The Wonderbag: Slow cooking without the juice

Could this portable, non-electric slow cooker be the smartest appliance of all?

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
Expertise Smart home technology and wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
3 min read

When I say "slow cooker" you probably think of a Crock-Pot, or some similar appliance that you plug in for all-day cooking. But the team at Wonderbag wants you to think differently.

The Wonderbag might look like a throw pillow, but it is, in fact, a slow cooker -- a non-electric slow cooker, at that, developed in South Africa by environmentalist Sarah Collins, and available now to US consumers exclusively on Amazon.com.

Crafty cooking with the Wonderbag (pictures)

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After bringing your food to a boil by conventional means, you transfer your dish into the heavily insulated bag. Hours later, you'll have a slow-cooked meal that's ready to serve. Wonderbag's blog lists recipes that vary from meat and chicken dishes to stews, soups, and even desserts like cheesecake.

The Wonderbag got its start in 2008, when Collins tried cooking during a series of power cuts by using her grandmother's technique of surrounding a pot with cushions after turning the stove off. Realizing that the technique could make a difference in the lives of the millions of families living in developing countries, Sarah designed a prototype of a heat-retaining bag designed for slow cooking. Initial tests found that after heating a dish to the boiling point for just a few minutes, it would continue cooking within the bag and remain hot for up to 12 hours.

Just over five years later, the Wonderbag has spread globally, and Collins is claiming significant sustainable development benefits. In countries where firewood is one of the primary sources of cooking fuel, the Wonderbag claims it can reduce deforestation. Additionally, the company's field surveys report that regular Wonderbag users in developing nations save up to 30 percent of their income by lowering their fuel costs, while also suffering fewer accidents in the kitchen.

This global expansion includes developed countries like the US, where Wonderbag is now available at a cost of $50 per bag. For each one purchased, another gets donated to an impoverished family in Africa, so consumers can feel good about continuing to extend the product's reach to the people who stand to benefit from it the most.

Beyond its humanitarian bent, the Wonderbag has a lot of convenience-minded appeal, too. With no need for power, the Wonderbag seems like an especially good fit for tailgating, camping, or for slow-cooking a meal in the backseat during your four-hour drive home for the holidays. Toss in an icepack, and you can use the Wonderbag as a makeshift cooler, as well.

The Wonderbag will accommodate short-handled pots ranging from two quarts up to nine quarts (Wonderbag says that metal and cast iron pots work the best). You'll need to keep a potholder between the bottom of the pot and the bag, and Wonderbag recommends one made out of silicone. Keeping a meat thermometer handy would also be a good idea, as you don't want your food to sit much lower than 140 degrees F for more than two hours before eating or refrigerating it.

The Wonderbag is currently available on Amazon in blue or red. We'll be trying one out here in our test kitchen in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for the full review.