By Carl Hanson
March 20, 2018

The slow cooker is our secret to success for summer cookouts.

Yes, this famed facilitator of one-pot cooking lets you get the work done in advance with almost no fuss. Plus, it's perfectly self-contained, with its ceramic crock and lid, so your creations are easy to transport, easy to present to the hungry masses. And, of course, the foods stays warm and delicious the whole time. Truly, it's a terrific tool for summer entertaining.

And to make things even easier, we picked a dozen simple slow-cooker recipes that will be the talk of your next summer cookout.

Make these 5-star BBQ'd ribs in the slow cooker, and save the grill for the burgers and dogs. The key to this slow cooker recipe is quickly browning the ribs in the oven before giving them a long sauce-soak in the slow cooker. "An easy and delicious way to prepare tender barbecued ribs without the barbecue," says Suzanne.

Slow-Cooker Barbecue Ribs
Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

This 3-bean hot dish is the taste of the Midwest, and it's ready for your summer cookout no matter where you live. To prep, you'll add cooked ground beef and crumbled bacon to the slow cooker, along with three beans (pork and beans, kidney beans, butter beans) and ingredients for the tangy sauce -- ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, and mustard.

Betty's 3-Bean Hot Dish (a la Minnesota)
Photo by lutzflcat

Coolmonkshoes says, if you find yourself missing "the Tarheel tradition of a pig pickin'? Then grab a Crockpot, a big pork shoulder, some cider vinegar and get cooking! While ground and crushed red pepper will provide the basic heat -- go the extra mile and find some Texas Pete (or Trappey's) pepper sauce to bring the taste of Carolina to your kitchen."

Slow Cooker Carolina BBQ
Slow Cooker Carolina BBQ | Photo by Ryan Henderson

Mac and cheese, it's the comfort food your cookout requires. Vanessa made this slow cooker mac and cheese for a group potluck, and it was a big hit: "I usually bake mac and cheese, but I wanted to use a slow cooker so it would be hot. I was dubious, but I gave it a try and everyone loved it!"

Turn your cookout into a taco bar. "This recipe can be used with chicken, beef, pork and even venison," says Charley. "This dish uses a lot of spice, so please be sure to adjust to your taste."

Charley's Slow Cooker Mexican Style Meat
Photo by Soup Loving Nicole

Russian dressing mixes it up with hickory-flavored BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and simple seasonings. "The Russian dressing adds an interesting twist," says bd.weld. "I shredded and served it as sliders on lightly toasted rolls."

BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwiches
Photo by bd.weld

This two-bean buffalo chili will bring some heat to the cookout. It calls for Anaheim and poblano chile peppers, chili powder, red pepper flakes, a pinch of cayenne, plus diced tomatoes with green chiles. "To step up (or down) the heat, use different peppers and experiment with the seasonings," says Cornpop. "This gets even better if you let it sit overnight."

Colorado Buffalo Chili
Photo by Zndrson

Give dogs on the grill the star treatment with this classic coney sauce. Sean says, "My Grandfather owned a drive-in restaurant back in the 1950's. This is his exact recipe for Coney Dogs from back in the day. I make this on special occasions, and it is always a hit."

Grandpa's Classic Coney Sauce
Photo by SMClanton

Here's "a jazzed up version of classic queso dip, taken to a heartier level," says brightlightz. "A serious crowd-pleaser served hot as a dip, spooned over crisp tortilla chips nacho-style, or rolled up in a warm flour tortilla. It's perfect for taking to potlucks in a slow cooker!"

Outrageous Warm Chicken Nacho Dip
Outrageous Warm Chicken Nacho Dip | Photo by Marianne

When it comes to BBQ, zest is best. And this slow cooker BBQ recipe brings it, with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, BBQ sauce, Italian salad dressing, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. That's it! "Easy, impressive, and TASTES AND SMELLS delicious while cooking," raves EMT. "I can't wait to try different BBQ sauces with it."

Zesty Slow Cooker Chicken Barbecue
Photo by Creative Side Of Me

Pinto beans get the low and slow treatment combined with jalapenos, tomatoes, BBQ sauce, and seasonings. Adjust the hot peppers to taste. "I love this recipe," raves Erin. "It's such a versatile side dish and can go with just about anything."

Hot as Hell Hickory Beans
Soup Loving Nicole

This recipe gets it done with just three simple ingredients! "A sweet and savory treat for any get-together," says Loves2Experiment. "It's cheap and easy to make. Try it for your next potluck, back yard BBQ, or any event!"

Check out our collection of Slow Cooker Recipes, including main dishes, sides, appetizers.