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Beginners Guide To Slow Cooking

Published by: Maria Kelley • Updated: January 20, 2024 • Checked By: Chef Matty Riedel

Have you ever wanted to create mouthwatering, home-cooked meals without spending hours in the kitchen? Enter the magical world of slow cookers! With the ability to transform wholesome ingredients into delicious, tender dishes, slow cookers have become a must-have appliance for busy individuals and families alike. In this comprehensive “beginners guide to slow cookers”, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about slow cookers, from understanding their benefits to choosing the right one, and even sharing our favourite beginner-friendly recipes.

Key Takeaways

  • Master the art of slow cooking with these essential tips and tricks!

  • Choose the right size, features and budget for a worthwhile investment.

  • Create delicious & nutritious dishes with time-saving hacks to maximize convenience.

Understanding Slow Cookers

tomato based meal in a slow cooker on the kitchen bench

Slow cookers are electric appliances that make cooking most slow cooker recipes flavorful and convenient by simmering ingredients at low temperatures for an extended period of time. They are perfect for busy individuals or families who want to make meal preparation more efficient and effortless, especially for those who like to prep ahead. With just 10 to 15 minutes of active prep time, you can cook dishes like:

  • Root vegetable stews

  • Tender meats

  • Soups and chilis

  • Pulled pork or chicken

  • Braised dishes

These dishes typically take 6 to 10 hours to reach their peak of deliciousness.

Preparing ingredients the night before and storing them in the fridge overnight is one of the many benefits of using a slow cooker, as it saves you precious morning time. Slow cookers are known for bringing out the rich flavours in food, especially when cooking meats. To unlock the full potential of your slow cooker meal, sear and sauté the meat before adding it to the pot.

So, buckle up and get ready to explore the fascinating world of slow cooking, especially if you love cooking!

Choosing The Right Slow Cooker

slow cooker with vegetables and beef

Consider size, features, and budget when selecting the perfect slow cooker. Additionally, it’s important to fill your slow cooker half to two-thirds full for optimal results – never more than three-quarters full.

We will delve into each of these factors in the subsequent sections, aiding you in making an informed decision when purchasing your slow cooker.

Size And Capacity

Slow cookers come in various sizes, ranging from mini (1.5 litres) to extra-large (8 quarts). To determine the appropriate size and capacity for your needs, consider the size of your family, the types of dishes you plan to create, and the quantity of food you plan to cook. For example, a smaller 3-quart slow cooker may be suitable for a couple or small family, while a larger 6-quart or 8-quart slow cooker could serve a larger family or allow for leftovers.

A larger slow cooker also offers the advantage of cooking large cuts of meat or bigger batches of food, making it perfect for meal-prepping or entertaining guests. On the other hand, a smaller slow cooker takes up less counter space, making it ideal for those with limited kitchen space.

Ultimately, the size and capacity you choose will depend on your specific cooking needs, preferences, and available space.

Features And Functions

Slow cookers provide various features designed to enhance your cooking experience. Some important features to consider include:

  • Method of heating: ensures slow and even cooking

  • Crock construction: ensures heat is spread out evenly across the pot

  • Lid material: crucial for keeping moisture and flavour locked in

  • Shape and size: can impact storage convenience

  • Sear function: allows you to brown meat before slow cooking

  • Timer: allows you to set cooking time

  • Warming function: keeps food warm after cooking

These features will help you choose the best slow cooker for your needs.

When it comes to functions, slow cookers can do much more than just slow cook. Many models now come with:

  • A sear function that allows you to brown meats before slow cooking, adding an extra layer of flavour to your dishes.

  • Timers that ensure precise cooking times and allow you to schedule when your meal will be ready.

  • A warming function that helps keep food warm for longer periods, making it perfect for entertaining guests or busy family dinners.

By considering these features and functions, you can identify a slow cooker that best aligns with your specific needs and preferences.

Budget And Quality

4 £20 notes fan out overlayed with the word "budget"

You can buy decent slow cookers for under £40, making it easy to find one that fits your budget. However, it’s essential to consider the quality of the product when choosing a slow cooker, as a reliable, high-quality slow cooker will stand the test of time, making it a great investment.

To find a good quality slow cooker on a budget, look for features such as a removable crock pot, adjustable temperature settings, and a timer. Additionally, reading reviews from other customers can give you an idea of the quality of the product, helping you make an informed decision without breaking the bank.

Balancing your budget with the quality of the slow cooker ensures that you make a worthwhile investment that will provide delicious, slow-cooked meals for years to come.

Essential Slow Cooker Tips

a kitchen knife slicing into a red capsicum. In the background there are carrots, leeks, an onion and more capsicums (yellow, orange and red)

Following some essential slow cooker tips is crucial to mastering the art of slow cooking and creating delectable dishes.

In the next sections, we will explore the importance of preparing ingredients, layering, and managing temperature settings and cooking times for optimal slow cooker results.

Preparing Ingredients

Properly preparing your ingredients before adding them to your slow cooker is important for ensuring the best results. For example, trimming excess fat from meat before adding it to the slow cooker can help create a delicious, flavorful meal without any greasiness. Additionally, cutting ingredients into even pieces before adding them to the slow cooker ensures that all pieces cook evenly and simultaneously for a perfect result.

When it comes to vegetables, make sure to:

  • Wash and peel them thoroughly before adding them to your slow cooker

  • Chop or dice them according to your recipe’s instructions

  • Season your ingredients with herbs and spices liberally

    to bring out the best flavours

    in your slow-cooked meal.

Layering And Liquid Management

Achieving evenly cooked dishes with perfectly blended flavours requires careful ingredients layering and managing liquid levels. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start by placing root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, at the bottom of the slow cooker, as they take longer to cook and should be closest to the heat source.

  2. Layer the meat on top of the root vegetables.

  3. Add any additional vegetables, herbs, and spices on top of the meat.

  4. Pour in the desired amount of liquid, such as broth or sauce, making sure not to exceed the recommended level for your slow cooker.

Following these layering techniques ensures that all the ingredients cook evenly and the flavours meld together beautifully.

As for liquid, it’s important not to add too much, as a slow cooker’s sealed lid prevents evaporation, and ingredients will release their own juices during the cooking process. Generally, most slow cooker recipes require about half to two-thirds the amount of liquid used in traditional stovetop or oven recipes. Be sure to follow your recipe’s instructions regarding liquid measurements, and keep an eye on the consistency of your dish as it cooks.

If necessary, you can always add more liquid during the cooking process or use a thickening agent, such as flour or cornstarch, to adjust the consistency of your sauce or gravy.

Temperature Settings And Cooking Times

The duration of cooking and the final outcome of the dish is determined by temperature settings and cooking times, which are vital for slow cooker recipes. Most slow cookers have multiple temperature settings, such as “Low,” “Medium,” and “High,” as well as a “Keep Warm” function for maintaining the desired serving temperature.

Generally, cooking on the “Low” setting for longer will yield more tender and flavorful results. However, when you’re short on time, you can opt for the “High” setting to speed up the cooking process. To ensure your dishes are cooked to perfection, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

And remember, practice makes perfect – the more you use your slow cooker, the better you’ll become at mastering temperature settings and cooking times for a wide variety of delicious dishes.

Adapting Recipes For Slow Cookers

a female cook with a cook book and an array of vegetables; carrots, radish, tomatoes, kale, avocado, cucumbers, a lemon; getting ready to prepare a meal

You’re not confined to specific slow cooker recipes; your favourite traditional recipes can also be adapted for slow cooking! You can transform your go-to casseroles, stews, and other dishes into slow cooker-friendly versions with some simple adjustments. For instance, you may need to reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe, as slow cookers produce less evaporation than stovetop or oven cooking methods. Additionally, you may need to adjust the cooking time and temperature settings for optimal results in a slow cooker environment.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and get creative with your slow cooker adaptations! Often, the best slow cooker dishes are born from a little trial and error, and you’ll quickly discover what works best for your specific slow cooker and personal taste preferences. Just keep an eye on the dish as it cooks, and adjust the temperature and cooking time as needed to ensure a delicious and satisfying meal.

Top Slow Cooker Dishes for Beginners

a white dish holds a meal of vegetables, fish and a rich sauce

If you’re a slow cooking beginner, you might be unsure of where to start in creating your first slow cooker masterpiece. Fear not! In the following sections, we’ll share some of our favourite easy and delicious slow cooker recipes for beginners, including soups, stews, and casseroles.

These dishes are perfect for those just starting their slow cooking journey and will impress your family and friends with their mouthwatering flavours and tender textures.


Soups are a fantastic starting point for those new to slow cooking, as they typically require minimal prep time and can be cooked for a long period of time, resulting in a delicious, full-flavoured dish. Some of the best soup recipes for slow cookers include:

  • Spiced carrot & lentil soup

  • Chicken soup

  • Spiced parsnip soup

  • Pea & ham soup

  • Chicken tortilla soup

  • Vegetarian chili

  • Black bean and chile soup

  • Red-eye brisket stew

  • Cordon bleu soup

  • Split pea soup

To ensure your slow cooker soups turn out perfect, remember to:

  • Use the proper amount of liquid

  • Layer ingredients in the right order

  • Adjust the temperature and cooking time as needed

  • Stir your soup every now and then for even cooking

  • Get creative with your ingredients – there are endless possibilities for crafting delicious and nutritious slow cooker soups!


Hearty and satisfying stews are another excellent option for beginner slow cookers. Stews are made by simmering flavorful ingredients in a liquid, such as broth or stock, and can include a variety of meats and vegetables. Some of the tastiest stew recipes for slow cookers include slow cooker beef stew, slow cooker chicken stew, and slow cooker vegetable stew.

To create a delicious stew in your slow cooker, layer ingredients properly, manage liquid levels, and adjust cooking times and temperatures as necessary. As with soups, don’t hesitate to get imaginative with your ingredients and seasonings – the beauty of slow cooking is its versatility and ability to bring out the best flavours in a wide variety of ingredients.


Casseroles are great for those looking for a comforting and tasty slow cooker dish. Casseroles are dishes cooked in a single baking dish, usually including a combination of meat, vegetables, and starch like rice or pasta. Some delicious casserole recipes for slow cookers include:

  • Slow-Cooker Mac and Cheese

  • Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole

  • Crockpot Pizza Casserole

  • Slow Cooker Dorito Taco Casserole

  • Crockpot Mexican Casserole

When crafting casseroles in your slow cooker, layer ingredients properly, manage liquid levels, and adjust cooking times and temperatures as necessary. As with soups and stews, experiment with different ingredients and seasonings to find the perfect combination of flavours for your taste buds.

Cleaning And Maintenance

Proper cleaning and maintenance are important for ensuring the longevity of your slow cooker and keeping it in excellent condition. Here are some steps to follow:

Unplug the slow cooker and let it cool completely before removing the lid and inner pot.

Wash the lid and inner pot with warm, soapy water.

Rinse the lid and inner pot thoroughly.

Dry the lid and inner pot before reassembling the slow cooker.

Avoid using abrasive cleaners or scrubbers, which can damage the slow cooker’s finish.

In addition to cleaning, inspect the following parts for any damage before each use and replace any damaged parts immediately:

  • Cord

  • Plug

  • Lid

  • Inner pot

Following these simple cleaning and maintenance tips, you can keep your slow cooker looking and functioning for many delicious meals.

Troubleshooting Common Slow Cooker Issues

a man slicing salami on a wooden chopping board

Occasionally, even the most seasoned slow cooker users may face issues during cooking. Common slow cooker problems include:

  • Uneven cooking of food

  • Excess liquid in the dish

  • Overcooking dishes

  • Using the wrong cut of meat

  • Not searing meat before cooking

  • Adding fresh herbs too early in the cooking process

  • A faulty thermostat, heating element, or switch

  • Cracked crock

  • Putting ingredients that are not suitable for slow-cooking

To address these issues and ensure the best cooking results, follow these tips:

  1. Cut ingredients into even sizes.

  2. Stir the ingredients occasionally during the cooking process.

  3. Reduce the amount of liquid used in the recipe.

  4. Use a snug-fitting lid.

  5. Check the internal temperature of the food.

  6. Adjust the cooking time accordingly.

  7. Follow the specific instructions provided in your recipe.

With a little practice and attention to detail, you can troubleshoot any slow cooker issues and create delicious, perfectly cooked dishes every time.

Healthy Slow Cooker Meal Ideas

spice coated porterhouse steak on a timber chopping board

Beyond indulgent comfort foods, slow cookers can also assist in creating nutritious and tasty meals that align with your health objectives. Healthy slow cooker meals, such as vegetable soups, lean beef stews, and chicken casseroles, are an excellent way to enjoy nutritious and delicious meals without spending much time in the kitchen.

When crafting healthy slow cooker meals, be sure to:

  • Use lean cuts of meat

  • Use fresh vegetables

  • Use low-sodium broth

  • Layer ingredients properly

  • Manage liquid levels

  • Adjust cooking times and temperatures as needed to ensure optimal results.

With a little creativity and a focus on wholesome ingredients, you can easily create tasty and healthy slow cooker meals using a slow cooker recipe that will become a staple in your meal rotation.

Time-Saving Slow Cooker Hacks

Implementing some clever slow cooker hacks can help you maximise the convenience of your slow cooker and further save time in the kitchen. For example, you can prep ingredients, such as chopping vegetables or trimming meat, and store them in the fridge or freezer until ready to use them. This will help streamline your meal preparation process and make it even more efficient.

Another helpful hack is to use a slow cooker liner, which can be placed inside the slow cooker or an instant pot before adding ingredients. This will not only make clean-up a breeze but also help prevent food from sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot.

By incorporating these time-saving hacks into your slow-cooking routine, you’ll be able to spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying your delicious, slow-cooked meals.

Beginners Guide To Slow Cooking: Summary

Slow cookers are versatile and convenient kitchen appliances that can help you create delicious and flavorful dishes with minimal effort. From choosing the right slow cooker to mastering essential slow cooking tips, this beginner’s guide has provided the knowledge and tools to embark on your slow cooking journey. Whether you want to create healthy meal options, whip up comforting casseroles, or experiment with new recipes, a slow cooker is perfect for your culinary adventures. So, go forth and conquer the kitchen with your newfound slow cooking skills, and enjoy the scrumptious, tender dishes that await you!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Use A Slow Cooker For Beginner?

Slow cooking is a great way to get started with your slow cooker: Layer ingredients on the bottom, add the meat in the middle, and lighter vegetables on top. Make sure to use only a low amount of liquid, and season liberally. Brown meats and poultry first before adding them to the slow cooker, and never use frozen ingredients. Finally, don’t forget to protect your hands with hot pads when removing the insert.

What Goes In First In A Slow Cooker?

When using a slow cooker, start by placing your heartier vegetables and tougher cuts of meat at the bottom, closest to the heat source. Once these are in, layer on any additional ingredients, such as seasonings or quick-cooking items like pasta near the end. This layering will help to ensure that your ingredients are cooked evenly.

Is 4 Hours On High The Same As 8 Hours On Low For A Crockpot?

It generally takes around seven to eight hours on the LOW setting and three to four hours on the HIGH setting for a Crockpot to reach a simmer point, so yes, 4 hours on high is roughly the same as 8 hours on low.

Is A 3.5 L Slow Cooker Big Enough For A Family of 4?

A 3.5L slow cooker is a great size for a family of 4. It is larger than the recommended 1.5-2.3L for two people, but still smaller than the ideal size of 5.5-7L for four to six people.

How Long Do Slow Cooker Recipes Usually Take To Prepare?

Slow cooker recipes usually take between 6 and 10 hours to prepare, so you can expect your delicious meal to be ready in no time!

Maria Kelley