Make dinner easier—and more delicious—with these budget-friendly options

By Stacey Ballis
Updated September 15, 2020
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Credit: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Claire Spollen

It’s braising and simmering season: a season of stews, chilis, and slow-cooked meals that keep us warm literally and figuratively. But you don’t always need to start from scratch to get that long-simmered flavor! A wealth of cooking sauces has hit the markets, and most of them can be used easily in a variety of applications, including stovetop and Instant Pot. But they work especially well in your slow cooker!

Being able to take the protein and vegetables of your choice and stir them into a store-bought cooking sauce puts the whole world at your fingertips, from classic American BBQ to Italian Marsala, from mellow Moroccan tagines to fiery Indian curries. The best part? While specially designated “slow cooker” sauces are not ideal for stovetop (because they are designed for long cooking to reach their potential), “simmer sauces” can absolutely be used in the slow cooker because their flavors won’t be damaged by the low heat of slow cooking. Which means they're interchangeable!

But first, some tips about slow cooking

Always choose cuts of meat that can stand up to long cooking: pork shoulder, beef chuck, chicken thighs, lamb shanks, or anything labeled stew meat. Hardy vegetables like root vegetables also stand up to long cooking; if you are using more delicate or frozen vegetables, add them later in the cooking process. Since all of these meals are sauce-based, be sure to serve with something to sop up all that goodness, whether it is potatoes, rice, pasta, couscous, polenta, or just some crusty bread on the side for dunking!

Here are 13 excellent slow cooker sauces and ideas for what to make with them. Time to get low and slow!

Simple Country Homestyle Sauces

Want to get that soulful rib-sticking flavor without all the fuss? Stock these sauces in your pantry.

Credit: Courtesy Instacart

Courtesy Instacart

Campbell's Slow Cooker Southern BBQ Sauce

Try pork shoulder in a BBQ simmer sauce for a pulled pork with minimal effort and maximum flavor, or ground beef for a batch of sloppy joes that the whole family will love.

Buy it here: Campbell’s Slow Cooker Southern BBQ Sauce ($3.49), Instacart.com

Credit: Courtesy Instacart

Courtesy Instacart

College Inn Savory Chicken Sauce

For a deeply chicken-y pot pie flavor, cooking chicken and vegetables in this style of sauce gives you a terrific chicken stew. Serve over rice, potatoes, or pasta, or bake some biscuits to accompany for more of a deconstructed pot pie!

Buy it here: College Inn Simple Starter for One Pot Meals Savory Chicken Sauce ($4.59), Instacart.com

Classic Sauces

Try these sauces to summon all the restaurant favorites you love in the comfort of your own home!

Credit: Courtesy Instacart

Courtesy Instacart

Seeds of Change Organic Mushroom Simmer Sauce

Whether you are craving the flavor of a pot roast in mushroom gravy, or the basis for a deeply savory vegetable stew, a mushroom sauce is an umami bomb in a package.

Buy it here: Seeds of Change Certified Organic Mushroom Simmer Sauce ($3.29), Instacart.com

Credit: Courtesy Instacart

Courtesy Instacart

Prego Creamy Marsala Cooking Sauce

This wine-enriched creamy sauce was made for elegant dining with down-home ease. Chicken or veal are classic but try it with pork or beef for a new taste sensation.

Buy it here: Prego Creamy Marsala Cooking Sauce ($4.09), Instacart.com

Global Flavors

You can take a trip around the world from your home kitchen. Whether you want to explore a new cuisine without making a huge investment in new spices or have trouble sourcing ingredients right now, these slow cooker and simmer sauces take all the guesswork out of all sorts of interesting foods from around the world

Credit: Courtesy Instacart

Courtesy Instacart

Frontera Carnitas Slow Cook Sauce

If you have been embracing Taco Tuesdays and are a little tired of the same old seasoned ground beef, try a classic carnitas with either pork or chicken to shake things up.

Buy it here: Frontera Carnitas Slow Cook Sauce ($3.29), Instacart.com

Credit: Courtesy Instacart

Courtesy Instacart

Mina Tagine Moroccan Chicken Cooking Sauce

The national dish of Morocco is endlessly adaptable to meats from lamb to chicken, and fabulous when boosted with vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts. Even better? Fast-cooking couscous is the traditional accompaniment, making for a meal that gets to the table quick with flavors that will delight.

Buy it here: Mina Tagine Moroccan Chicken Cooking Sauce ($6.89), Instacart.com

Credit: Courtesy Instacart

Courtesy Instacart

Maya Kaimal Indian Simmer Sauces

From tikka masala and butter chicken to delicious curries, simmer sauces are a wonderful gateway into Indian cookery for you and your family.

Buy it here: Maya Kaimal Kashmiri Curry Indian Simmer Sauce ($6.39), Instacart.com

Buy it here: Maya Kaimal Butter Masala Indian Simmer Sauce ($6.39), Instacart.com

Buy it here: Maya Kaimal Tikka Masala Indian Simmer Sauce ($6.39), Instacart.com

Credit: Courtesy Instacart

Courtesy Instacart

Patak’s Curry Simmer Sauces

Buy it here: Patak’s Rogan Josh Curry Simmer Sauce ($5.19 each), Instacart.com

Buy it here: Patak’s Mild Korma Curry Simmer Sauce ($5.19 each), Instacart.com

Credit: Courtesy Instacart

Courtesy Instacart

Saffron Road Simmer Sauces

Whether you are craving a Filipino adobo, a Thai curry, or a Korean style stir-fry, there are simmer sauces for every region!

Buy it here: Saffron Road Thai Red Curry Simmer Sauce ($3.49), Instacart.com

Buy it here: Saffron Road Korean Stir Fry Simmer Sauce ($3.49), Instacart.com