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? 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.
Before you get started, read these 11 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!).
Tacos to the Rescue
Tacos are a perfect party food since guests can add their own toppings. Make the meat ahead of time to take the stress out of entertaining.
Slow-Cooker Chicken Tinga
Make this in your slow cooker for tacos or stuffed peppers that are both healthy and flavorful.
Slow-Cooker Tex-Mex Chicken and Beans
This easy recipe from Martha Stewart can be topped with sour cream, finely chopped jalapeño, hot sauce and tortilla strips or chips, for serving.
Pulled Pork for the Win
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.
4-Ingredient Slow-Cooker Kalua Pulled Pork
Pulled pork is a star in the slow cooker. This recipe takes only 15 minutes of prep time so you can go enjoy some summer fun and come back to a satisfying meal.
Siri Daly’s Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork
Serve this in a sandwich and be sure to make Siri’s crunchy coleslaw to top it off!
Nathan Congleton / TODAY
Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork
Pulled pork is great for party prep since it basically cooks itself — toss with your favorite barbecue sauce for a meal everyone will want to eat.
Chili is for the Dogs
There’s nothing wrong with a hot dog with mustard and relish but you’ll impress your guests with homemade chili for their dogs — just be sure to provide extra napkins!
Slow-Cooker Beef and Beer Chili
A chipotle pepper gives this dish a subtle, smoky heat while the lager mellows things out. Perfect topped with some cheese or to top hot dogs.
Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili
Easily feed a crowd with this healthy turkey chili that’s served over rice or of course a hot dog straight off the grill.
Samantha Okazaki / TODAY
Beans are another great staple for many dishes you can make ahead of time in the slow cooker. Put beans and water or stock in the slow cooker and cook on high for 3 to 6 hours, or on low for 6 to 10 hours. Black eyed peas will be on the shorter end of that timeframe, while chickpeas will be on the longer end. After about 5 hours, check your beans every half hour until they reach the tenderness you desire. Serve them in your favorite recipe or as a side dish.