A couple of years ago I wrote that I'd never throw out my Crock-Pot, a priceless, light blue checkered heirloom piece of scrap metal named Hal. Update: I still haven't. Despite all of the love letters I've written to the Instant Pot this year, I'm happy to report that Hal is alive and well, and sitting on my bookshelf as we speak.
Do I use him as often as my Instant Pot? Maybe not. But I do love him more. I love that he only has three options for me (Off, Low, and High), and that I can carry him under one arm. My Instant Pot may cook up a mean short rib, but it's heavy, ugly, and doesn't have a name—because no matter how many fancy appliances come into my life and sweep me off my feet, Hal the Crock-Pot will always be my bread and butter when it comes to slow-cooking.
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I still take Hal off the shelf on occasion, when I've dirtied up the Instant Pot but haven't had time to run it through the dishwasher. Or when I’m feeding a crowd and need to make a lot of one thing, like meat or soup or stew. Or when I'm leaving the house for hours to go to work or run errands (there’s a lot to be said for setting your dinner ahead of time and knowing that you can come home to it, perfectly cooked).
Or when I'm cooking a delicate recipe, like my milk-poached chicken breasts, which requires the low, gentle heat of a slow cooker. (No matter what, I find that my Instant Pot, even at its lowest setting, runs just a bit hotter than Hal, whose loose-fitting lid means that steam can escape and flavors can reduce and concentrate.)
Whether you're Team Instant Pot or Team
Hal Slow Cooker, there's a time and place for both. Here are the best slow-cooker recipes for when you're feeling the latter.
1. Tom Kha Gai
Though tom kha gai, a Thai coconut soup scented with lemongrass and lime leaves, is ordinarily a quick boil on the stovetop, in this case, a longer spell in the slow cooker makes for more succulent chicken thighs and a more aromatic broth.
One of our oldest and most popular slow-cooker recipes, this soup holds all of the comforting, familiar flavors of the red-sauce classic.
Two types of lentils—French green and black—add great bulk and depth to this hearty soup.
You could make a proper stroganoff in a skillet over high heat—or you could just dump all of the ingredients into your slow cooker, set it, and forget it.
A Food52 contest finalist, this slow-cooker take on butter chicken is bolstered up with sweet butternut squash and golden raisins.
6. Beef Stew
This Crock-Pot beef stew will warm your body, but it's the story behind it that will warm your soul.
This recipe is a community favorite for its bold, briny flavors and streamlined preparation.
"When the mercury rises, I turn to my slow cooker," writes recipe author Rinku Bhattacharya. By layering flavors, she achieves a balanced dish that's both bright and fresh, as well as creamy and comforting.
The slow cooker is ideal for big cuts of meat like this whole lamb shoulder—braised, shredded, and bejeweled with pomegranate seeds and fresh herbs.
This is the dish that recipe author Katie Macdonald asks her mom for every year on her birthday.
To thicken this spicy mixture, you’ll smash the black and pinto beans with a potato masher (you could also give it a couple good whizzes with an immersion blender if that’s easier). Alternatively, if you prefer things brothier, simply leave it as is… but then you might have to call it a soup instead.
Ditch the dill and carrots, and make this fennel-ginger number your new go-to chicken soup. Did we mention you can make it with a grocery store rotisserie chicken (or whatever leftover chicken you have on hand)? Ladle it over rice and top with spicy chili crisp to round out the meal.
Also known as “pasta fazool,” this carbs-on-carbs pasta and bean soup is a dream dinner for a cold night. Don’t forget a good crusty loaf of Italian bread to dunk in! This version is totally vegan, but if you wanted to toss in a smoked ham hock, be our guest. PS: need more vegetables? Wilt in half a bunch of your favorite greens before serving.
This classic retro slow-cooker sauce of grape jelly and chili sauce sounds weird, we know! But just wait until you try them—but if the sweet-spicy-sour sauce just isn’t your thing, the sheet-pan meatballs are a great appetizer on their own with your preferred dipping sauce, even jarred marinara (though you make them in the oven, not a Crock Pot!)
This recipe—the most cooked, most popular, and most loved in Food52 history—needs no introduction.
Inspired by the recipe above, I adapted the same sweet, sharp flavors for my preferred cut of pork: shoulder.
17. BBQ Ribs
Yes, you can (and should!) make baby back ribs in the slow cooker.
What better way to enjoy a hunk of beef chuck roast than to slow-cook, shred, and taco it? Don't forget the guacamole.
"I enjoy this dish because you can start in before you leave for work and your meat will be ready when you get home," writes recipe author Erin Powell. "The slaw takes minutes to assemble so you'll have dinner in no time!"
The real star here is the fresh chickpea salad, which brightens up the rich, hearty chuck roast.
A spice-rubbed roast gets slow-cooked until it's fall-apart tender, then stuffed into poblano peppers with cheese, tomato sauce, and more cheese and baked until bubbly.
The results of this slow-cooker chili are much greater than the very low effort that goes into making it.
The porkiness of this slow-cooker pork is accented with crushed tomatoes, fennel seeds, and red wine—and tastes even better on a bed of polenta.
"If you don't have hard cider on hand, use an additional 12 ounces of regular sweet cider instead," advises recipe author WinnieAb.
Smoked paprika adds just the right note to this slow-cooker pulled pork recipe.
"My friend and I stopped at the Caneel Bay Resort in St. John, USVI for lunch, not knowing that we were able to experience the best sandwich either of us had ever had," recipe author Joy Huang says. "I think it was that perfect balance of salty pulled pork and sweet banana bread plus the crunch from a red cabbage slaw. I tried to hunt down the recipe, but was unsuccessful, so here's what I came up with from memory."
According to Merriam-Webster, choucroute is just another word for sauerkraut, which is "cabbage cut fine and fermented in a brine made of its own juice with salt."
Yep, that's a slow-cooker frittata—and yep, it's good!
When you think about it, it makes so much sense to cook up a shrimp boil in the slow cooker. What better way to ensure soft, tender shrimp and perfectly cooked corn and sausage?
This Genius-approved pot roast has withstood the test of time, and multiple community members have recreated it successfully in the Crock-Pot. "Made this yesterday in my slow cooker and it was a dream," writes one reviewer.
The late Pierino developed this slow-cooker recipe with inspiration from a Neapolitan-style ragu. But it's the quick and easy preparation that has made it a Food52 classic for many readers.
Did you know you can make a rotisserie chicken in your Crock-Pot? Oh heck yes! Rub down the bird with brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, and lots of salt and pepper and plop in the slow-cooker. Though you’ll have to forgo crispy skin, you can pop the chicken under the broiler for a couple of minutes after slow-cooking for a bit more color.
This Crock-Pot chicken recipe is a one-two punch: soft, perfectly poached meat and the most aromatic broth you'll ever taste.
These sweet and sour meat lollipops get slow-cooked with a few spices, then slathered in a smoky barbecue sauce.
This is another recipe of mine, so allow me to explain myself: I'm convinced that it's the low heat here, along with the full tablespoon of salt (which almost quick-brines it), that contribute to a perfectly cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast.
Contrary to popular belief, you can cook chicken breasts in the slow cooker without it drying out to death.
This recipe is so brilliant to me: We use our slow cookers for all of the obvious things (braises, stews, and soups). But why not for a huge vat of oil that confits meat?
This is, arguably, contributing writer Posie (Harwood) Brien's signature Food52 recipe.
This recipe is a quick, comforting, modern spin on a very classic Greek dish called yiouvetsi.
Crock-Pot lentil soup, but make it Greek.
Columnist Rebecca Firkser makes a case for 1) not peeling your squash and 2) not cutting it either (at least until after you've cooked it whole in the slow cooker).
42. Black Beans
Keep this one in your back pocket for tonight and every night.
The ingredient list here might look long, but the active cooking is bafflingly minimal. (You just need an immersion blender.)
This slow-cooker soup is absolutely loaded with veggies, spices, and legumes.
Sometimes you just need to slurp your dinner.
Too often when we talk about Crock-Pot recipes, we leave out one of the most pleasurable meals of the week: brunch. With this recipe, we don't have to.
"This recipe has become one of my favorite ways to bridge the seasons," writes recipe author cookinginvictoria. It offers all of the delicious, warming comforts of a slow-braised dish for those chilly, gray days that are a part of springtime in Victoria, but it also includes some of the springtime bounty that I am starting to see in my garden, such as slightly spicy dandelions and arugula that say to me that warm, sunny weather will soon arrive."
The slow cooker is, contrary to popular belief, the perfect environment for rice to plump up into a sweet, spicy pudding.
Firkser developed this recipe with one idea in mind: Chocolate chip cookies should be gooey, chocolatey, and eaten with nothing but spoons.
The "slow-cooker" aspect of this recipe isn't the cake itself; it's the homemade dulce de leche, which you can make from scratch in a Crock-Pot.
Food52 readers love this recipe and rely on it for quick, effortless breakfasts.
You don't need me to tell you how to keep your queso warm. But with this recipe, you can (and should) start and finish your party in the Crock-Pot.
If you grew up in the South like I did, then you know the impulse to want to stop at the side of the road to buy a bag of hot, salted, boiled peanuts. Now you can make them at home in your Crock-Pot.
The loose-fitting lid on your slow cooker actually makes for better mulled wine—because there's room for the water (and alcohol) to escape, and for the flavors to mellow and develop and concentrate.
Same story with cider. The slow cooker is an ideal vessel to store hot, comforting liquids to get you through the day.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now