All types of slow cooker are basically the same: they have a metal outer shell that contains a heating element, and a usually ceramic or stoneware hot pot with a lid, typically made of glass. This simple but brilliant combination allows you to cook healthy meals without the need for long food preparation or, indeed, much in the way of kitchen skills.
I love slow cooking because it allows me to make healthy meals without even having to be in the kitchen. In fact, sometimes I am not even at home!
Slow cookers come in all shapes and sizes but, when you boil things down to the basics, there are two main types – programmable digital models and analog models. Both can work but choosing the right one depends on your needs and your budget too.
Analog slow cookers
Analog slow cookers have a temperature adjustment dial and maybe, on some models, a timer that counts down to zero before either turning your cooker off or switching it to warm mode. That’s it – that’s all they do.
This means that, if you want to do any slow cooking, you must set your temperature and timer, if you have one, and then turn it on to start the cooking process. You are then free to go about your day while your meal cooks.
Most slow cookers of this nature do not even have a timer, so it’s up to you to keep an eye on the clock. I recommend you use a kitchen timer or the timer on your phone. Some people say that it doesn’t matter if you leave your slow cooker running for longer than is specified in the recipe.
I am not one of them!
Despite cooking slowly and at low temperatures, it is still possible to overcook your meal if you lose track of time. And if too much water evaporates, your meal can burn and stick which means you might have wasted all that time and energy and cleaning your slow cooker will be a major chore.
If you have an analog slow cooker, I suggest you are nearby for the last hour or so of cooking to ensure that your meal is not ruined by overcooking.
Programmable slow cookers
Programmable slow cookers have digital displays and controls so you can set the start time and the end time for your cooking. You can also set them to switch to “warm” mode once your meal is done. Some will even allow you to vary the temperature during cooking e.g. start on high and then switch to low part way through.
This means that you can put your ingredients in your slow cooker in the morning, head off to work, and then your slow cooker will automatically start later in the day so that, when you get home in the evening, your meal is cooked and then kept warm all by itself. You, the chef, are now redundant!
Of course, such technical wizardry does mean a programmable slow cooker will cost more than an analog model, and there is a little more to go wrong, but the convenience of having complete control over start and finish times means that these minor worries may be worth tolerating.
Which one is best?
In this battle, there is no winner. For some, the simplicity of an analog slow cooker is hard to beat – especially if you are usually around while your food cooks. However, if you often have to leave your cooker to work unsupervised, you’ll find a programmable cooker very useful.
I’ve both programable and manual. I share my favorite models and guide you on how to the find the model that best suits your needs and wallet, My favorite Slow Cookers. I also explain the different sizes and features and also provides my recommendations for the best slow cookers around.
Still unsure which one is right for you? Check out my article “Find the best slow cooker for you” .