Good Food blog

How to adapt recipes for slow cookers

Anna Sbuttoni - Good Food team

17th January, 2013

by Anna Sbuttoni - Good Food team

How to adapt recipes for slow cookers

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.

Chicken curry

I’ve just got a slow cooker and I’m a convert. 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 I need after a long day.

But I don’t want to be limited by slow cooker recipes. I’ve got a brand new Lakeland slow cooker and I want to see what it can do. I want to be able to convert any recipe for a slow cooker and as I’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.

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

Lakeland 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.

Turkish chicken stew, with chicken thighs

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.

Slow-cooked beef with gnocchi

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.”

Want to try slow cooking? Take a look at our slow cook recipes


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Latest Comment

Hi Glenn, thanks for your comment - let us know how you get on with your slow cooker, we have just put up some brand new slow cooker recipes that you can find in our top 10 slow cooker recipes

Anna -Good Food Anna -Good Food Posted 05 Nov 2013 10:58 AM

Excellent info for cooking times and settings. One suggestion, may want to add a Fahrenheit temp when lowering by 10C. I figure about 19 degrees. I Just got a new slow cooker from work for years of service and I'm planning on using it. Lking, tweeting, g+ ing and pinning. Thanks.

GlennH29875 GlennH29875 Posted 05 Nov 2013 6:49 AM

Hi Margaret, you could try blanching vegetables such as green beans before adding them to the stew to help keep their colour - and I would add them nearer the end of the cooking time to stop them turning dull. Doreen, it's absolutely fine to put dumplings in a slow cooker - just add them to the top of your stew towards the end of the cooking time, as recommended by Civovy. Let us know how you get on. Anna

Anna -Good Food Anna -Good Food Posted 21 Jan 2013 1:46 PM

I add dumplings to stews in the slow cooker. I don't make them too big. I turn the heat setting up to high and cook them for about 30 to 40 mins. Have always turned out light and fluffy.

civovy civovy Posted 21 Jan 2013 12:10 PM

Can you put dumplings in the slow cooker meal towards the end of the cooking as a friend asked me and I didn't know!

DoreenW65360 DoreenW65360 Posted 19 Jan 2013 2:22 PM

I heat everything to boiling in a saucepan first, especially if in a 'hurry' for a meal. It can cut an hour off of a low cooked meal

tobyjug3 tobyjug3 Posted 19 Jan 2013 9:32 AM

I find my veg goes brown in my stews am I doing something wrong?

margaretfcm margaretfcm Posted 18 Jan 2013 4:43 PM

Hi Adrian, you're right - I do mean that if your stew is too thin, you can remove the meat and leave it to reduce further. Anna

Anna -Good Food Anna -Good Food Posted 18 Jan 2013 2:59 PM

I suggest pre-heat the pot first with hot tap water, drain, then boiling water from kettle to the level required. This will save ages of unnecessary time for the whole thing to come to cooking temperature.

Filmcavity Filmcavity Posted 18 Jan 2013 2:54 PM

Surely you mean if the stew is too thin?

AdrianCherry AdrianCherry Posted 18 Jan 2013 11:08 AM