Aunt Jessie did not spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Her answer to every culinary question was a pot roast and a coconut cream pie. Preferably store-bought. When Aunt Jessie passed away, I received her book of recipe clippings–yellowed bits of newsprint carefully lifted from the daily paper, or mimeographed sheets of bleeding purple ink. Aunt Jessie grew up on an Indiana farm during the Depression years and the recipes she chose to clip reflect a simple, straight-forward approach to cooking. Except maybe for the stack of tortured Jell-O salad recipes. Those I keep out of pure nostalgia.
These barbecue sandwiches are inspired by a newspaper clipping from her collection. I’ve adapted it just a little bit to reflect my family’s eating style, but really it didn’t need too much tweaking. This is a low-and-slow type of dish. One that you put in first thing in the morning, fuss with a little bit at noon, and then serve up all hot and delicious at supper. These are my favorite kinds of recipes because they fit well into a day of nursing the baby, teaching math lessons, and doing laundry.
Start with about 2 pounds of beef in your slow cooker. I tend to use whatever cut is on sale at the butcher counter. Stew beef works really well because it takes less work to shred it down into a scoopable barbecue, but I’ve also used just about every other cut of beef roast. Any cut suitable for slow roasting and containing a goodly amount of fat and flavor is suitable here. Add some finely chopped onion and garlic, salt and pepper, and just enough water to cover the bottom of the crock and keep the beef from burning and drying out. Cook it on low until lunch time.
It’s a good idea to make this for the first time on a day when you’ll be around to keep an eye on it. You don’t want the crock to run out of water! I don’t recommend leaving it to cook alone for 5 hours without having a good, friendly relationship with your slow cooker. Otherwise you may come home to beef jerky. Don’t lift the lid to check the water level or you’ll lose most of the moisture by releasing the steam. But if you notice your crock has stopped bubbling and steaming, take a peek through the glass lid and add another cupful of water if it’s run dry.
At some point you’ll need to mix up the sauce ingredients. I usually do this between washing up the breakfast dishes and starting a load of laundry. If you want to really be on your game, you can mix it up the night before and keep it in the fridge, just don’t tell the rest of us how uber-prepared you are. It makes us feel bad. After about 4 or 5 hours of low-and-slow cooking add the sauce to the slow cooker. Give it a good stir to coat the beef, replace the lid, and crank it up to high. Again, keep your nose and ears open for smells and sounds that signal scorching and burning. Your slow cooker may need you to add more moisture throughout the afternoon.
Once it starts falling apart (about another 4-5 hours), use forks or knives to shred the beef and incorporate it into the sauce. Depending on the cut you use and your slow cooker, you beef may be ready before it’s dinner time. This is no problem. Just keep it warm and covered in the crock, either on a “Warm” setting or in a low oven, until you’re ready for it.
My family likes this served on toasted focaccia bread, and I offer sliced avocado and sauerkraut (half the family takes the avocado, the other half takes the sauerkraut). But you could serve yours with whatever your household likes–sliced onion, pickle relish, green tomatoes. It’s also tasty served over hot rice or roasted sweet potatoes, if you need a gluten-free option, and the ingredients are highly adaptable so that you can make it fit into various restricted diets. Paleo? Use coconut aminos instead of the Worcestershire sauce. Low-FODMAP? Switch up the garlic, onion, and tomato and replace the sweetener with maple syrup. I make it a little bit different each time, depending on who’s staying to dinner and find it to be consistently delicious.
This recipe is adapted from a newspaper cut-out in Aunt Jessie’s recipe file.
Course: Paleoish-Main (Beef)
- 2 lbs beef stew meat (or other cut of slow cooking beef)
- 1⁄4 cup onion minced
- 1 Tbs garlic minced
- 1⁄2 tsp salt
- 1⁄4 tsp pepper
- 3⁄4 cup water
- 1⁄2 cup tomato sauce
- 1⁄2 cup tomato paste
- 1 Tbs honey
- 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tbs molasses
- 1 tsp salt
- dash cinnamon
- buns, toppings, etc. for serving
- Put the beef into a crock pot with onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and water. Cook on low about 4 hours, adding more water as needed to keep from burning. Switch the slow cooker to “high”. Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl and add to the crock. Cook for another 4-5 hours until the meat falls apart and shreds easily.