You guys, it is HOT outside. Like, heat advisory hot. We've been drawing our shades, seeking out cold bodies of water, and keeping cooking to a minimum. The thought of the open flame on our gas stove or cranking up the oven draws a bead of sweat to my forehead, but I'm really not one to drink a smoothie for dinner. Enter: the slow cooker.

The slow cooker doesn't heat up the house the way an oven does, but still has the power to break down hard-working cuts of meat into succulent fillings for summer's lettuce wraps and tacos. It's my new favorite way to cook in bulk on the hottest days of the year, whether I'm entertaining or planning family meals for the week.

First I want to share a recipe for a melt-in-your mouth brisket perfect for stretching a dollar because its richness goes a long, long way. Just a palmful in a lettuce wrap topped with crunchy veggies is enough to treat your taste buds.

Next is a pork barbecue recipe that's easy to throw together but absolutely brimming with flavor. It most closely relates to Carolina-style BBQ, with just enough sweetness to keep the acidity from overwhelming.

Slow Cooker Asian-Spiced Brisket

3 lb brisket
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 c chicken or beef stock
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
5 cardamom pods
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
Canola or other neutral oil
Salt and pepper

1. Rub both sides of the brisket generously with salt and pepper. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with oil and place over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the brisket and cook until a dark brown crust forms, about 4 minutes on each side. Move the brisket to a plate, add the onion and a pinch of salt to the pan and sauté until translucent. Move the onions to the plate with the brisket.

2. Add the stock to the pan, turn off the heat, and use a wooden spoon to scrape off any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the liquid into the slow cooker, add the cinnamon star anise, cardamom, ginger then top with the brisket and onions. Cook on low for 8 hours.

3. Move the brisket (and onions, although they will largely be unrecognizable) to a large bowl and use two forks to shred it into bite-size pieces. Strain the liquid from the slow cooker into a medium saucepan over high heat and boil until reduced by half, or 10-15 minutes. Pour over the brisket and toss to combine. Serve warm.

How we served it: We froze half of the cooked meat and served the other half to 6 adults and 2 babies as lettuce wraps. Wash and dry leaves from 2 heads of Bibb lettuce and serve with sliced poblano peppers, orange bell peppers, sliced green onions, and lime wedges. Sour cream would be nice here too.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork BBQ

3 lb pork shoulder
1 c barbecue sauce
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1-2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

1. The night before cooking, add the pork shoulder barbecue sauce, and cider vinegar to a gallon-size zip-top bag. Seal the bag, use your fingers to evenly distribute the sauce over the pork, and move to marinate in the fridge overnight.

2. The next day, move the entire contents of the zip-top back to the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.

3. Move the pork to a large bowl and use two forks to shred it into bite-size pieces. Strain the liquid from the slow cooker into a medium saucepan and boil until reduced by half, or 10-15 minutes. Give the sauce a taste and if it needs some balance (it should be vinegar-y but have a little sweetness) add a tablespoon or two of sugar and boil for another minute to dissolve. Pour over the pork and toss to combine. Serve warm.

How we served it: Again, we froze half of the meat and out of the second half had two dinners (for 2 adults and 1 baby) and lunch for one. Served on warm corn tortillas with coleslaw (recipe below) and hot sauce.

Simple Coleslaw
adapted from Cook with Jamie

1 small head Napa cabbage, cored and shredded
1/2 lb carrots, peeled and shredded
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 c loosely packed parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 c mayonnaise
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together the mayo, lemon juice, and a big pinch each salt and pepper. Add the cabbage, carrots, onion, and parsley, and toss until the dressing is evenly distributed. Serve cold.

How do you beat the heat when preparing summer meals?

Crock Pot Recipes part 3 of 5

1. Slow Cooker Braising by Mrs. Sketchbook
2. Our Frozen Meal Plan by Mrs. Polish
3. Summer Slow Cooker Recipes by Sarah Crowder
4. Slow Cooker Freezer Meals by mrs. wagon
5. Slow Cooker Freezer Meals, Part 2 by mrs. wagon