Let's talk about falling back in love with a classic dish. When is the last time you made a classic beef brisket? You know the one — tender beef in a rich gravy with melting potatoes and carrots. The beef brisket that makes the whole house smell like a cozy day perfect for snuggling on the couch. It had actually been years since I'd made beef brisket, but since I recently discovered I could make this traditional dish in the slow cooker I've fallen back in love with brisket all over again.
If you're looking for a stunning but easy Sunday supper to get you through the long winter or to serve during the upcoming holidays, this is it — classic beef brisket made in the slow cooker.
Getting to Know Classic Beef Brisket
Brisket refers to a certain cut of beef that comes from the underside of the animal, near the ribs. It's the cut used for corned beef and pastrami, and many variations on slow-braised pot roast that is also called brisket. When we talk about classic beef brisket, we mean a pot roast-style dish where brisket is slowly braised in a rich gravy and more often than not vegetables like onions, carrots, and potatoes are braised alongside the beef.
For Your Information
- Buy a piece of brisket in the three-pound range, flat rather than point cut is best if you can find it. Flats are usually more square or rectangular in shape and have a thick fat layer on top.
- Cook the brisket on low for six to eight hours; it should be easy to pull apart, but not falling apart.
The Secret Ingredient for Better Brisket Gravy
Personally, my favorite part of this recipe isn't the brisket itself, but the rich gravy that results. The brisket requires some liquid for braising in the slow cooker, but that could easily be just broth or wine and you'd still have delicious brisket. Instead adding some enriched tomato products — in this case ketchup and tomato paste — gives the broth body and adds layers of flavor including some acidity to balance the briskets richness.
Yes, We said ketchup!
I was surprised to see a number of classic brisket recipes call for this addition and even more surprised by how much better this made the gravy. Don't worry about a raw ketchup flavor — this beauty cooks for six to eight hours. Ketchup adds sweetness, body, and a depth of flavor that tomato paste alone cannot.
3 Steps for the Best Slow Cooker Brisket
- Skip browning the beef. I know that this goes against many brisket recipes, slow cooker and oven alike, but having tested browned versus not browned brisket side by side, I can safely say this step doesn't lend any extra flavor to this particular brisket recipe.
- Start the gravy on the stovetop. Here's where you can add some wonderful caramelized flavors without flinging your brisket around a hot pan. Cook the onions and garlic in a large skillet until the onions are beginning to brown, then deglaze the pan with the broth and add the other gravy ingredients.
- Add the vegetables and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. The cook time for your particular brisket is going to depend on its size and shape and the doneness you prefer. For me, classic beef brisket means sliceable beef brisket, not one that's falling apart, but some folks prefer a more shredded brisket. If you like the latter, head towards the longer cook time.
Serving and Storing Your Brisket
When you remove the brisket from the slow cooker, use a spoon to scrape off any large pieces of fat from the brisket's fat cap, then thinly slice across the grain. Serve with the tender vegetables, the rich gravy, and a hearty piece of bread for dipping, on preferably a cold Sunday evening.
How To Cook Classic Beef Brisket in the Slow Cooker
What You Need
1 (3-pound) beef brisket (preferably flat cut)
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup ketchup (see Recipe Notes)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Measuring cups and spoons
Large frying pan
Knife and cutting board
6-quart or larger slow cooker
- Prepare the brisket, set it in the slow cooker. Pat the brisket dry with paper towels. If your brisket has a particularly large fat cap, you can remove it now — I almost never bother, though, as the fat makes for an even more luxurious brisket. Sprinkle the brisket on all sides with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Place it in a 6-quart or larger slow cooker.
- Brown the onions and garlic in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until softened and beginning to brown and char in some spots, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.
- Add the spices and cook until fragrant. Add the smoked paprika, black pepper, thyme, oregano, and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until very fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Move the onions and garlic to the slow cooker, covering the brisket. Carefully transfer the onions over the brisket.
- Deglaze the pan with the beef broth, then add the sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer. Return the pan to medium-high heat and deglaze with the beef broth — pour the broth into the hot pan and use a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape all the lovely cooked bits up off the bottom of the pan. Add the ketchup, brown sugar, and tomato paste, and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then pour over the onions and brisket.
- Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Add the potatoes and carrots to the slow cooker, tucking them around the brisket. Cover and cook on the LOW setting for 6 to 8 hours. The brisket is done when it easily shreds when pulled, but it shouldn't be falling apart.
- Serving and storing the brisket. Transfer the brisket to a clean cutting board. If desired, use a spoon to scrape the fat cap off. Now you can slice and serve the brisket immediately, or slice the brisket and return it to the slow cooker to cool and then refrigerate — this is ideal for serving the dish to guests or if you'd like to remove more fat from the dish. Serve the brisket with the potatoes, carrots, and a generous spoonful of the cooked onion and sauce.
- Make ahead: The brisket can be cooked up to 3 days in advance. Store the brisket and vegetables covered with the gravy.
- Storage: Leftovers keep well for up to 1 week. Store the beef covered in extra gravy to keep the meat moist.
- Kosher: For kosher cooks, make sure the ketchup is corn-syrup free.