Make the Most of Your Slow Cooker

Got a slow cooker and want to get the most out it? Learn how to use a slow cooker and adapt recipes for slow cookers with our expert tips.

Slow cooker

A slow cooker is a wonderful thing. The simple prep, hours of anticipation and the promise of fragrant dinners like spicy lentil soup or chicken, lentil and pumpkin curry are just what you need after a long day.

But you don't want to be limited by slow cooker recipes. We want to be able to convert any recipe for a slow cooker and as we've been told, any oven or hob recipe with some moisture in it - whether it is water, stock, wine or sauce - should work in a slow cooker.

We've collected some expert tips to help get the most out of a slow cooker.

PREP AHEAD

Chop your ingredients the night before and pop them in the fridge, ready to cook the next day. In the morning, transfer everything to the slow cooker and cover with enough liquid, such as stock, to cover the ingredients before putting on the lid and turning it on.

Remember that the lid means that slow cookers will need less liquid than recipes cooked on a hob, but make sure the ingredients are covered to allow them to cook properly.

Root vegetables take longer to cook than meat, so they are best chopped into small, evenly sized pieces. Frozen meat should always be thawed before slow cooking.

PICK YOUR CUT

"Try muscular cuts of meat, like necks, shoulders and thighs," says John Fernandez, who teaches classes on how to make stew at London's Cookery School. "They are much cheaper than other cuts, but they take longer to cook - ideal for slow cooking."

BROWN THE MEAT

For the best flavour, brown your meat quickly in a frying pan before adding it to the slow cooker. Get the pan as hot as you dare and fry the meat in small batches so you don't overcrowd the pan. Pop your meat chunks in a thin layer of hot oil and leave it for at least 30 seconds - don't stir it, or it will start to release water. You're looking for a rich mahogany colour. If the meat sticks to the pan when you're trying to turn it, it's not ready yet - leave it for a bit longer.

When you've finished browning the meat, deglaze the pan by leaving it on the heat, adding a splash of water or stock and scraping it with a wooden spoon to capture any crunchy bits to add to your stew. Not only will this add flavour, but it makes the washing up much easier!

PATIENCE, MY FRIEND

However tempting it may be to smell, stir and taste your stew, try not to lift the lid during cooking. It keeps in all the moisture and flavour, and the heat too.

TIME IT RIGHT

Over time, you'll get a feel for how long recipes will take in the slow cooker.

"As a general rule, if you lower the temperature by 10C, your stew will need to cook for an hour longer so it's good to bear that in mind if you're adapting recipes for a slow cooker," adds John.

I find the best way is to use your instincts. Meat isn't ready until you can cut it with a spoon. If you find your meat is done but your stew is still too thin, remove the meat with a slotted spoon, leave the lid off and turn your slow cooker up to high to reduce the liquid.

"For every hour you would cook something in the oven or on the hob, allow 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high," says Camilla Stephens, a fan of slow cooking and founder of award-winning pie company Higgidy. "When in doubt, turn it on low and leave it all day or overnight."