If my goal here were to improve my skills at naming dishes this one might be a failure. The only thing brisket-like about this dish is the sauce I put on it and you’d only know that if my mother’s brisket was your benchmark for brisket. But when I was searching for a way to make a method for pulled beef in a slow cooker into a recipe, this sauce came to mind and then I couldn’t keep it from you. That would be too mean. So ‘brisket-style slow cooker beef’ it is. As far as titles go it’s not my best.
But as far as recipe development goes, this is nothing to sneeze at. Slow cooker meals are a lifesaver, especially in winter when you get home after dark and all you want it to eat dinner now rather than wait 30 minutes for dinner to be done. The trouble is that often when something has been cooking all day, it loses any zing it might have had when you first put it in. Vegetables get sweet and soft, sauces reduce and get syrupy. Some meals you can doctor up with a hit of vinegar at the end but others have that rich-yet-boring taste of a lot of winter meals.
One thing that doesn’t lose its vinegary kick over long cooking periods is ketchup. A lot of condiments I make myself but ketchup is one of those things that isn’t necessarily better when you make it yourself, especially for the amount of effort that goes into it. When the mood strikes I might make a vinegary tomato jam that approximates the flavor but when I don’t have it the brisket sauce doesn’t really suffer. It comes out of the oven, or in this case the slow cooker, slightly sweeter but still tangy and spicy from the other ingredients.
Keep the heat on low and you have a lot of flexibility in how long you leave this in to cook. Six hours? Sure. Eight hours? That works. Ten hours? That’s how long it takes me and I haven’t heard any complaints. If you’re lucky enough to have a removable insert in your slow cooker and a fridge large enough to hold it, you can even put this together the night before and hold it in the fridge. It comes together in about 10 minutes in the morning if you chop the onions the night before.* Or make it while you sleep and just store it in the fridge in the morning. Add some pasta or 5-minute rice, and you can keep those take-out menus in the drawer tonight.
Brisket-Style Slow Cooker Beef
Makes enough for 6-8 servings
2-3 lb cross rib roast (alternative cuts include pot roast, English roast, chuck roast, chuck eye roast, arm roast, or shoulder roast)
2 onions, cut into thinly sliced half-moons
1 tsp salt per pound of meat**
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
2 cups ketchup
1 cup stock or water
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp hot sauce of your choice
Trim any excess fat from the roast – what fat remains will melt into the sauce or at least get soft enough to pull apart and you can easily remove the larger pieces later. Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with sliced onions and sprinkle with half the salt. Then place the roast on top of it and sprinkle with the remaining salt, making sure you coat all sides of the meat. In a medium bowl, combine the ketchup, stock/water, garlic powder, paprika, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. Whisk the ingredients together and pour over the roast. Cover the slow cooker and cook for 6-10 hours.
When the meat is cooked to your liking, remove the meat to a bowl and shred it using two forks. At this point you can reduce the sauce in a pot on the stove if you want although I like more sauce in the end. Combine the meat, onions, and sauce and stir to combine. The dish is even better if you let it sit overnight to let the flavors meld. The fat will solidify on top after a night in the fridge. You can scrape it off or just melt it back in when you heat up the leftovers. The finished meat will last for about 10 days in the fridge.
*Seriously, I timed myself when I made and photographed this dish. It took me 20 minutes including peeling and chopping the onions, assembling the ingredients, and setting up photographs. If you chop the onions and stir up the sauce the night before you can split that into two 10 minute tasks.
**I’m generally the one advocating a little extra salt but in this dish, go easy on it. Both the ketchup and the Worcestershire sauce are salty so the final dish will have more than just what you sprinkled on the meat.