"Summertime and the livin' is easy," right? Warm days and summer vacations may feel like a breeze but let's be honest, busy schedules still carry on. For most, work still carries on. For parents, kids are home all day or adjusting to new camp schedules and by the time dinner rolls around, we're well on our way to tiring out.
You may associate your slow cooker with warming soups and stews for winter and fall, but did you know this appliance can also be a lifesaver when prepping for your next barbecue or backyard party, as well as getting full, delicious dinners on the table without much work at all? The set-it-and-forget-it nature of a slow cooker means you can start meat for tacos the night before, make some amazing baked beans as a side dish or even chili to take your hot dogs to the next level. Plus, there's plenty of ways to make classics (that make fabulous leftovers) like lasagna or fall-off-the-bone ribs right in that low-heat dream machine.
Before you get started, check out these slow cooker tips and tricks, including that you should have your meat at room temperature before tossing it in. Then read on for inspiration that will make you the star of your next summer party (and even leave you a little time to sip a seasonal drink and socialize!).
In addition to being extremely delicious, this rib recipe has only five ingredients and takes just 15 minutes to prepare. Then, just let the cooker work its magic while the house fills with warm, umami-filled aromas in the hours leading up to the big game.
This dish is so versatile! It's also great for meal prep. Whether you're making tacos or stuffed bell peppers, it's something that you'll enjoy all week long.
Here, beans are used to bulk up a simple Southwestern stew to help a little bit of chicken go a long way. Since we skipped the step of browning the meat first on the stovetop, we opted for skinless pieces; the skin doesn't take on any caramelization in the slow cooker, and the resulting texture could compromise the appeal of your finished dish.
Pulled pork is the meat slow-cooker dreams are made of, and it's so versatile, you can use it in a variety of crowd-pleasing recipes. This recipe takes only 15 minutes of prep time so you can go enjoy some summer fun and come back to a satisfying meal.
Serve slow-cooked pulled pork in a sandwich and be sure to make Siri Daly's crunchy coleslaw to top it off with some tangy pickles and creamy avocado.
A chipotle pepper gives this dish a subtle, smoky heat while the lager mellows things out. It's perfect topped with some cheese or to top hot dogs with.
Make classic mac and cheese even easier with your slow-cooker — and even tastier with the addition of bacon
Unlike many chili recipes, this one doesn't even ask home cooks to sauté or brown the chicken in advance. This one uses summery ingredients like corn and sweet bell pepper to make it a perfect set-it-and-forget-it meal for the warmer months.
Long, slow-simmering makes collard greens an ideal choice for the slow cooker. Because the greens give off so much of their own liquid, you only need to add a small amount of water to the slow cooker, which not only intensifies the flavor but retains more of the nutrients.
Ordering pizza? Stop right there! Try it in the slow-cooker instead. This method caramelizes the cheese and dough so an incredibly crispy crust forms around the edge of the pizza.
These are the best ground beef tacos made from scratch. The slow, low heat makes it come out very tender. And, because it makes so much, you'll have enough meat for several nights of leftovers.
Camila Alves McConaughey cooks up one of her favorite Brazilian dishes, a slow-cooker stew teeming with chicken, beans, tomatoes, corn and olives. Serve it over rice to make it a complete meal.
Make a beautiful taco spread any night of the week with this incredibly easy, moist carnitas recipe. Cooking the pork in the slow-cooker with warm spices like cumin, chili and garlic infuses the meat with vibrant flavors. A cup of orange juice adds just the right amount of acidity to help break down the meat until it's melty and shreds to perfection.
This is such a satisfying but still light and healthy meal all done in the slow cooker. Serve with some crusty bread for dipping and call it a night!
This dish is perfect for a fun and casual dinner party — just set the slow cooker and let it go. Inexpensive pork shoulder is a tougher cut that becomes succulent and fork-tender when cooked well beyond well doneness — it loves a long, low and slow cook and becomes meltingly tender (you can cut it with a fork) as it cooks ever so gently in a delicious sauce.
"It is very hands off; you just throw everything in and let it cook," says Natalie Morales about her recipe. "The best part is the leftovers are great. I like to use them to make beef tacos, burritos and sandwiches."
While this lasagna is delicious fresh out of the slow cooker, many think it's even better the next day! You can swap in other vegetables like sliced bell peppers, zucchini and summer squash or change up the greens to Swiss chard. You can alternate beans to kidney beans or black beans.
A classic dish like spaghetti and meatballs hits the spot year-round, but sometimes can get put off when we don't feel like boiling water and stirring sauce on a hot, humid day. This recipe takes care of that so we can enjoy this tasty meal even on the hottest of days.
This is the ultimate cookout food. Chicken always seems to be a crowd-favorite when it comes to meat. The pulled chicken holds on so well to the sweet and sticky barbecue sauce, while the coleslaw adds bright flavor and crunch.
This moist, juicy cut of meat basically cooks itself in the slow cooker — all you need to do is add a few aromatics and spices, then toss it with your favorite barbecue sauce, and you're set. Use this step-by-step tutorial to make the most tender pulled pork you've ever tasted.
This slow-cooker pulled pork biscuit casserole is so delicious, you're going to want it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This chocolate dessert is always a crowd-pleasing dish. Just dump all the ingredients into the slow cooker, set it, forget it and wait until the smell of chocolate takes over your kitchen.
It doesn't get any easier than this. Consider this your new go-to, four-ingredient dessert recipe.
Who knew baking in a slow-cooker could be so simple and yummy? This is the perfect method for baking when you don't want to bother with your oven, and it will make your entire house smell divine!
With just five main ingredients, this fudge is super easy, and the slow cooker does most of the work. It's perfect for a party or as a gift.