Feature: Slow Cooker Easy Savings

21 June 2010

Slow Cooker Easy Savings 1

This feature comes to you courtesy of PlayPennies mum Nicki Broadley.  She sent me a whole pile of slow cooker easy recipes, to sell me on the idea that it was one of the best money saving devices any frugal parent can have. The truth is, I don't have a slow cooker, also called a Crock Pot in the US (derived from the most well known brand). So I just had to have a closer look.

And the first question I needed to answer was - what on earth is a slow cooker?

What is it?

Slow Cooker Easy Savings 2A slow cooker is a device that sits on your worktop. Food, and other stuff (more on this below), goes in a bowl inside the cooker. It then cooks the food at a really low heat for a long time. Anywhere from three to 12 hours. Which, might sound a faff, but according to the parents  I’ve spoken to, is about the easiest way to cook large amounts of food for a hungry family.

There’s no stirring involved. It won’t boil dry or burn. You put all the food in, and then just leave it. Go out for the day, and you come back to a delicious meal.

Shade works fulltime during the day, while her husband works at night. “Honestly this is just brilliant. I set it all up in the morning. I come home to a cooked meal, the other half has a hot meal when he gets home from the school run.

Save on energy

Slow Cooker Easy SavingsA slow cooker uses on average about 300W of power (see consumer report Which?) to cook food. This is about the same as three lightbulbs. To do a roast in a slow cooker (yes! you can roast in a slow cooker) uses about 246W. Whereas the same done in a conventional oven uses 700W.

Kara explains that “I have a meter for the electricity and the gas, so can see exactly how much I’m using. The days that I use the slow cooker knocks about a third off my usage. Especially during the winter when I’m making a lot of heartier meals like stews and casseroles”.

Save on the food bill

Slow Cooker Easy Savings 4One of the really big selling points of slow cookers is that they can make the best use of very cheap cuts of meat. By cooking at such low temperatures over a long period of time, the fibres in these cheap cuts break down. The result is tender and succulent, not to mention tasty. Spend £5 on a kilo of braising steak at  Tesco instead of  £10.80 on a kilo of fillet steak, for example.

Experiment with some of the really cheapest cuts of meat, some that you may not even have seen before. Like mutton shoulder (also called clod of mutton), beef shin, and ox cheek. I’d definitely like to have a try of that last one. I adore ox tail, but find it is relatively expensive at £6 a kilo for the amount of meat you get (in the meat to bone ratio). Generally, the tougher the meat the more it will benefit from slow cooking.

Now you’re not going to find these on supermarket shelves, so it is time to locate a butchers! The best way to find a good one is to ask around. Alternatively, try Which? Local (registration is free) to find one near you recommended by other Which subscribers.

Nigel uses his to get a lot of vegetables into the kids that they wouldn’t normally eat. “What goes into the pot with the meat are lots of legumes and pulses. Once it is served up with rice, the kids [aged 2 and 5] happily eat it with the meat because all the flavours are blended in together.

What to buy?

Slow Cooker Easy Savings 5It isn't as expensive as you might think. The Argos Value Slow Cooker costs less than a tenner. Argos also has the Breville 3.5 Litre Slow Cooker for £15.99, marked down from £39.99. Which? Magazine has put slow cookers through its rigorous testing procedures. You need to be a subscriber to look at the reviews and see the best buys, but a one month online trial will only cost you £1.

And Finally

What to do with your slow cooker once you have it! Slow cookers are also used for making puddings, and for jam making. Ellie told me that "Last year we went picking blackberries from the brambles in the local parks. I used the slow cooker to make jam over night. So much less mess than when we used pots!"

Website Crockpot365 has a whole list of money saving ideas for your slow cooker, including making yoghurt, recycling crayons and making playdough. Both subjects we've covered here too (although not with a slow cooker!). To find out more about making your own playdough read Homemade - The Best Save? And for some crafty recycling ideas for your crayons read Bargain Party Bags.

There's tons of recipe ideas online but nothing beats just asking your friends and family.  Everyone will have a favourite. You'll be suprised. My best mate has given me a whole pile of West Indian inspired recipes to try out. The long list of recipes that Nicki sent me is an email forward that does the rounds now and again of her family and friends. They all add to it.

So tell us - what do you do with your slow cooker?

TOPICS:   Fitness and Diet


  • Kat
    I cook roasts (beef and pork), stews, soupes, do my own "rotisserie" like chicken since I can't use the msg laden ones in the store, turkey, & ham. I have never used it for making jam but that sounds very interesting. I'll have to search around for a recipe and see what happens.
  • Lynley O.
    oh rotisserie yes! I like the sound of that. They put MSG in rotisserie chickens? I don't think they do with the Sainsbury's ones but I'm going to go check now. They put MSG in hula hoops, which totally annoys me. So of course they're the snack son likes most. I try to limit him to just having them at parties, but one party we went to when he was 3 he turned into a hula hoop monster grabbing all the other kids hula hoops and screaming at anyone who tried to take them away! Would love to hear what happens with the Jam! A very interesting way of doing it. I like the idea myself too. All that stirring on the stove. If it all explodes though, it was only
  • Kat
    To do the "rotisserie", put 3-4 aluminum balls in the bottom of the crockpot so that the chicken stays above the juices. Season your chicken however you like, set it on top, put on the lid, set it on low and leave it all day. It will be done when you get home. I actually have two slow cookers, a small one and a large one. When I do chickens, I use the large one and do two, then freeze the meat from one for a later meal.
  • Lynley O.
    Do you make the aluminium balls yourself, or buy them? I am picturing scrunched up balls of tin foil? I am very impressed at your effeciency. I don't know if I'd get around to freezing and everything! Can you leave it on the bone or do you need to remove all the meat?
  • Emma N.
    I adore my slow cooker! My favourtie recipe is my version of beef stifado. I don't do measuring so I throw in a pound or so of braising steak, a couple of tins of tomatoes, some tomato puree, herbs (whatever I have in but usually oregano), a vegetable stock cube & leave it on for around 12 hours or so. I tend to leave it this long because I leave the house at 7am & tend not to eat until 7pm. The website you mention also has a cookbook available which I have. It's pretty good for ideas although I do think some of the recipes are a bit OTT for my family.

What do you think?

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