Updated December 17, 2012! I just made this old favorite in the slow cooker and loved it, so I thought I should bump the recipe up on the blog. Below you can read my old post from 2011, or scroll down for my new preferred method, as well as the oven version.
This was my first brisket ever, and I loved it. I had always thought of this cut as a flabby, frumpy roast, but it's far from it. For starters, this is the meat that's most often the choice for Texas barbecue. It's popular with slow cooker fans too, but I wanted a simple, oven-braised dish. What I found was that this cut of meat is highly forgiving, very lean, and perfect for low and slow roasting.
There are many, many recipes for braised brisket. It seems that everyone has their own favorite touch or recipe that they consider the best. I was focused on making the meat tender and moist with a savory, slightly tangy red sauce. I equated brisket to pork butt (scroll down for recipe), which is amazing after several hours in the oven wrapped in a tight foil packet. Both are tough cuts of meat that need slow, moist cooking to become tender.
After reading a ton of recipes, I went with what was probably the simplest one: you smother the roast with onions and celery and braise it in beer and Heinz chili sauce. It is so easy. The recipe comes from fiction writer Stacey Ballis, who I interviewed a while back about her latest book, Good Enough to Eat. The book includes this recipe, as well as the one for her excellent banana-chocolate chip muffins.
I also discovered an essential (in my mind) key to the brisket-making process, which Stacey and many other recipe writers (including the people at Cook's Illustrated) agree with: Cook the brisket a day ahead. Since the cooking process is so easy and requires minimal hands-on time, this is very do able. Refrigerating the brisket in its roasting pan overnight allows it to keep absorbing flavor from the cooking liquid, AND it allows the fat to harden, so you can easily skim it off. You want to remove all that fat because you're going to turn those juices into a wonderful sauce (don't worry, it's simple). Furthermore, it's very easy to trim the fat from a chilled brisket, and you'll be able to slice it without the meat falling apart, like it would when hot. Finally, you'll also get the opportunity to smother the sliced meat in your wonderful sauce and reheat it in the oven, so that every bit of meat is covered in goodness.
It's a great thing to cook, and I love that the recipe isn't complicated in the least. So, how do YOU cook your brisket? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
Slow Cooker Brisket with Beer Barbecue Sauce
Very Loosely adapted from Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis
Look for “flat cut” or “first cut” brisket; it’s the leanest part of the brisket, and seems to be what is predominantly sold at markets. I like a mild-tasting lager for this recipe (I used PBR). If you only have 12 oz. beers that’s fine; just use an extra 1/2 cup of water.
Serves 6 to 8
4 1/2 pounds (approximate) beef brisket, trimmed of as much visible fat as you want
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste or chili powder
1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
12 ounces bottle Heinz chili sauce
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
16 ounces lager beer
16 ounces lager beer
2 medium onions, sliced thick
4 celery ribs, peeled and chopped
4 celery ribs, peeled and chopped
1. Cut the brisket into 3 pieces, cutting against the grain. Rub the meat all over with salt, pepper, cayenne or chili power and oregano. Don’t over do it with the salt, as the chili sauce will bring some salt to the mix.
2. Heat half the oil in a Dutch oven or large, heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Add one or two pieces of the brisket, whatever can comfortably fit without crowding, and sear until both sides are browned. Transfer to slow cooker and repeat with remaining brisket, adding more oil as necessary (meat does not need to sit in slow cooker in a single layer). Add beer to Dutch oven and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the pot. Add to slow cooker.
3. Add chili sauce and garlic to slow cooker. Fill the jar of chili sauce about halfway with hot tap water, close the bottle and shake vigorously to loosen remaining sauce; add to slow cooker (liquid may not completely cover the meat, but it should cover the highest piece about two-thirds of the way; if not, add more water). Place onions and celery over the meat. Cook on HIGH for 4 hours, or until meat is slightly tender when pierced with a fork, but not falling apart. After 2 hours, reverse positions of the pieces of brisket, so that any piece on top is now on the bottom.
4. Transfer meat to a cutting board and cool. Slice against the grain and transfer to a 2 1/2 to 3-quart baking dish. With a slotting spoon, scoop out about half the onions and spread over the meat. Pour the cooking liquid through a strainer into a large bowl, reserving solids. If making at least 6 hours ahead of time, cover loosely and refrigerate until fat separates and forms a solid layer. Skim it off with a large spoon. If you don’t have time to wait, use a fat separator or place the bowl in a bigger bowl or roasting pan filled with ice water. Stir occasionally until very cold, then place bowl into freezer until fat solidifies.
5. Transfer cooking liquid to a medium saucepan and add reserved solids (onions, garlic and celery). Puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened to desired consistency (I aim for a thick gravy). Pour as much as you want over the meat and onions in the baking dish and reserve the leftovers for serving or another use. May be done up to this point one day ahead.
5. To reheat and serve: Preheat oven to 250 F if meat and sauce are at room temperature or hot. If meat and sauce are cold, preheat oven to 300 F. Cover baking dish with foil and bake until heated through, 30 to 45 minutes. Serve right away or lower oven temperature to 200 F for up to 30 minutes.
Oven-Baked Beef Brisket
Adapted from Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis, and buoyed by lots of recipe research.
Requires overnight refrigeration; Serves 8 to 10
This recipe calls for what is technically a half brisket. It should weigh in between 4 and 5 pounds (mine was 4.25). If you only have 12 oz. bottles of beer, that's fine; I had pint cans in the fridge, so that's what I used. Heinz brand chili sauce isn't required, but I figure it's the classic choice. I served this with braised greens and caramelized onions and whole wheat beer bread (recipe coming soon!).
4 1/2 lb. beef brisket, untrimmed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
2 onions, sliced
4 celery ribs, chopped
12 oz. bottle Heinz chili sauce
16 oz. beer (lager is a good choice; nothing too bitter)
1 to 2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
Day One: Preheat oven to 350 F. To a large roasting pan, add enough water to equal a depth just under half an inch. Rub brisket with salt, pepper, cayenne and oregano according to your taste. Although this thick piece of meat requires a good salting, don't go crazy, as the chili sauce will contribute a lot of salt to the dish. Rub some of the smashed garlic over brisket, place in roasting pan fat side up, and tuck garlic cloves around and under the meat. Cover brisket with sliced onions and celery and pour chili sauce on top. Bake, uncovered in the center of the oven for 90 minutes.
Reduce oven temp to 300 F. Take roasting pan out of oven, and add the beer and 1 Tbs of the vinegar. Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil. Return to oven and cook until the meat is very tender, 3 to 4 hours (mine was done in 3.5 hours). Brisket is done when you can stick a fork in the center and pull it back out feeling no (or very little) resistance. Cool partially covered at room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight.
Day Two: Preheat oven to 300 F. Lift brisket out of pan and place on cutting board. Skim the hardened fat off the top of the cooking liquid in the pan. Pick all the veggies off the top of the brisket and add to pan. Transfer the contents of the pan (all the cooking liquid and vegetables) to a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat the sauce, stirring often, until it loosens up and is warmed through (do not boil). Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. At this point, you may want to add 1/4 cup to 1 cup water to thin the sauce to your desired consistency and ease blending. Taste and add additional vinegar if desired.
Trim all visible fat from the brisket and slice against the grain. Transfer meat to 9 x 13-inch (or similar) baking dish. Pour sauce over meat. Cover with foil and bake until meat is heated through, 30 to 45 minutes. Serve immediately.