What can I Cook in a Slow Cooker?
Slow cookers are one of the best gadgets you can buy in our opinion: there’s nothing quite like popping ingredients into the pot and returning a few hours later to perfectly cooked food with minimal effort!
If you’ve got a busy day ahead, you can plan meals around your slow cooker, and it can really work for you.
We use ours a few times a week, and we want to share our top tips and tricks on what you can cook in your slow cooker.
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First of all, what is a slow cooker?
A slow cooker is a plug-in appliance that consists of an inner pot (usually ceramic) with a lid and an outer pot, that contains the controls.
They come in varying sizes and if you’re not sure which one is right for you, take a look at our article on the best slow cookers to buy for inspiration and guidance!
Slow cookers work by trapping steam inside the inner pot and slowly cooking over a lower temperature for a long time, typically between 4-8 hours.
Don’t be tempted to lift the lid on your slow cooker during cooking, it releases the steam build up and adds around half an hour to your cooking time!
A glass lid will help you keep an eye on the contents without interrupting the cooking process.
Slow cookers can be found in supermarkets, homeware stores and also on Amazon.
Take note of the different features and your budget to find the right one for you, like this model that is hob-proof for easy meat browning:
A slightly larger one is great for batch cooking and larger families:
It’s worth mentioning that slow cooker recipes will retain a lot more moisture than stove top or oven dishes, because the liquid stays in the pot.
Many stove top recipes can be adapted to work in slow cookers with a few simple changes, which we’ve explained in our handy conversion guide.
A general rule to follow is to halve the amount of cooking liquid.
We love using our slow cooker for batch cooking, like this classic Slow Cooker Balsamic Beef Stew.
Cook, portion up and freeze for those days where you don’t have the motivation or time to start from scratch!
You can even use it to save time and space on special occasions to free up your oven for other things.
This is a tip worth bearing in mind when meal planning, and don’t forget our second Food Planner is there to help with shopping lists, week-by-week diaries and some bonus recipes to boot!
Cooking meat in a slow cooker
Slow cookers cook at a low temperature for a long time which is perfect for tenderising and cooking much cheaper cuts of meat, like pork shoulder or oxtail.
Tough and inexpensive cuts tend to work the best and should be chosen over more expensive cuts if you’re using them in the slow cooker.
For the best flavour, brown the meat well in a pan or on the hob first to seal in moisture and flavour. Make sure your meat is cut to roughly the same size for even cooking.
Meat with a higher fat content breaks down slower so it ends up tender but not mealy or mushy after a long-cook time.
Opt for chicken thighs and brisket over boneless skinless chicken breasts in the slow cooker, for example.
Our Caribbean Jerk Stew uses oxtail, which is considerably cheaper than cuts of steak, but just as tender and delicious!
Pulled Pork is another family favourite that was made to be slow cooked! Sweet with a smoky sauce and fall-apart pork: it’s a great weeknight dinner over jacket spuds or in wholemeal rolls!
We would be doing our slow cooker an injustice if we didn’t mention that you can also cook a whole chicken in one!
Let the slow cooker bubble away for 5-6 hours (or 20 mins if you have an Instant Pot®!) and you can have a tender whole chicken that’s succulent and juicy. You may never go back to oven cooked chicken again!
Cooking vegetables in a slow cooker
Fresh veg is best for slow cooking as frozen veg can release more water/steam in the slow cooker therefore adding excess liquid and making the veg soggy.
Make sure the veg is cut to roughly the same size for even cooking.
You can cook most veggies in the slow cooker, including onions, peppers and root vegetables.
We’ve used a variety of slow cooker friendly veg in our Slow Cooker Sausage Casserole:
Some of the vegetables that cook faster, like tomatoes and mushrooms, should be added right at the end to prevent them overcooking – unless the recipe calls for it like our Mexican Chilli Beef.
It’s worth experimenting half an hour at a time to get vegetables cooked to your taste, and don’t forget the golden rule: it’s easy to cook longer if your food is undercooked but you can’t un-cook it if it’s overdone!
Seasoning when using a slow cooker
Cooking in the slow cooker doesn’t allow strong seasonings and flavours time to meld and mellow in the same way that they do when simmering on a stove or in the oven.
Be careful when using seasonings like paprika, chili powder and cumin, which should be used in moderation, and adjusted or added at the end.
When it comes to wine, reduce it before adding it to the mix so you can properly cook off the alcohol and leave behind the concentrated flavour!
Alternatively, use a wine stock pot, or wine vinegar.
You could add red wine vinegar to really set off the flavour in our Italian Sausage Stew.
Cooking starches in a slow cooker
If your recipe calls for cooked pasta, cook in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes less than the suggested time, until it’s not quite cooked through.
It’s then ready to pop in your slow cooker near the end to finish cooking and take on the flavours of the sauce.
Dishes like Spaghetti Bolognese are ideal for slow cooking, as you can add in the pasta towards the end after leaving the sauce bubbling away while you get on with your day.
Our Baked Spaghetti with Chicken is another pasta based dish that tastes incredible when cooked in the slow cooker!
You can cook rice in the slow cooker too! Try to pick long grain versions, and add an extra 1/4 cup of liquid per 1/4 cup of uncooked rice.
If you usually use ‘easy cook’ or parboiled rice, add this to the pot about 20 minutes before the dish is done.
If the recipe is due to be in the slow cooker for a few hours, add fully cooked rice just before serving instead, otherwise it can go mushy!
Dessert or pudding rice works beautifully in the slow cooker as you get a creamy, rich consistency, like our Chai Rice Pudding!
Cooking dairy in a slow cooker
Dairy products like milk, soft cheese and sour cream will curdle in a slow cooker, so you have to be extra careful or you’ll end up with a lumpy, unappetising sauce.
You can still cook recipes that require dairy products, but you just need to be a little more careful!
To prevent any splitting, make sure you add your dairy products right at the end, when it’s finished cooking and off the heat.
Recipes like our Crispy Chilli Beef will always be best cooked on the hob to prevent curdling and allow enough time for the sauce to reduce.
Can I convert oven or pressure cooker recipes to a slow cooker?
Absolutely! There are a few easy rules for converting oven and pressure cooker recipes, and we’ve pulled together a simple conversion table to help.
More information can be found here, and as always, the best way to get the most from your slow cooker is experimenting to find what works for you.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and only scratches the surface of what you can cook in a slow cooker.
We see so many tips and tricks over in our Facebook Group so if you’re not already a member, you can join our community and let us know your favourite slow cooker recipes!