7 tips for cooking in a heatwave

It's hot hot hot, but you've still got to eat. Here are our top tips for filling your stomach without making your house even warmer than it already is

Lhasa 1.2m x 1.8m Outdoor Rug in Orange & Violet from Cuckooland
(Image credit: Cuckooland)

They say if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. But what do you do when your stomach is growling and the kitchen is hotter than Hades? Cooking in a heatwave is a necessary evil, so we are here to make sure you get through the next week or so without having to live off crisps, fruit and choc ices.

It goes without saying that the oven is out. A quick 10-minute blast of a shop-bought pizza will still leave you sweating, because only a fool wouldn't pre-heat the oven for at least another 10 minutes beforehand. And you probably don't want to be standing at a hob for any length of time either. What's more, anything requiring too much exertion (I'm looking at you, manual spiralizer) won't sound appealing – even if you do it with one of our top-pick fans aimed at you. 

So, we have put together a handy list of heatwave cooking tips. Don't worry – it's not all about salad...

1. Take your cooking outside

Dining al fresco is one of the joys of summer and a heatwave is a great excuse to have barbecued food for dinner every night. Firing up a charcoal barbecue does take a little time, but when it is too hot to do much and too sunny to be indoors, spending your evening in the garden with the family while your food cooks is time well spent. A gas barbecue will cut the time it takes for dinner to be ready, but if you only have coal make it the job of whoever gets home first to start the barbie. 

Prawns, halloumi and chicken skewers will all be ready in less than 15 minutes (halloumi is more like five), so send someone inside to throw together a salad while you handle the grilling. You can find our favourite barbecue recipes in our guide, and don't miss our tips on how to barbecue right to get your cooking times spot on, too.

Harlequin fabrics used to created a twilight al fresco dining area

No garden furniture? No problem. Create a Bedouin-style outdoor dining area in any corner of your garden with some crates or pallets, a few rolls of fabric, rugs and plenty of throw cushions. We love this dreamy scene from Harlequin

(Image credit: Harlequin)

2. Posh picnics

It isn't all about barbecued food when eating outside. Sandwiches, an antipasti platter and other picnic food are perfect no-cook nibbles. Make it feel less like a packed lunch by upping your sandwich game (filling ideas below) and making an occasion of it by jazzing up your outdoor living area with some cushions and a few strings of fairy lights. 

A lot of us associate dining outside with a few too many glasses of chilled vino, so if you have work in the morning, throw together some mocktails to enjoy on the side (when we say mocktail we mean some lemonade with a splash of elderflower cordial, mint and a few slices of cucumber...).

Our favourite no-cook sandwich fillings:

Upgrade your sliced white to a lovely sourdough bloomer (or artisanal bread of choice) and make sandwiches for dinner a treat.

  • Mozzarella, pesto and sundried tomato
  • Prawn and avocado
  • Hummus, grated carrot & beetroot relish and salad
  • New York Deli (pastrami, mayo, Emmental cheese, sauerkraut and mustard on rye bread)
  • Smoked salmon, cream cheese and rocket

3. Dust off the slow cooker

When we say slow cooker, you would be forgiven for thinking hearty stews and winter casseroles, but there are loads of summer favourites you can make in one, too. A slow cooker does not fill your kitchen with heat and steam so whack it on before you go to work and come home to something tasty – effortless dinner in no time at all.

Pulled pork, one-pot pasta dishes or perhaps a refreshing pea and mint soup are great slow cooker meals for summer. Not got a slow cooker? Find one in our list of the best slow cookers.

best slow cookers: WAN 1.5L SLOW COOKER RETRO

This neat little 1.5L slow cooker from Swan takes up barely any counter space

(Image credit: Swan)

4. Or invest in an Instant Pot

Remember grandma's pressure cooker (and the explosion horror stories)? Well the Instant Pot is the safer and more advanced pressure cooker for the 21st century. It adjusts the heat as required, won't terrify you by hissing every few minutes and – of course – it cooks everything from stews to 'roast' chicken in no time. Like a slow cooker, it can will cook dinner while you are busy, without emitting too much heat. Unlike a slow cooker, it is a little bit more versatile and can give you oven roasted-style food without the heat.

It can also be used to cook rice (bye bye hob heat) and some models can be used to make yoghurt.

4. Relive your student days and turn to the microwave

There is a bit of snobbery about microwave food, but when it is too hot to make everything from scratch, we certainly aren't judging you. Our top recommendation would be to enjoy all the leftover lasagne, chilli and other batch-cooked wonders you have in your freezer – but if you haven't got such joys to hand (or a time machine to go back to pre-heatwave days to make them), there are other recipes you can make in your humble microwave.

Pretty much any egg dish can be microwaved. Poached and scrambled are the obvious candidates, or what about a microwavable omelette? Put a few veggies in a microwavable dish or mug, top with cheese and cook for two minutes. 

You can also make simple pasta dishes (microwave mac and cheese? Yes please!) and if you want to skip to something sweet, mug cakes, cookies and brownies.

Russell Hobbs Aura RHM2079A 20 Litre Microwave

(Image credit: Russell Hobbs)

5. Try a roasting shortcut

If you absolutely must have something roasted in the oven, do what you can to cut the cooking time so that that hot oven is not on for too long.

  • Chop veg for roasting really small so that it cooks quicker.
  • Start baked potatoes or wedges off in the microwave. Cook until soft, coat with oil, season and blast on a high heat to brown.
  • Spatchcock your chicken to halve the roasting time.
  • Cook cubed meats on a metal skewer to heat them faster.

Cusinart easy prep pro

(Image credit: Cusinart )

6. Whizz up a treat with a food processor

The best food processors and blenders make all manner of cooking tasks much quicker and easier. Use one to speed up any chopping or grating you have to do, or make the most of the blending tool and have a go at homemade spreads and dips.

Great with tortilla chips, on bread or to go with crudités, any of the following can make a fine meal and are a little lighter on the stomach when the heat is making you lose your appetite. Add a side salad for more roughage.

  • Classic guacamole: blend garlic, avocados, red onion, chilli and a couple of cherry tomatoes with olive oil and lime juice for this Mexican favourite. Best served with tortilla chips or on toast with an egg.
  • Smoked mackerel spread: whizz together smoked mackerel (the cooked type you can buy chilled or tinned), crème fraîche and a drop of lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper and finely chopped spring onions. Spread on toasted sourdough.
  • Hummus: tinned chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and seasoning make this Middle Eastern staple. Customise with jarred roast peppers, hot sauce, or any combination of herbs and spices and serve with carrot sticks, cucumber and toasted pita bread.
  • Whipped feta: tangy feta and greek yoghurt or crème fraîche make this creamy spread. Serve on bread with seasoned tomatoes.
  • Beetroot and horseradish dip: blend cooked beetroot (the vacuum packed kind is perfect) with horseradish and crème fraîche. This is a nice dip for falafel or fresh bread.
  • Broadbean and mint: blitz broadbeans (blanched from frozen or fresh) with crème fraîche and fresh mint or mint sauce. Spread on toasted sourdough or use as a dip.

7. Cerviche, cure or carpaccio for no-cook meat and fish dishes

You can still enjoy meat and fish without cooking it with heat. Cerviche is a Peruvian dish, that uses acid such as lemon or lime juice to 'cook' raw fish. Alternatively (and this will take longer) you can cure fish yourself using salt and sugar for homemade gravlax flavoured with dill. 

Or, don't cook it at all. Carpaccio is very finely sliced raw beef, and tartare can be made with steak or tuna. Of course, you need to buy the best quality meat or fish available (ask for sushi grade tuna) and do it on the day you buy so it is as fresh as possible. Pregnant women should avoid uncooked meat or fish.

Looking for more recipe ideas: