3 Scrumptious Summer Recipes

Most of us think of hearty, steaming stews and other winter dishes when we think of a slow cooker, but slow cookers also are fantastic for preparing delicious summer dishes—without heating up your kitchen. Bonus: Slow cookers let you get out of the house and enjoy the long summer days while they do the job!

Our team at America’s Test Kitchen was determined to use the slow cooker in new and exciting ways. We tested hundreds of recipes to arrive at the tastiest meals.

The dishes below can be made ahead and brought to a picnic or enjoyed on your patio at home without breaking a sweat…

sweet_tangy_pulled_chickenSweet and Tangy Pulled Chicken

Serves: 4

Cooking time: 2 to 3 hours on low

Slow cooker size: 4 to 7 quarts

A simple spice mixture and an easy-to-assemble homemade barbecue sauce make it easy to turn slow-cooked bone-in chicken into tangy, silky shredded chicken—perfect for piling onto buns for an easy dinner.

When we were developing this ­recipe, stirring in vinegar at the beginning of cooking made the sauce too thin and dulled its acidity, but adding two tablespoons of vinegar at the end of cooking, along with a small amount of mustard, ensured that the sauce was the perfect consistency and retained its bright flavors.

Serve on hamburger buns with pickle chips and coleslaw.

1 onion, chopped fine

¼ cup tomato paste

1 Tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ cup ketchup

2 Tablespoons molasses

2 (12-ounce) bone-in split chicken breasts, skin and ribs removed, trimmed of all visible fat

Salt and pepper

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

  1. Mix the onion, tomato paste, chili powder, oil, paprika and cayenne in a bowl, then microwave, stirring ­occasionally, until the onion is softened, about five minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker. Stir in the ketchup and ­molasses. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, place in the slow cooker, and turn to coat with sauce. Cover and cook until the chicken registers 160°F, two to three hours on low.
  2. Transfer the chicken to a carving board, let cool, then shred into bite-size pieces using two forks. Discard the bones.
  3. Stir the vinegar and mustard into the sauce. (Adjust the sauce consistency with hot water as needed.) Stir in the shredded chicken, and season it with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Warm-Summer-Barley-SaladWarm Summery Barley Salad

Serves: 4

Cooking time: 2 to 3 hours on high

Slow cooker size: 4 to 7 quarts

To showcase the appealingly nutty taste of barley, we kept the flavorings simple—just lemon and coriander—and paired it with a salad of fresh veggies and a light yogurt-herb dressing. We started with pearl barley, which is widely available in supermarkets and has a more pleasant pilaf-like texture when cooked than hulled barley, which still has the outer bran attached. To maintain a bit of the grain’s toothsome structure and ensure even cooking, we briefly toasted the barley in the microwave before adding it to the slow cooker. Do not substitute hulled, hull-less, quick-cooking or presteamed barley for the pearl barley in this recipe. You can substitute zucchini for the summer squash if desired.

1 cup pearl barley, rinsed

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 ¼ cups water

1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest, plus 1 Tablespoon juice

Salt and pepper

2 summer squashes

1/3 cup plain, low-fat yogurt

2 Tablespoons minced fresh chives

1 small garlic clove, minced

10 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved (approximately 25 to 30 tomatoes)

½ cup fresh parsley leaves

  1. Lightly spray the inside of the slow cooker with vegetable oil spray. Mix the barley, one teaspoon of the olive oil and the coriander in a bowl, then microwave, stirring occasionally until the barley is lightly toasted and fragrant, about three minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker. Stir in the water, two teaspoons of the lemon zest and one-half teaspoon of salt. Cover and cook until the barley is tender and all the water is absorbed, two to three hours on high.
  2. Using a vegetable peeler or ­mandoline, shave the squashes lengthwise into very thin ribbons. Whisk the ­yogurt, chives, garlic, lemon juice, one-quarter teaspoon of salt, one-quarter teaspoon of pepper, the remaining five teaspoons of oil and the remaining teaspoon of lemon zest together in a bowl. Fluff the barley with a fork, then gently fold in the dressing, squash ribbons, tomatoes and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Best-Ever BBQ Spareribs

Serves: 4 to 6

Cooking time: 5 to 6 hours on low

Slow cooker size: Oval, 6.5 to 7 quarts

Store-bought barbecue sauces (and most recipes for homemade sauces) contain hefty amounts of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. We set out to make a healthy but tasty sauce. Mustard and cider vinegar offer tang, while maple syrup provides subtle sweetness. Reducing the sauce on the stovetop after cooking gives it just the right consistency. Once the ribs were fully tender, we transferred them from the slow cooker to the oven and briefly broiled them to develop a caramelized, lightly charred exterior.

Important: Avoid buying racks of ribs labeled simply as “spareribs”—their large size and irregular shape make them unwieldy in a slow cooker. St. Louis–style pork spareribs are smaller and more uniform in size, making them ideal for the slow cooker.

1 onion, chopped fine

3 Tablespoons tomato paste

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup water

3 Tablespoons maple syrup

2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

3 Tablespoons smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and pepper

2 (2 ½-to-3 pound) racks St. Louis–style pork spareribs, trimmed

  1. Mix the onion, tomato paste, garlic and oil in a bowl, then microwave, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about five minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker. Whisk in the water, maple syrup, mustard and one tablespoon of the cider vinegar.
  2. Combine the paprika, cayenne, one-and-a-half tablespoons salt and one tablespoon of pepper in a bowl, and rub the mixture evenly over the ribs. Arrange the ribs upright in a slow cooker with the meaty sides facing outward. Cover and cook until the ribs are tender, five to six hours on low.
  3. Adjust the oven rack to 10 inches from the broiler element, and heat the broiler. Set a greased wire rack in an aluminum foil–lined rimmed baking sheet. Transfer the ribs meaty side up to the prepared rack.
  4. Using a wide, shallow spoon, skim any excess fat from the surface of the cooking liquid. Process the defatted liquid in a blender until smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced to one-and-a-half cups, about five minutes. Off heat, stir in the remaining tablespoon of vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Brush the ribs with some of the sauce, then broil until browned and sticky, about 10 minutes, flipping and brushing with additional sauce every few minutes. Transfer the ribs to a carving board, and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice the ribs between the bones, and serve with the remaining sauce.

Photos and recipes for the Barley Salad and Pulled Chicken are from Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution, and the BBQ Spareribs are from Paleo Perfected. Both cookbooks are from America’s Test Kitchen.

Related Articles