Who doesn’t love coming home to the aromas of a slow cooker filled with bubbling chili, steaming chicken and dumplings, or hearty beef stew on a cold day? The slow cooker is a staple for the busy person’s winter menu rotation. But come Memorial Day, many of us tuck the slow cooker away in the garage on top of a carton of wool mittens and mothballs, not to be seen before the first chill of Halloween.
I want to change that, one household at a time. I’d like to make the case for slow-cooking in summer. In fact, I think it is the most-underused companion to your summer outdoor barbecue.
In this three-part series, I’ll highlight the major slow-cooker benefits to the outdoor grill master. Each week, I’ll give you a starter recipe that exemplifies that week’s benefit. My hope is that you’ll try out my recipes to prove to yourself that barbecues and slow cookers are indeed (unlikely) BFFs, and then using my tips, you’ll start using your slow cooker regularly when you fire up that grill.
So fasten your seat belts and join me for the first compelling reason why your slow cooker should be your newest grilling companion:
1. You can bake without heating up your house.
The sun is shining; the weather is warm. You call the neighbors and light the grill to toss on hot dogs and hamburgers. You know what goes well with hamburgers and hot dogs? Your favorite baked beans. Or your grandma’s apple cobbler. Or maybe a vanilla cake topped with fresh berries. You know what doesn’t go well with a summer barbecue? Heating up your house even more with an oven to make said baked treats. The solution: your slow cooker! Let your slow cooker “bake” those beans (or cobbler or cake). Your house will be filled with all the tempting aromas of baking, without any of that extra heat.
There are, however, a few things to consider when baking in a slow cooker. First, note that baking takes far less time than the braising or simmering operations usually performed in your slow cooker — most baked goods are done in an hour or two on high, which means the “fix it and forget it all day” model of slow-cooking does not apply here! The best strategy I find is to flip the switch on slow-cooker baking about an hour before dinner if I’m baking a dessert. Second, note that a slow cooker will have much more humidity than an oven, as it is tightly covered. Covering the insert with a thin cotton towel will absorb much of the condensation, and removing the lid immediately after cooking will also help. But if you have your heart set on an uber-crunchy apple crisp, better to stick with the oven.
A Recipe to Try: Cobbler is a summer favorite because it takes advantage of the gorgeous seasonal fruits so abundant this time of year. I use peaches and berries because they are so summery, but you can use any fruits you love! And here’s a secret: Frozen fruit works incredibly well too. The trick to baking fruit desserts in the slow cooker is to cook on high for shorter periods of time — this will keep the fruit tasting freshest (even if it was frozen).
Try my Summer Slow-Cooker Cobbler to start, then branch out to adapt your favorite recipes!
Doing It on Your Own:
You will have to experiment a bit, because slow cookers vary in heat intensity. But start with the following formula for adapting your baking recipe to a slow-cooker recipe:
- “Bake” in your slow cooker turned on high.
- Double the original oven cooking time.
- Place a thin kitchen towel over the slow-cooker insert before putting on the lid (to absorb condensation).
Have you ever baked in the slow-cooker? What are your favorite recipes to make?