These gradual cooker recipes make summer season dinners a snap

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You might associate your slow cooker with warming soups and stews for winter and autumn, but did you know that this device can also be a lifesaver when you’re getting ready for your next barbecue or garden party? The “set it and forget it” nature of a slow cooker means you can start with meat for tacos the night before, make fantastic baked beans as a side dish, or even chilli to take your hot dogs to the next level.

Before you begin, check out these 11 slow cooker tips and tricks, including how to get your meat to room temperature before throwing it in. Then read on for inspiration that will make you the star of your next summer party (and even leave you with a little time to sip a seasonal drink and socialize!).

Tacos to the rescue

Tacos are a perfect party meal as guests can add their own toppings. Make the meat ahead of time to take the stress out of the conversation.

Slow cooker chicken tinga

Do this in your slow cooker for tacos or stuffed peppers that are both healthy and flavorful.

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tinga from Kevin Curry

Slow cooker Tex-Mex chicken and beans

This simple recipe from Martha Stewart can be topped with sour cream, finely chopped jalapeƱo, hot sauce and tortilla strips or chips to serve.

Slow-Cooker Tex-Mex Chicken and Beans by Martha Stewart

Pulled pork for victory

Pulled Pork is the meat slow cooker dream it’s made of, and it’s so versatile that you can use it in a wide variety of tasty recipes.

4-ingredient slow cooker Kalua Pulled Pork

Pulled pork is a star in the slow cooker. This recipe only takes 15 minutes to prepare, so you can enjoy some summer fun and get back to a filling meal.

4-ingredient slow cooker Kalua Pulled Pork by Dani Spies

Siri Daly’s slow cooker pulled pork

Serve this in a sandwich and make Siri’s crispy coleslaw to top it off!

Siri Daly’s slow cooker Pulled Pork by Siri Daly

Slow cooker pulled pork

Pulled pork is great for party prep as it basically cooks itself – toss it with your favorite barbecue sauce for a meal everyone will want to eat.

The story goes on

Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork by Casey Barber

Chili is for the dogs

There’s nothing wrong with a hot dog with mustard and relish, but you’ll impress your guests with homemade chilli for their dogs – just make sure you provide extra napkins!

Slow cooker beef and beer chilli

A chipotle pepper gives this dish a subtle, smoky spiciness, while the lager mellows things out. Perfect with some cheese or hot dogs.

Slow-Cooker Beef and Beer Chili by Maggie Shi

Slow cooker turkey chili

Easily feed a crowd this healthy turkey chilli, served over rice or, of course, a hot dog straight from the grill.

Slow cooker turkey chilli from Rui Correia

Beans are another great staple for many dishes that you can prepare in the slow cooker. Put the beans and water or stock in the slow cooker and cook for 3 to 6 hours on high or 6 to 10 hours on low. Black-eyed peas will be on the shorter end of this time frame while chickpeas will be on the longer end. After about 5 hours, check your beans every half hour until they have reached the level of tenderness you want. Serve them in your favorite recipe or as a side dish.

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