17 cozy comfort-food dishes you can make in a slow cooker, according to chefs

author holding bowl of beef stew
Beef stew is an easy and delicious winter meal you can make in a slow cooker.

  • A slow cooker or Crock-Pot can be one of the most valuable yet underutilized tools in your kitchen.
  • Insider spoke with chefs and cookbook authors about their favorite comforting slow-cooker meals.
  • From stews to simple soups and roasted meats, many cozy comfort foods can be made in a slow cooker.

Short ribs become extra tender when slow cooked.

slow cooker short rib tacos with red onion on a plate
Short rib tacos.

Short ribs are one of cookbook author Kim Laidlaw’s favorite things to make in a Crock-Pot, and they’re a go-to on a chilly winter day.

In her cookbook, “Everyday Slow Cooking: Modern Recipes for Delicious Meals,” Laidlaw gives multiple different recipes for short ribs, and she recommends trying them for a meal featuring other sides.

“If you do them in a slow cooker, then the meat is out of the way,” she told Insider. “Then, you can focus on other side dishes like polenta or risotto.”

Stew is one of those slow-cooker meals you can practically toss in the ingredients for and walk away.

beef stew in a white bowl with a spoon
Beef stew.

Beef, turkey, or chicken stew is a perfect stick-to-your-bones meal during the cold winter and fall months.

Beef stew is really nice in the slow cooker,” Laidlaw saw. “That’s something I grew up on with the slow cooker, and it’s just as good today.”

But stew is also hassle-free.

“Slow cookers are perfect in the winter for soups and stews,” Laidlaw said. “The best part is that you can set it in the morning and walk away.”

Corn chowder is another simple meal you can make with a few inexpensive ingredients.

finished corn chowder
Corn chowder.

If you make this chowder in the fall, you can use in-season fresh corn as is suggested in this celebrity chef-approved Martha Stewart recipe. However, you can also take the easy route by choosing canned corn from the store. The chowder is flavorful yet light and uses heartwarming ingredients like heavy cream, bacon, and baby red potatoes.

Brisket is another great meat to make in a slow cooker.

slices of beef brisket

Laidlaw’s recipe for slow-cooked braised brisket includes garlic, onion, dry red wine, carrot, and chicken or beef stock, with a chimichurri sauce.

“Brisket is a natural partner for the slow cooker, as a gentle braise renders it meltingly tender,” Laidlaw writes in “Everyday Slow Cooking.”

Ribs can also be made in a Crock-Pot.

baby back ribs on a grey board with cucumber and red onion
Spare ribs.

“Ribs do really well in the slow cooker, and you can always stick them under the broiler in the end to crisp them up,” Laidlaw told Insider.

Bolognese sauce is another great way to utilize your Crock-Pot.

spaghetti bolognese in a white bowl

“Bolognese is great because you can cook it for a long time,” Laidlaw told Insider. “You just have to remember that the sauce doesn’t evaporate the same as it would if you were doing it on the stove. You definitely need to compensate and put less liquid in the pot if you’re using a slow cooker.”

You can also make macaroni and cheese in a slow cooker.

cooked mac and cheese in slow cooker topped with breadcrumbs
Martha Stewart slow cooker macaroni and cheese.

Celebrity chef Martha Stewart’s recipe for slow cooker macaroni and cheese is not only easy to make but super delicious and perfect for the fall and winter seasons.

“It is important to use pungent cheeses, such as sharp cheddar, mixed with a little Gruyere or pecorino Romano for extra bite, since the white sauce and pasta will absorb a lot of flavor,” Stewart writes.

Chicken stock and broth are two kitchen staples you can make in a Crock-Pot.

Chicken broth in a jar with label
Chicken broth.

Hugh Acheson’s slow-cooker chicken broth is pretty simple — all you’ll need is a whole chicken, salt, garlic cloves, white onions, carrots, celery, and a few seasonings to taste.

You can find the full recipe for Acheson’s chicken broth in his book, “The Chef and the Slow Cooker.”

You can also make chicken soup in a slow cooker.

thai chicken soup in a white bowl on a grey background
Thai chicken soup.

“A simple soup with Thai chilis, coconut milk, and lime is just wickedly good,” Acheson said. Or, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, Acheson also said a slow cooker is a perfect way to make delicious chicken and dumplings.

Meatballs are another warming meal to make in a slow cooker.

meatballs and red sauce in a white slow cooker

Acheson points out that not only are meatballs, like the veal meatballs he includes in his book, easy and delicious to make, but they’re a comforting, kid-friendly option you can make in a slow cooker.

“Slow cookers are not necessarily the best tool for cooking for one — they work so much better for nourishing an entire family,” he said.

Acheson said his go-to slow-cooker meal on a winter’s day is lentil soup with a little sour cream.

lentil soup in a wooden bowl with sour cream
Lentil soup.

“I usually go for something that won’t take too long,” Acheson said. “Usually, I go for a lentil soup with Tuscan kale and a little sour cream and herbs on top. To me, that’s the type of food you want as you’re watching the snow fall down.”

Acheson also points out that large batches of soup are great for the next day.

Braised and pulled chicken is another great way to utilize your Crock-Pot.

Kimchi Braised Chicken in a white bowl
Kimchi braised chicken.

One of the benefits of using a slow cooker is starting with a basic protein and jazzing it up.

From Mexican food-inspired spices to Indian simmer sauces, there are tons of ways to transform simple braised or pulled chicken dishes into something show-stopping.

Pork shoulder is a slow-cooker staple you can use in a number of dishes.

pulled pork sandwiches
Pulled pork sliders.

“One dish I think is so versatile is pork shoulder in a slow cooker with broth and a little salt and pepper,” Laidlaw said. “I just braise that and then you can turn into so many different things.”

Laidlaw explained that using a pork shoulder, you can make everything from pulled pork sliders to carnitas tacos or burritos, or something more salty and sweet.

You can also prepare a leg of lamb in the slow cooker, but you might want to sear it first.

leg of lamb with thyme
Leg of lamb.

“Leg of lamb is so good as it breaks down in the slow cooker,” Acheson said. “Cooking in the slow cooker and then finishing another way is going to make sure your meat is at its best. Whether that means re-searing the meat or throwing it under the broiler, you might want to think about other steps to really finish off your meal.”

Laidlaw added, “Recipes that have you throw everything in without any prep ahead are not nearly as good or as flavorful as the ones that do. Taking ten minutes to brown the meat before you put it in or getting the onions started goes a long way to making your meals more delicious.”

You can also make poached or braised fish in the slow cooker.

Catfish Stew in a pot
Catfish stew.

“It’s really about rethinking recipes and figuring out how to do it in the slow cooker,” Acheson said.

One of the “best recipes” Acheson said he uses from his book is one for a braised catfish stew.

“It’s got this long-cooking, beautiful broth that’s just a vision at the end,” he told Insider. “It’s got chilies, peppers, and mace — big flavors. It just works perfectly. When slow cooking, you really want to choose a dish that works well simmering potentially all day.”

Goat shoulder is another surprisingly delicious meal you can make in a Crock-Pot.

goat shoulder with greens on a grey plate
Goat shoulder.

“These days, goat shoulder doesn’t have that gamey taste it might have had before,” Acheson told Insider. “When you’re talking about cooking a large piece of meat, a slow cooker is a great place to start.”

You can even make a comforting dessert like cheesecake in a Crock-Pot.

slow cooker cheesecake with blackberries

One of the desserts Laidlaw includes in her book is for gingersnap-brandy cheesecake, which would be perfect as a treat on a cold day or even a holiday dessert.

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