Summer Slow-Cooking: Slow Cooker + Outdoor Grill = True Love
ICYMI — I am sharing the joy of using a slow cooker as a companion to your outdoor barbecue. This is part two of a three-part series, but don't worry, you can catch up quickly by reading here. We'll wait. You back? Good. Wasn't that cool? Baking in your slow cooker? Who knew, right? But let's set the cobbler aside for a moment and get to our next function of the handy slow cooker in the world of summer barbecues. When I think of outdoor grilling, I think of MEAT. So for my next benefit:
You can precook bone-in or tougher meats for better (and easier!) results on the grill.
Grilling some bone-in meats can be tricky — even simple chicken thighs or drumsticks can be hard to get cooked through without drying the outside layers into a chewy, leathery mess. And some meats outright require a low-and-slow cooking approach, which can be a cumbersome guessing game for those of us without a smoker handy in the backyard. For instance, try grilling baby back ribs without a nice slow precook; the results will likely be inedible. Precooking these meats in the slow cooker will turn those over-charred-on-the-outside drumsticks into perfectly tender drumsticks with perfect hash marks. As for ribs, what is usually an all-day project will become a fast and easy summertime supper — making them totally doable even on a busy weekday!
For the starter recipe, I had to go with ribs. Because you will be amazed at how flavorful and tender these ribs can be with almost no effort at all. At night, you can take five minutes to put the spice rub on the ribs, stick them in the insert and put it all in the fridge. The next morning before work, just plop the whole insert into the cooker, put it on low and you will come home to tender ribs that are a few minutes' char on the grill away from perfection. Note that you can even char these ribs under the broiler if you are reading this in winter or you don't have a grill available to you — still delicious. In fact, want to know a secret? I once made these for my family and came home to find my husband and girls eating these straight from the slow cooker — no extra char! Guess what? Tasty, tasty. (But I do think a few minutes on the grill is still the way to go.)
In any case, try out my perfect Slow-Cooker Baby Back Ribs, and bring ribs back into the summer weekday menu rotation.
To precook chicken thighs or drumsticks: Marinate chicken (if desired), layer into the slow-cooker insert (you may fill it right up), and cook on high for 2 to 3 hours, or on low for 4 to 5 hours. Remove the chicken, and coat with your favorite barbecue sauce or more marinade (or just salt and pepper liberally), and grill on high about 5 minutes per side. (Note: You can precook a day or two in advance if you are entertaining. Keep the drumsticks in the refrigerator until ready to grill.)
To precook ribs or other tough meats: Rub the meat with a salty spice rub of your choice (or see recipe for Slow-Cooker Ribs here), place in the slow-cooker insert (a large slow cooker works best for bulky ribs) along with 1/4 cup or so liquid (broth, wine, beer, water). Don't worry if the meat fills the whole insert, as long as the lid rests fully flat. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours (or on high for 4 to 5 hours). Remove the meat from the slow cooker, coat with barbecue sauce (optional) and grill until a nice char develops, about 5 minutes per side. (Note: You can precook the meat a day or two in advance and keep in the refrigerator until ready to grill.)