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Slow cookers vs multi-cookers vs pressure cookers: which one is right for you?

Our experts review these appliances and share the pros and cons of each one to help you decide.

slow cooker pressure cooker multi cooker
Last updated: 23 April 2021

As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, our thoughts often turn to rib-sticking comfort food to warm our bodies from the inside out. 

If you're considering a benchtop cooker that makes your dinner prep easier, there are plenty of options, including slow cookers, multi-cookers and pressure cookers. But what do they all do, and how are you supposed to decide which one to buy?

CHOICE's kitchen experts Fiona Mair and Chantelle Dart share their thoughts on these three quite different appliances. 

The difference between slow cookers, multi-cookers and pressure cookers

Just want the basics? Fiona has boiled it all down into three key points:

  • A slow cooker is a good choice for a busy family who can spare the eight hours of cooking time and are time-poor in the evenings. 
  • A multi-cooker with pre-programmed settings is easy to use and has many functions. They're suitable for people who want to reduce the number of appliances in their kitchen, but still have comforting meals prepared in a quarter of the time. 
  • Stove-top pressure cookers are best left to the experienced cook. They require a bit of know-how to control the temperature and cooking time. A multi-cooker is a good alternative to a stove-top pressure cooker.

Should you buy a slow cooker?

For a little bit of planning and a few minutes' prep in the morning, you can be rewarded with the tantalising smells of a hearty slow-cooked meal bubbling away all day, and a melt-in-your-mouth meal come dinnertime. It's easy to see why slow cookers are a firm favourite with a wide range of home cooks.

"With pressure cookers and multi-cookers, you won't get the same development of flavours that you get from slow cooking," says Fiona.

"I would definitely recommend a slow cooker for a family or keen cooks and entertainers. Foods cooked in a slow cooker are great for batch cooking and freezing, plus you can use cheaper cuts of meat and stretch out meals with legumes."

The rundown

  • Popular brands include: Crock-Pot, Russell Hobbs, Breville, Sunbeam, Morphy Richards, Cuisinart and Kmart Anko.
  • Prices range from $20 to $329.
  • Size: If you're cooking for a crowd, buy a 5–8L model. If you're only feeding two, a 3–4.5L slow cooker will do the job. 
  • Good for: Families, households on a budget, time-poor (but organised) cooks, vegetarians/vegans and people who eat a lot of legumes/pulses.
  • Not suitable for: People who don't like to plan meals in advance, impatient people, families with unpredictable schedules, households without much freezer space.

The pros of slow cookers

  • You can put it on in the morning and come home to a delicious, slow-cooked meal.
  • Slow-cooked food has a beautiful depth of flavour that you just can't get any other way.
  • Transforms cheap cuts of meat that wouldn't be suitable for grilling, roasting or BBQing as they retain their natural juices in the slow cooker.
  • They don't need stirring, so you don't have to keep checking them like you do if you're cooking on a stovetop.
  • Budget-friendly, so you can add dried legumes to stretch meals out, and they're great for batch cooking on a shoestring.
  • Great for hearty stews, curries and soups in winter, but they can also be a great way to cook a pot roast or one-pot meal in summer without heating up the kitchen like an oven would.
  • Relatively cheap to purchase.
  • Use less energy than having the oven or cooktop on for the same amount of time.

The cons of slow cookers

  • Needs a long cooking time – you can't just whip something up at the last minute. 
  • You'll need to be organised if you want to prep dinner in the morning to eat it that evening.
  • They're bulky, so will take up a lot of cupboard space.
  • Many models can't brown or sear foods, so you'll need to do this on a cooktop first (this includes browning meats and frying off curry pastes/powders, onions and garlic). Some models do have a sear function, or have a bowl that can be used directly on a stovetop, which will save you washing up.

Should you buy a multi-cooker?

These versatile gadgets have the ability to slow cook and pressure cook food, giving you options for last-minute meals as well as unctuous braises that blip away on the benchtop all day. In other words, they can give you the best of both worlds. 

"Multi-cookers are becoming more of a trend as manufacturers combine more and more appliances into one, such as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer, rice cooker and frypan, and now some also include air fryers and bread makers," says Fiona. 

The rundown

  • Popular brands include: Breville, Crock-Pot, Cuisinart, Philips, Russell Hobbs, Sunbeam and Tefal.
  • Prices range from $149 to $400.
  • Size: All the models we've tested are 6L, which is big enough to cook for more than two, or batch cook and freeze.
  • Good for: Cooks with small kitchens (as they replace several appliances); people who want to both slow cook and pressure cook; households on a budget.
  • Not suitable for: People who don't like cleaning (multi-cookers need extra attention when it comes to cleaning); cooks with limited dexterity (the cooker needs to be taken apart, cleaned and put back together again, which can be fiddly).

The pros of multi-cookers

  • They can save you time if you use the pressure cooker feature. Cooking corned beef will take you just one hour in a multi-cooker, compared to eight hours in a slow cooker and five hours in the oven. 
  • They can replace a number of kitchen appliances like a rice cooker, electric frypan, pressure cooker, slow cooker (some models), yoghurt maker and steamer. 
  • Transforms cheap cuts of meat, you can add dried legumes to stretch meals out, and they're great for batch cooking on a shoestring.
  • They use less energy than having the oven or cooktop on for the same amount of time.
  • Pre-programmed cooking times make multi-cookers easy to use. Some models even have pre-programmed settings for food types, such as pot roast, curry, rice etc. 

The cons of multi-cookers

  • They need supervision – you can't just leave them on all day like you can with a slow cooker. 
  • It's hard to get the same depth of flavour as you can with a slow cooker. 
  • They can be difficult to clean. You need to pull everything apart, clean it, and then make sure it's all been put back together correctly. Blocked seals can cause issues when pressure cooking. 
  • The multi-cookers with breadmaker features aren't always as good as standalone breadmakers, so do your research before you buy if that's something that's important to you. 
breville the fast slow pro bpr700bss

Some multi-cookers, like this Breville model, can be used for pressure cooking.

Should I buy a pressure cooker?

These appliances can help you smash out dinner in under an hour. Lamb shanks that would take seven hours in a slow cooker or 2.5 hours on a cooktop will be melting off the bone in just 45 minutes. They use a small amount of liquid to fill the pressure cooker with steam.

Time-strapped parent Jason swears by his pressure cooker. 

"I find pressure cookers give a slow-cooker result in a fraction of time," he says. "Risotto in 20 minutes, beautiful soft beef brisket in an hour, instead of 4 or 8 in a slow cooker. It's slow cooking, fast!

"I'm never organised enough to put something on in the morning and don't like to run appliances all day, but with a pressure cooker you can cheat and fast-track dinner."

The rundown

  • Popular brands include: Philips, Breville, Kambrook, Tefal and Sunbeam.
  • Price ranges from around $59 to more than $500.
  • Good for: Last-minute dinners; time-poor cooks; impatient foodies; wannabe MasterChefs.
  • Not suitable for: People who like to come home to dinner that's already cooked; cooks who can't stay in the kitchen while the pressure cooker does its thing; inexperienced home cooks.

The pros of pressure cookers

  • You can cook a delicious meal in a fraction of the time of a slow cooker or using your cooktop. 
  • You can turn out a slow cooker-style meal in under an hour.
  • A pressure cooker won't heat up the kitchen like using the oven. 
  • By cooking with steam, the food retains the vitamins and minerals that would otherwise be dissolved in water. 
  • They work well with inexpensive cuts of meat like stewing beef, shank and blade. 

The cons of pressure cookers

  • They can be difficult to clean. You need to pull everything apart, clean it, and then make sure it's all been put back together correctly. Blocked seals can cause issues when pressure cooking. 
  • You need to supervise them while cooking – you can't just put them on and walk away. 
  • You need to be extra cautious when removing the lid so you don't get burnt by the steam. 
  • While they cook extra fast, the dish won't develop the same depth of flavour as it would if it were slow cooked. You'll need to add extra seasoning to ramp up the flavour. 
  • Can be more expensive than slow cookers. 
  • Can be tricky to get the hang of. You'll need to adapt regular recipes by reducing the amount of liquid so they work with the pressure cooker. 

Want to know more? Read our buying guide to pressure cookers.

In 2017, Aldi sold a faulty pressure cooker which exploded, leaving at least six people with second- and third-degree burns. Models with more than one locking mechanism (like a locking lid) are safer than models with a lid that simply screws onto the cooker. Make sure you check the safety features before buying. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.