the price, beat it in almost every category.
The chalkboard design of the Russell Hobbs Chalk Board 3.5L Slow Cooker slow cooker may have a place in some homes, but we felt it was gimmicky. It’s not easy to write on, especially when the slow cooker is hot, and we just don’t see the point.
The tall design is great, but may also not appeal to everyone. True, it’s great if space is at a premium, but it’s not the easiest to use for roasting a chicken, and with a smaller flat surface area, you can’t cook many muffins in cases, for example.
What Swan’s Retro range offers in style, it lacks in substance. The grey exterior, ivory pot and silver retro dial really do look the part yet, it scored just 2/10 for the stew and cake.
The meat was tough and the sauce weak, and the cake was undercooked. The ivory pot also got dirty and discoloured easily and had to be treated with specialist stain removers. Its affordable price did help us forgive some of these shortcomings but it wasn’t enough for it to rank higher.
Bringing up the rear is the Morphy Richards 6.5L Oval slow cooker, an iconic model from a well-known brand that is consistently a best-seller on Amazon.
Like the Lakeland slow cooker, it doesn’t offer anything in the way of bells and whistles. But where Lakeland’s made decent work of the cooking, this Morphy Richards model came last for the stew and the chicken, and performed only marginally better with the cake.
It was almost as hot to the touch as the Andrew James model and its RRP makes it the most expensive of the traditional slow cookers in this list, without the minerals to back it up.
Any slow cookers to avoid?
We had high hopes for the Andrew James model. A slow cooker with digital features and timers for less than £35?
Consider our interest piqued. Sadly, it let us down. It gets blisteringly hot to the touch and comes with small handles that make moving it without touching the pot difficult.
We burnt ourselves on a couple of occasions. It’s also one of the heaviest on test, adding to these woes.
The digital display is overly complicated – you have to press and hold the dial to turn it on, which is far from obvious – and you only have a limited amount of time to make your temperature and time settings. If you make a mistake or want to change it, you have to turn the slow cooker off and back on again.
When it came to the cooking tests, it performed admirably, achieving a perfect score for the stew and mid-range scores for the chicken and cake. This is why it ranked higher than others yet is still our slow cooker to avoid.