Slow cooker recipes that will make your life easier

Getting dinner on the table can be a chore — especially when you’re trying to time everything just right to make sure all of the food is ready at the same time. Yet if you have a slow cooker, life is so much easier.

Slow cookers can make a wide range of foods. In many cases, the results are better than if you made the recipe on the stovetop or in the oven. There are sides like mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, as well as sauces and toppings like cheese-stuffed meatballs. And let’s not forget all of the delicious soups and chilis like tortilla soup and white chicken chili. Using a slow cooker can give you more kitchen space when you’re making a big meal without any sacrifice on flavor. Plus, there’s the major upside that most slow cooker recipes are set-it-and-forget-it recipes that involve little prep work.

Regardless of how much time you have to get dinner ready, these easy and delicious slow cooker recipes will make your next meal a snap (and, importantly, have people coming back for seconds).

Slow cooker mashed potatoes

Slow cooker mashed potatoes recipe

The joy of a warm bowl of mashed potatoes can be too easily ruined due to timing. If you cook this popular side dish in a slow cooker, you can make sure that warm, perfectly cooked potatoes are ready whenever you are without any last-minute adjustments. This slow cooker mashed potato recipe is easy to make, the number of dishes you dirty is minimal, and the result is a perfectly textured dish. Best of all, using a slow cooker means you can even make the mashed potatoes a day ahead of time.

All you need for the version of the recipe is unsalted butter, sour cream, and half and half, though you can add salt, pepper, chives, and garlic for more flavor. Then, of course, there’s the namesake ingredient: potatoes. The recipe doesn’t need too much added moisture to stay moist, so Yukon gold and other yellow-flesh potatoes are the best option in this case rather than starchy Idaho (also called russet) potatoes or dense red-skinned potatoes.

In terms of equipment, all you need is a slow cooker and a potato masher (which you can swap for a potato ricer, food mill, or electric stand mixer if you don’t have one in your kitchen arsenal). The potatoes stay tasty and warm in the slow cooker for up to four hours, or you can store them in the fridge for up to five days before warming them back up in your slow cooker on the low setting.

Slow cooker white chicken chili

Slow cooker white chicken chili recipe

Few foods can warm like chili does on a winter day. It’s all the better with a no-fuss slow cooker recipe. This white chicken chili recipe uses chicken, onion, garlic, corn, sour cream (or cream cheese if that’s what you prefer), and Great Northern beans — a nutty type of white bean that holds up to slow cook times and can replace styles like navy beans or cannellini beans. The prep work for this recipe is kept to a minimum, but the payoff is large.

The main work (if you can call it that) for the chili is dicing the garlic and onions. From there, it’s just a matter of adding the chicken breasts, chicken broth, and other ingredients straight into the slow cooker. If you’d rather use a different cut of chicken, feel free to do so. Just opt for boneless and skinless pieces because it’s much easier to shred toward the end of the recipe just before serving.

Like other types of chilis, you can throw in pretty much whatever types of spices you like. Garlic salt and chili powder are choices you can trust will work, but feel free to get creative. After shredding the chicken, top with something bright green like cilantro, green onions, green chilis, or jalapenos along with a dollop of sour cream and cheddar cheese for both a pop of color and added flavor. The hardest part is waiting for the chili to finish.

Slow cooker green bean casserole

Slow cooker green bean casserole recipe

Green bean casserole is a classic side dish that complements any big meal — especially during family gatherings when turkey or ham is the main dish. The traditional recipe in the casserole dish is easy enough to make, but you can make things even easier on yourself — and free up some space in the oven — by putting it in a slow cooker.

This slow cooker green bean casserole recipe is from Laura Sampson, the recipe developer, food photographer, and blogger behind the blog Little House Big Alaska. The recipe uses frozen green beans (fresh works as well, but why not make things easier with the always available frozen ones?), evaporated milk, salt, and crispy fried onions for the topping. You’ll also need cream of mushroom soup — just be sure to use a condensed soup, which is thicker than the ready to eat, because the recipe gets thinned out a little by the milk.

Unlike some slow cooker recipes that take little to no prep work, you’ll have to put in a touch of elbow grease before turning on the heat. For example, you’ll need to thoroughly whisk the cream of mushroom soup, evaporated milk, and salt to make sure the consistency comes out right.

There’s one big caveat to this recipe: It doesn’t have that same classic look as green bean casseroles cooked and served in the same casserole dish. But you can always transfer it over for aesthetics if you don’t mind washing another dish.

Slow cooker homemade marinara

Slow cooker homemade marinara recipe

Your slow cooker isn’t just good for making whole meals. It can be used to make sauces as well, which frees up some of that precious space on your stovetop.

This slow cooker homemade marinara recipe is the perfect sauce for dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, chicken Parmesan, baked ziti, and anything else you douse in marinara. Going the homemade route means you know exactly what’s in the sauce. That means no extra additives or extra sugar. And when you use a slow cooker, you don’t have to worry about homemade being a whole lot of extra work — this recipe only takes about five minutes of prep.

In terms of ingredients, marinara is something that is best when highly customized to your taste. Still, you’ll need some basics: garlic (canned works, though fresh garlic tastes better), onions, and tomatoes. Quality canned tomatoes from brands like Centi and Mutti are good choices. If you opt for fresh in-season tomatoes, you’ll need to remove the skin first. Whatever is next is up to you, but some good options include garlic powder, sweet paprika, fennel seeds, bay leaves, dried chili peppers, basil, thyme, cumin, marjoram, and, of course, salt and pepper.

The recipe takes around eight hours on low or four hours on high to cook. As soon as the timer rings, there’s the option of serving the sauce chunky — meaning you have no extra steps — or using an immersion blender for a smooth and velvety sauce.

Slow cooker chicken tortilla soup

Slow cooker chicken tortilla soup recipe

Prepare to add another chicken soup to your rotation of delicious slow cooker soups. This slow cooker chicken tortilla soup recipe uses chicken and a few canned and packaged ingredients for a no-fuss lunch or dinner — or breakfast (it’s just that good).

The actual "cooking" in the recipe is kept to a minimum. It involves spraying some nonstick cooking spray into your slow cooker, lightly sauteing onions (which is optional but makes sure the onions have a nice sweet flavor), and shredding the chicken with two forks after it’s done cooking. The only other ingredients just have to be dumped in thanks to pre-made chicken stock, canned corned, canned diced green chilis, canned salsa, and pre-mixed taco seasoning.

As with all helpful simple recipes, this one is easy to customize. The taco seasoning can be swapped out for your own blend made with cumin, red chili pepper, oregano, and garlic powder, for example. Heat lovers can also up the ante with the peppers of their choice if the canned green chilis are too mild.

One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have to be near your slow cooker, as the chicken and seasoning is put in at one point, and then the rest of the ingredients are added two hours later (or four hours later on the low setting). Once it’s done, a topper of cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips is all you need.

Slow cooker baked apples

Slow cooker baked apples recipe

Savory dishes and low-simmered sauces aren’t the only foods that slow cookers are good for. Anyone with a sweet tooth will be happy to know that sweet and satisfying desserts can easily be made in a slow cooker as well. Case in point: baked apples stuffed with a sweet oat filling.

This slow cooker baked apples recipe uses apples, butter, cinnamon, apple pie sauce, vanilla extract, and maple syrup (or brown sugar if you’re out of maple syrup and aren’t feeling another trip to the store). In terms of apples, HoneyCrisp and Granny Smith are the preferred varieties, but if you can’t find those, larger styles with a good texture stand up to low-and-slow cooking times the best.

The main prep for this recipe involves carefully coring the apples, which is more than manageable with the right scoring technique and paring knife. It can take a little practice to make sure the bottom stays intact to hold all the filling, however. Making the filling is as simple as melting butter and stirring in the ingredients. And then all that’s left to do is wait — whether you eat dinner or relax during that time is up to you. After cooking for about three hours, a delectable dessert is ready to serve (a cooling ice cream or whipped cream topping is an optional, but suggested, extra).

Slow cooker mozzarella stuffed meatballs

Slow cooker mozzarella stuffed meatballs recipe

Slow cookers are a reliable kitchen tool for those of us who recognize quality Italian (and Italian-American) recipes take time. All you need for proof is this slow cooker mozzarella-stuffed meatballs recipe.

This recipe uses a protein — turkey is one option for people who like lean meat, though ground beef or ground pork works as well — string cheese, breadcrumbs, and basic spices. It also calls to cook the meatballs in a tomato sauce (this recipe uses canned tomatoes, oregano, and garlic salt, though the marinara recipe above is another option).

Though this cheese-filled recipe is a little more involved than your standard slow cooker recipe, it’s not by any means difficult. The few extra steps other than waiting for the slow cooker to work its magic include shaping the meatballs with little bits of string cheese and the optional step to broil the meatballs beforehand to give them a slight crust. So while there’s only around 30 minutes of prep time for this recipe (and an additional four hours of waiting for the slow cooker), there is some stuffing and light cooking involved. Still, the sauce and the meatballs all cook together, making it easy to simply pour over your spaghetti and get to eating.

Spicy slow cooker chili Colorado

Spicy slow cooker chili Colorado recipe

In Texas, Tex-Mex recipes are as ubiquitous as the Texas flag. This spicy slow cooker chili Colorado (also known as "red chili") is a recipe you can do from home no matter where you’re at — just don’t be confused by the "Colorado" in the name of this Tex-Mex recipe.

Essentially, this recipe is a stew of beef in a thick and spicy sauce. Rather than the ground beef that’s found in many types of chili, this recipe uses small cuts that are cooked in a sauce that puts rehydrated dried chilies front and center. Three dried chilies are at the heart of chili Colorado: New Mexico Chilies, ancho chilies, and chilies de arbol (a spicy pepper also known as bird’s beak chili). These are pureed and then combined with onion, garlic, oregano, chili powder, cumin, and beef broth for a satisfying sauce that slowly and steadily cooks into the beef in your slow cooker.

It takes about three hours to finish cooking this recipe. Once it’s done, it’s the centerpiece of a meal when served alongside brown rice with some optional queso fresco, avocado, and tomato on top.

3-ingredient Crock Pot pork chops

3-ingredient Crock Pot pork chops recipe

Pork chops typically fall into the category of pan-fried or grilled in terms of cooking style. The main downside is it’s far too easy to end up with dry pork chops when using either of those methods. Cooking your pork chops in a slow cooker results in chops that are just as good without having to worry that you’re going to turn your piece of meat into the Sahara desert.

This three-ingredient slow cooker pork chop recipe leans on a simple cut of meat and some pre-mixed seasonings to create a dinner that’s as delicious as it is easy to make. First and foremost, there’s the pork chops themselves — bone-in pork chops are the best option for the most moist final dish, whether you opt for the inch-thick pork chops or the double-cut. From there, a basic seasoning (ranch seasoning is ideal, though a condensed soup like cream of mushroom works as well) and a gravy (store-bought chicken gravy is more than adequate) is all you need. The canned and pre-mixed additions keep the recipe simple, though there’s always the option to add your own proportions of salt, garlic, onion, dill, chives, and parsley if you have the time and you’re feeling adventurous.

The slow cooker does the rest once those three ingredients are added in. Just cook for six to eight hours, and you have the easiest meal you could ask for.

Slow cooker potato soup

slow cooker potato soup recipe

Some recipes are all about the main event where, subsequently, eaters typically pay little attention to the toppings. Take steak, for example, which usually outshines anything placed on or near the meat. Others are all about the interplay between the main ingredients and toppings. This slow cooker potato soup recipe is the latter, with a delicious taste thanks to the interplay of flavors between the soup itself and whatever you choose to put on top.

But first, of course, you’ve got to have a good base. Chef and food writer Laura Sampson, who runs the blog Little House Big Alaska, created this hearty soup, which only takes about 10 minutes of prep time before letting the whole thing sit for around eight hours. It’s the perfect recipe to start before work and enjoy by dinnertime. The ingredients can all store for a long time and are more than easy to find at your average grocery store, including frozen hash browns, chicken broth, evaporated milk, cream of mushroom soup, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper.

For the oh-so-important toppings, Sampson suggests picking your favorites of any of the following (or all of the following): onions, chives, sour cream, shredded cheese, leftover chopped vegetables, crispy bits of chopped meat, or croutons.

This soup is a great hearty appetizer when served in small personal bowls, but it can also be turned into a main course by throwing it into a bread bowl with a side salad.

Slow cooker spaghetti and meatballs

slow cooker spaghetti and meatballs recipe

When it comes to spaghetti and meatballs, it’s all about the sauce. A good homemade sauce can make or break the entire meal. Thankfully, it’s not actually all that difficult to land on the perfect homemade sauce (meatballs included) using a slow cooker.

This slow cooker spaghetti and meatballs recipe from Laura Sampson only takes about 10 minutes of prep time, which really just includes chopping a couple of vegetables and dumping ingredients into the slow cooker. You’ll need about eight hours of waiting for the sauce to finish. Best of all, it’s incredibly hard to mess this recipe up. All you need are diced onions and peppers, a can of crushed tomato pureé, one can of tomato sauce, one tablespoon of tomato paste, and some water. Then come the spices: You’ll need salt, sugar, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, a bay leaf, and red pepper flakes.

For the meatballs, homemade or frozen work. Or, if you’re not feeling meatballs, you can swap in some Italian sausage or other meat or meat substitute.

The approach to the meatballs is similar to the approach for this whole sauce recipe. It’s a little like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but for a sauce instead. If you’re a big garlic fan, feel free to increase the amount of garlic. The same goes for spice and red pepper flakes.