slow cooked meats on plates

Slow-cooked meals are easy, fuss-free and delicious, and now is the perfect time to be cooking those winter warmers that the slow cooker is made for - but are you making the most of them?

Here are five tips to help you get your slow cooker recipes right every time. Sorted.

1. Get on trend

And by that I mean save a bit of money! Cheaper cuts of meat are all the rage in top restaurants right now, and a slow cooker makes it so easy to do it at home. Oxtail, shoulders, brisket, shin, chuck; when cooked properly these can be some of the best bits of the animal, and with a little time they can easily become the most delicious.

To start off, try an absolute classic – beef bourguignon. Grab some classic stewing beef like shin or chuck, add everything to the pot, whack on the lid, turn it on and leave to cook.

2. A little extra effort goes a long way.

Slow cooker meals are the ultimate lazy midweek meal for when you get in and need something ready and waiting. But if you’re willing to dirty another pan or two, suddenly you’ve got something that goes from great to amazing.

Meat in stews is always better if you brown it first to get that lovely caramelised crust. Try browning that floured beef in the bourguignon, or take things a step further and brown a couple of lamb shanks really well before adding them to a saffron sauce.

3. Low and slow

Slow cooking can be pretty… well, slow. We’ll often whack up the cooker to high and cook for 4 hours or so to speed things up and it turns out perfectly well. But if you’ve got the time, or you’re super organised in the morning, try cooking for double the time on low; that’ll give all those flavours even more time to develop and the result will be even better.

This is particularly good when you’re doing something like a curry. Let all those ingredients get to know each other, add a little cream and fresh herbs right at the end, and enjoy!

4. Leave it alone!

No matter how good it smells, no matter how hungry you are, don’t lift that lid until you need to! It won’t be a disaster if you do, but every time you sneak a peek the cooking time will increase. That’s not ideal on a 4-8 hour cook!

Since you’re now ensuring that you don’t go near your pot to avoid temptation, another good point is that since the lid stays on, the moisture in the pot is retained. Any liquid won’t thicken much, if at all. That’s means you should go easy on the amount of liquid you use. If it’s particularly thin, grab some corn flour right at the end of cooking to thicken it up, or reduce it down in another pan before serving.

5. Experiment

Don’t stick to the traditional meaty stews: there’re loads more things you can do with your slow cooker, from fudge to brownies, bread to overnight porridge, and even homemade condensed milk!

You can also adapt any slow cook that you’d usually do in the oven or on the hob to a slow cooker. We’ve cooked pulled pork in the oven, but it could just as easily be done in the slow cooker with amazing results – in fact, check out Mardi’s feature on how to make pulled pork in a slow cooker. Grab yourself that pork shoulder, make that extra effort to brown it well, then chuck everything into the cooker. Cook it low and slow, and don’t lift that lid!

Those are our top tips for the perfect slow cook, but how do you do it? Got any favourite cuts to use, unusual recipes, or just great tricks for making the most of your slow cooker? Let us know!

And for more great ideas for hearty, warming meals, check out our top 14 soups and stews below.