Imagine pillowy-soft Hawaiian rolls piled high with slices of tender beef brisket and sweet pineapple, all topped with a crunchy cabbage slaw. Are you hungry yet? These tasty little sandwiches can be yours for the eating as a weeknight dinner or for your next party or tailgate. All it takes is a piece of brisket, some pantry staples for a homemade pineapple teriyaki sauce, and a long stint in a slow cooker. Eat these outside on the patio because these sandwiches get messy in the best possible way.
Slow Cooker Brisket Sandwiches: Watch the Video
Count on Canned Pineapple
The braising liquid for this brisket, which turns into a luscious sauce at the end, is a mix of some common ingredients found in teriyaki sauce: brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. The tropical twist here, though, is the addition of canned pineapple juice for some added Hawaiian flair. Don't worry that you're buying a can of pineapple solely for the juice: the rings are used in the sandwiches to add an extra dose of sweetness, and some of the juice is also used to dress the cabbage slaw.
While you can certainly skip the step of browning the brisket on the stovetop, I highly, highly recommend that you do this. Browning just adds a deeper level of savory flavor. To streamline cleanup, we're making the sauce in the same pan you brown the brisket in to pick up all the tasty browned bits that are stuck to the bottom.
Brisket needs to relax in the cooking liquid at the end of cooking time to stay both moist and be tender. You can definitely serve the brisket right after it's done cooking in the slow cooker, but if you can, let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. There are lots of benefits to doing this: the brisket can be made up to a day ahead and just reheated, the surface fat becomes solid and thus easier to scrape off when cold, and the cold brisket is easier to slice neatly before it's reheated in the sauce.
These are great assemble-it-yourself sandwiches (don't assemble ahead of time or they get soggy): Split the Hawaiian rolls, drape some warm sliced brisket and sauce on top, add a pineapple ring, top with purchased cabbage slaw tossed with sesame oil and pineapple juice, and dig in. They're also great for parties, as you can keep the brisket warm in the slow cooker and people can just make their own sandwiches when they're ready.
Slow Cooker Hawaiian Brisket Sandwiches
For the brisket:
3 1/2 pounds beef brisket
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 (20-ounce) can pineapple slices or rings
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the sandwiches:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 to 14 ounces cabbage slaw mix
Make the brisket: Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and season generously all over with salt. Cut the brisket in half if needed to fit in a 5-quart or larger slow cooker or to fit in a large frying pan for searing. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the brisket fat-side down (work in 2 batches if needed) and sear until golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Flip and sear the second side, about 4 minutes more. Transfer to the slow cooker and arrange into a single layer as best as you can; the brisket can fit snugly.
Return the pan to medium heat, add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker. Meanwhile, drain the pineapple slices from the juice but reserve the juice. Cut the pineapple slices in half, transfer to a covered container, and refrigerate. Set the reserved juice aside.
Place the pan back on the stove over an unheated burner. Add the soy sauce, 1/3 cup of the reserved pineapple juice (refrigerate the remaining juice for the slaw dressing), brown sugar, vinegar, cornstarch, ginger, garlic, and pepper. Whisk until the cornstarch is fully dissolved, then pour over the brisket and onions.
Cover and cook on the LOW setting until the brisket is fork-tender, 6 to 8 hours. When the brisket is ready, turn the slow cooker off, uncover, and let sit 30 minutes for the meat to rest. At this point, you can proceed with making the sandwiches or, for best results, let cool completely, cover, and refrigerate in the slow cooker overnight.
If making the sandwiches immediately: Transfer the brisket to a cutting board. Spoon off as much fat from the surface of the sauce as you can. Trim any fat from the top of the brisket if desired. Slice the brisket across the grain and return the slices to the sauce.
If refrigerated overnight: Spoon off the white hardened layer of fat from the surface. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and trim any fat from the top of the brisket if desired. Slice the brisket across the grain and return the slices to the sauce. Spoon some of the sauce over the slices to completely coat. Reheat until warmed through and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, 1 hour uncovered in a 300°F oven, or 1 1/2 hours covered on the LOW setting in the slow cooker.
Assemble the sandwiches: Whisk the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the reserved pineapple juice, sesame oil, and salt in a large bowl. Add the slaw and toss to combine. Serve the brisket slices on split Hawaiian rolls (about 2 ounces of brisket per sandwich), each topped with a piece of reserved pineapple and some slaw.
- Make ahead: The brisket tastes and slices best after cooled and refrigerated overnight, so making this ahead is highly encouraged.
- Oven instructions: No slow cooker? Cook in the oven instead, in a baking dish covered tightly with aluminum foil, or in a covered Dutch oven. Cook at 325°F for 3 to 4 hours or until very tender.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.