By Carolyn Malcoun , June 3, 2014 - 1:14pm
I’ve discovered how to make casual summer entertaining super-easy and infinitely more fun: I simply plug in my slow cooker. I used to spend all day making side dishes and sweating for hours at the grill, not realizing until the end of the party that the only time I interacted with anyone was when they came to get a burger from me.
Now I let my slow cooker do most of the work. If I’m having what feels like the whole neighborhood over, I can free up space on my packed grill by using this handy tool to make one of the main courses. Who doesn’t love fork-tender brisket piled on a sandwich and topped with pickles and garlicky mayo or chicken drumsticks coated in sticky honey-orange sauce? I can also use the slow cooker to prepare great sides like a tangy, warm German potato salad starring fresh fingerling potatoes or Quinoa-Summer Squash Casserole.
My slow cooker also comes in handy when I need to bring a dish to someone else’s party. When I arrive, I plug it back in and use the “warm” function to conveniently hold the food until it’s time to eat. The crock transfers right to the buffet table, which means no extra serving dishes to wash, so cleanup is a snap.
Summer entertaining has never been so easy. I may just have to get a second slow cooker and ditch my grill altogether.
Slow-Cooker German Potato Salad 
This vinegary German-style potato salad recipe is a lighter alternative to typical mayonnaise-based potato salad. And, instead of boiling, the potatoes are simmered in the slow cooker. This healthy slow-cooker potato salad recipe tastes great when served warm or at room temperature. Fingerling potatoes make it especially pretty, but any type of yellow-flesh potato cut into 1-inch pieces will work.
Slow-Cooker Honey-Orange Chicken Drumsticks 
This slow-cooker chicken recipe makes a perfect alternative to standard tomato-based barbecued chicken. Both kids and adults will devour these drumsticks, doused in a honey-sweetened sauce spiked with orange, ginger and garlic.
 Slow-Cooker Quinoa-Summer Squash Casserole 
As this layered slow-cooker squash casserole recipe cooks, the liquid from the tangy tomatillo salsa and summer squash is absorbed by the quinoa, adding tons of flavor to the final dish
Slow-Cooker Baked Beans 
A must-have dish for any backyard barbecue, this classic baked bean recipe is made simple by simmering in a slow-cooker. Spiked with bourbon, maple syrup and molasses, these healthy baked beans have just the right amount of bacon to add a salty touch of smokiness.
Vegetarian Pinto Bean Sloppy Joes 
This vegetarian Sloppy Joe recipe uses pinto beans and a heap of veggies tossed in a sweet, tangy sauce for the filling of a tad messy kid-friendly sandwich you can make in your slow cooker.
Slow-Cooker Brisket Sandwiches with Quick Pickles 
Make your BBQ or cookout easy with this slow-cooker beef brisket recipe. Rauchbier, a smoky German beer, gives this fork-tender brisket real pit-barbecue flavor, but you can use any beer that suits your taste, or even substitute beef broth, to achieve mouthwatering results. While the brisket is cooking, whip up the quick pickle recipe and stir together a garlic mayo to top off the sandwiches.