If you ask me about comfort food, I will answer promptly: slow-cooked brisket. This old-fashioned pot roast, cooked quietly in the slow cooker all day with just a handful of ingredients and a mess of caramelized onions, makes a rich broth and meat that melts in your mouth. Sunday dinner, weeknight supper — whenever you eat it, this is a classic dish both convenient and comforting.
Slow Cooker Brisket & Onions: Watch the Video
Why Brisket Is Ideal for Slow Cooking
My in-laws recently bought a whole cow share, divvying up the meat from this rather large beef cow among nearly a dozen friends and family. I put in a special request for the brisket, feeling just a little selfish as I nabbed this beautifully raised bit of meat. Brisket is my favorite cut of all.
When it comes to meat that's ideal for long, slow cooking, brisket is top of the heap. It comes from the front breastbone of the animal, and the muscles here support much of the weight of the cow, so there is quite a lot of connective tissue. Over long, slow cooking, these fibers are broken down and gelatinized.
The fat that forms a thick layer on some cuts of brisket, such as the one I cooked here, helps protect the meat from drying out. This fat can be kept in for a very luxurious dish, or removed. Fortunately it's easy to remove the fat, as brisket just improves with an overnight rest in the refrigerator.
Why Brisket Is Even Better Made Ahead
I usually make brisket a day ahead, let it chill overnight, scrape away the hardened fat with a spoon (as seen above), then reheat gently in a covered dish in the oven. So convenient for potluck suppers and dinner parties, not to mention a few evenings of weeknight suppers.
It's all very soothing and hands-off and aromatic; for two days you'll have delivery men leaning a little further into your doorway, and dogs doing a double take as they trot by.
And it's not hard to get this going. Brisket has some of the richest natural flavor of any cut of meat. It needs very little other than a good sear, which helps concentrate the flavor, and a small mountain of lightly caramelized onions to give you something to spoon on top. For liquid, I cook the brisket in beef broth (although chicken broth will do fine) and a touch of Worcestershire and soy. Together they melt with the meat juices into a velvety rich sauce to spoon over thick slices of brisket. Comfort food is served.
Slow Cooker Brisket and Onions
1 1/2 pounds
yellow or red onions (about 2 large onions), sliced into half moons
3 1/2 pounds
Freshly ground black pepper
low-sodium beef broth
soy sauce or tamari
Heat the oil in a large, deep sauté pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and cook on medium-low to medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions have caramelized lightly, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, sear the brisket.
Pat the brisket dry with paper towels. Season generously all over with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat and turn on your vent or fan, if you have one. Add the brisket and sear, flipping once, until a golden brown crust forms. Transfer to a 6-quart or larger slow cooker fat side up. Sprinkle the minced garlic over the brisket.
When the onions are ready, pile them on top and around the meat. Mix the broth, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce or tamari together and pour into the slow cooker.
Cover and cook until the brisket is very tender, 6 to 8 hours on the LOW setting. Switch to the WARM setting and let rest for at least 20 minutes. (If your slow cooker doesn't have a WARM setting, transfer to a baking dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil while resting.)
The brisket can be sliced or shredded immediately and served with the onions and juices. Or, let the meat cool, then refrigerate overnight. Before reheating, scrape away and discard the layer of fat that has formed around the meat.
To reheat: Heat the oven to 300°F. Transfer the brisket and all its juices to a baking dish and cover tightly with a lid or two layers of foil. Warm in the oven for 1 hour or until warmed through (time will depend greatly on the size and shape of the brisket; cut into smaller pieces for faster reheating).
Cooking time: Personally I like brisket very tender and shredded, almost like pulled beef. But if you prefer to slice the meat for a more formal presentation, aim for the shorter end of the recommended cooking time. Final cooking time will depend on the size and shape of the meat.
Oven instructions: No slow cooker? Cook in the oven instead, in a baking dish covered tightly with foil or in a Dutch oven, covered with a lid. Cook at 325°F until very tender, 3 to 4 hours.
This recipe was originally published March 2008.