BEAT THE HEAT AND STILL EAT GREAT
Slow cookers offer busy people a simple way to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Being able to throw everything into one pot, press a button, and walk away saves time and labor. Slow cooking at low temperatures helps get the most out of inexpensive cuts of meat and adds flavor, helping chefs on a budget save money and still serve delicious meals. These 12 slow cooker recipes take advantage of summer produce to create inexpensive and satisfying meals, but frozen vegetables can easily be substituted.
Related: 15 Quick and Easy Summer Dinners
SHREDDED JERK CHICKEN
Conjure the Caribbean sun with the intensely spice laden and piquant flavors of traditional jerk seasoning. The combination of thyme, nutmeg, and allspice, along with hot chilies and garlic, packs this dish with flavor and pairs well with crisp drinks on hot nights. A slow cooker recipe posted on the cooking site Tasty Kitchen makes it easy to enjoy these spicy and complex flavors without having to stand in front of a hot grill for hours.
Related: 12 Cheap Rubs and Marinades for Summer Barbecues
LENTIL SLOPPY JOE
This one-dish meal from the Ambitious Kitchen blog is both a guilty pleasure and a classy entrée at the same time. With all the tangy flavor of sloppy Joes and none of the cholesterol, this veggie-friendly version appeals to meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Adding spaghetti squash is a cheap and nutritious way to flesh out the meal and make it sophisticated enough to enjoy with a glass of wine. To spice it up, add a fresh chili.
COCONUT CURRY CHICKEN THIGHS
Veggie-loaded coconut curry chicken thighs work well as a low-key weeknight dinner or as a romantic dinner dish served by candlelight. The thighs are extra juicy and flavorful in addition to being one of the cheapest parts of the bird. Keep this recipe from the blog Shared Appetite handy for easy summer dinners.
Hot, humid weather has a way of making us crave light, vegetable-filled dishes that are easily digested and still full of flavor, such as succotash. This seasonal staple is a stew-like combination of summer produce that melds into a one-dish supper. Slow cooking succotash develops flavors in layers, makes for a quick and easy cleanup, and requires minimal effort and time spent actually cooking. A version on MyRecipes adds a Mediterranean twist, incorporating olives, cannellini beans, feta, and inexpensive couscous to make a complete meal.
Using berries fresh from the market before they go bad or combining odds and ends from bags of frozen berries helps reduce waste while reaping delicious benefits. Try an easy-as-pie slow cooker cobbler recipe from Taste of Home, which uses cheap, basic ingredients such as flour, sugar, cinnamon, milk, and egg.
This rich and spicy Cajun stew is a year-round favorite but especially good in summer, when fresh shellfish and sausage are readily available. It's known as a labor-intensive dish, but a Southern Living recipe saves time and energy by simply combining everything into a slow cooker and letting it simmer. Born from a peasant food tradition, the building block ingredients such as celery, onion, and bell pepper are typically inexpensive.
Comforting in its simplicity, this hearty recipe has played a part in many classic summer meals. With their low price and high nutrition, beans are a welcome addition. A savory recipe from the blog Family Fresh Meals takes mere minutes to throw together and relies on the slow cooker to meld all the flavors together with minimal effort.
LEMON POPPY SEED CAKE
Dessert from a slow cooker is a great trick to keep up your sleeve for summer dinner parties -- all that's needed is to combine the ingredients, set the timer, and walk away. The time saved could mean the difference between including dessert and skipping it altogether. A Real Simple recipe relies on pantry baking staples such as flour, sugar, and cornmeal and gets its signature flavor from poppy seeds and bright lemons. Serve the cake for breakfast, brunch, or a light dessert.
Dirt-cheap to make, cornbread is a summer staple and a family favorite. It pairs well with barbecued or grilled dishes, helping to soak up the leftover sauce. A quick recipe from the blog 365 Days of Slow Cooking is ready in an hour or two and features quick and easy cleanup. Throw in some fresh sweet corn kernels to enhance the seasonal aspect of this dish.
Brisket can be the pièce de résistance at any summer shindig, and with the aid of a slow cooker, it's simple to prepare. Marinating time for a scrumptious Bon Appétit recipe is one to two days, which helps to work a lot of flavor into a relatively inexpensive cut of meat. The slow and low cooking time further combine the seasonings into harmony for an impressive final product.
Cheap, easy, and indulgent, creamed corn is a nostalgic treat for many families. Loaded with good-for-the-soul butter and dairy, a slow cooker version from The Kitchn hits all the right flavor notes: sweet, earthy, and buttery rich. Paired with a salad, or grilled meats and veggies, this traditional dish completes any summer meal.
An essential at Hawaiian luaus or Tiki-themed parties, this crowd pleaser is simple to prepare. Made from pork shoulder, which is a relatively inexpensive cut, the long cooking time ensures depth of flavor and a succulent final dish. Easy to make and quick to clean up, a simple recipe for kalua pork posted on Allrecipes is likely to become a new family favorite.