Fact: The slow cooker is as solid a go-to tool for summer entertaining as it is for hearty beef stews and long braises in the winter. Yeah, go haul that sucker out of your pantry--it's going to lend a major helping to all barbecue weekends ahead. Although we're heading into grilling season, not every element you need in proper cookout culture can be made on the grill (if someone can figure out a way to make grilled baked beans, you holler at ya girl--we need to chat). Enter, slow cooker... the slow cooker allows you to cook in large batches for a crowd, doesn't heat the entire house the way cranking up the stove or oven can, and its hands-off, "I got this" style of cooking leaves you free to address other preparations (or take a nap) before people show up at your door. You can actually pull off your entire BBQ menu using a slow cooker if it suits you, here's how:
Hunks of meat typically fare well in the slow cooker if they inherently have a fair amount of fat--cuts like chuck roast really thrive with low and slow heat application. If you're working with something a little leaner, just make sure you have enough liquid in the cooker and keep in mind you won't want to cook it as long.
Starting with a timeless, foolproof cookout hit, Slow Cooker Pulled Pork is a solid choice to serve on buns, corn tortillas for tacos, or by it's lonesome with any of the sides further down.
For what I'd hope are obvious reasons, I'm also a huge fan of these Slow-Cooked Baby Back Ribs.
But if pork isn't your game, go Barbecue Chicken. You won't regret it.
Or hey, like I said, the slow cooker is your go-to for making soups and stews--no one ever turns their nose up at this 5-Star Turkey Chili when it shows up to the party. If they do, they're mad rude, forget them.
For a less expected main with a super fresh feel, give these Beef Lettuce Wraps with Quick Pickles a go.
I already hinted at this, but you can't have a cookout without baked beans. At least not at my house. The beauty of these Smoky "Baked" Beans is that they start with dried great northern beans, but skip the soaking process. The dried beans go straight into the slow cooker simmer to tender, starchy, crazy flavorful perfection over 7 hours. Do it, I know you wanna.
That said, if you'd genuinely prefer to go more savory than sweet with your BBQ bean philosophy, these Red Beans and Rice are an acceptable and highly delicious alternative.
Swap the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole for these Sweet Potatoes with Bacon. Because bacon > mini marshmallows. Always.
Buttery fresh Peppered Corn on the Cob can never be a bad thing. Especially when it's got a jalapeño heat kick and bacon wrapped around it. If you're not feeling my clear enthusiasm for bacon in every side dish, you can definitely get away with leaving the pork out of this one.
A cornmeal lemon-poppy seed cake... from your slow cooker. Yep, that's happening. And let me tell you, you're not gonna be made about.
Need 2 desserts? Of course you do. This rich, creamy Slow Cooker Cardamom Rice Pudding takes a summery hit with fresh juicy peaches. And I'm all about it. Try this instead of banana pudding on your next BBQ menu--and try your best to stay humble when the rave reviews start rolling in.
Do you have any favorite BBQ dishes to make in the slow cooker? Tell us about it in the comments below.