If you’re anything like me, your slow cooker is a regular fixture on your countertop from November through March, churning out hearty stews and thick soups to warm you up on brisk nights. But from April through October, this often-overlooked appliance retreats down to the basement, where, if it had a heart like the Tin Man, it would count down the weeks until Halloween. This begs the question: Why should we miss out on the slow cooker’s most appealing attribute — its convenience — when the thermometer climbs above 60°F?
One could even make the argument that the summertime is the best season to use the slow cooker. It doesn’t heat up the entire kitchen like an oven. Busy schedules packed with baseball games, swimming lessons, and evening bike rides call for easy, no-fuss meals that a slow cooker provides. And some traditional summer favorites, like ribs, benefit from its low-and-slow cooking process.
Determined to break away from the fall-back beef stew and bean soup recipes that are in frequent rotation in our slow cookers during the winter, the Heavy Table set out to find warm-weather-friendly recipes that would entice us to keep the slow cooker out of the box this summer. The first, a simply cooked whole chicken with potatoes and carrots, gets a burst of seasonal flavor with the addition of fresh dill. Next, barbecue lentil sandwiches come into play as an appealing meat-free option for summer parties. Third, fall-off-the-bone ribs that make summer grilling a breeze.
Katie Cannon co-authored this story and the recipes that follow.
Chicken Pot Au Feu
Yield: 5 servings
Adapted from Crock-Pot iPhone app recipe
The original recipe for this classic chicken dish calls only for dried herbs, but tossing in a few sprigs of fresh dill lends a pleasingly light and lemony flavor to the dish that makes it an ideal meal for the warm-weather months. If you don’t have new potatoes on hand, substitute baby yukon golds or fingerlings.
2 medium carrots, cut into ½-inch slices
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium new potatoes, cut into ¼-inch pieces
3 lbs whole chicken
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground pepper
½ c water
1 tsp dried bay leaves
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme
6-8 stalks fresh dill
- Place the carrots, celery, and potatoes in the bottom of the slow cooker.
- Add the whole chicken and top with the remaining ingredients.
- Cover; cook on low 8-10 hours or high 4½-6½ hours.
Barbecue Lentil Sandwiches
Yield: 6 sandwiches
Adapted from Cuisine at Home Slow Cooker Menus
Vegetarians at your barbecue will appreciate that they don’t have to cobble together a dinner from a variety of side dishes, and meat eaters might enjoy the lentils in addition to their burgers or hot dogs in place of baked beans. We omitted the seeded and diced jalapeño pepper called for in the original recipe due to sensitive palates, and it resulted in a sauce on the sweeter side. Add the jalapeño back in if you want to break through the sweetness with some spice.
2 c vegetable broth
1 c dried lentils, rinsed
½ c diced onion
1 tsp minced garlic
½ tsp kosher salt
½ c ketchup
¼ c molasses
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp prepared yellow mustard
1 tbsp cider vinegar
6 whole wheat buns, sliced
- Combine broth, lentils, onion, garlic, and salt in a 2- to 3-qt slow cooker. Cover; cook on low heat for 2-2½ hours, until lentils are tender.
- Whisk together ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, and vinegar; add to slow cooker. Cover; cook on low heat for 30 additional minutes.
- Serve on whole wheat buns with dill pickle chips or pickle spears on the side.
Yield: 2 servings
Sauce recipe: Taste of Home’s 2001 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes
Nothing beats a summer picnic with barbecue ribs. But, to achieve the fall-off-the-bone ribs we all adore, it takes effort by baking, boiling, grilling, or smoking for lengthy periods of time that we sometimes don’t have. For those with a busy schedule but who still want the glory, the slow cooker is the logical answer to this finger-licking food conundrum. A quick finish on the grill adds that much-needed taste of summer. Once slow-cooked, the ribs can be cooled, wrapped in foil, and refrigerated; continue the recipe by grilling to rewarm and finish. This makes summer picnics a breeze as well. Adapt the recipe to use a favorite dry rub (this one is particularly tasty) or barbecue sauce to make it your own. Or you may choose to use the sauce we’ve included, which we love for its simplicity and use of kitchen staples. To spice it up, blend the sauce with a chipotle pepper or two, with a bit of its accompanying adobo sauce. Sweet, spicy, and tangy — no-effort ribs in no time at all.
2 lbs baby back ribs (membrane removed)
1 c ketchup
½ c packed brown sugar
½ c honey
¼ c spicy brown mustard
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 chipotles in adobo, optional
- Combine sauce ingredients in bowl until well mixed. If using chipotles, a blender is helpful to obtain a smooth texture.
- Place ribs in slow cooker (you may need to cut rib rack in half if using a round slow cooker). Add barbecue sauce, reserving at least ½ cup to finish on the grill. Cover; cook until pork is tender on low heat for 6-7 hours.
- Heat grill to medium-high heat. Brush ribs with barbecue sauce and cook for 5 minutes on each side, basting with more sauce as needed.