Did you have a county fair growing up? I did. It was called the Mid State Fair, and it was one of the highlights of my year. Every summer, my family made the trek to the county fairgrounds in Paso Robles, California. For two weeks, it seemed like every resident in my hometown set aside some time to visit the fair. It was never a question of “if” you’d go, but “when.” There was no shortage of things to do and see. Almost everybody knew a student who was showing a 4-H heifer or sheep, a year-long labor of love that might end with a ribbon and a cash prize. There were the craft competitions… quilting, costumes, paintings, pottery. Massive metal warehouses were crammed with temporary booths displaying new products, homemade jewelry, ranch equipment, cowboy hats. Petting zoos allowed the little ones to get up close and personal with bunnies, goats, and llamas. Older kids headed straight for the carnival, where rickety rides like “The Zipper” tested their bravery. If you were lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the Budweiser horses in the stables. At night, the ground vibrated with sound checks as country rock bands warmed up on the Grand Stand stage. The hot night air, the colorful lights, the smell of fair food… roasted corn on the cob, churros, smoked turkey legs, deep fried everything… it was all so exciting, and sort of magical, for a small town kid like me.
One of the fair foods I looked forward to most was the barbecue beef sandwich. Men in cowboy hats and boots would smoke the beef till it was super tender, shred it into small pieces, drench it in sweet honey barbecue sauce, and serve it on warm sesame seed buns wrapped in foil. It was always a challenge to eat one without getting sauce all over your chin. Those flimsy paper napkins didn’t cut it. Your fingers would get sticky with sauce. But it was so worth it… that tender, sweet meat was the ultimate treat.
A few years ago, I learned how to make barbecue beef that was every bit as delicious as the fair sandwiches of my childhood using a slow cooker. Over time, I began serving the meat on little slider buns because my family liked it that way. With Super Bowl Sunday just a few days away, this seemed like the perfect finger food to share with you. All you need is a slow cooker, a few ingredients, and a little patience. You’ll be handsomely rewarded with tender, melt-in-your mouth brisket slider sandwiches… mini bites of honey barbecue deliciousness. I sometimes add a few slices of dill pickle or a bit of Pickle Slaw on top of the meat. If you want to make this a really authentic experience, wear a cowboy hat while you’re cooking. Yeehaw!
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- 4 lbs brisket, first cut
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 cups honey barbecue sauce
- 1/3 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 15-16 slider buns (small hamburger buns)
- Sprinkle brisket generously with salt and pepper. Mix the onion powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper together in a small bowl. Dry rub both sides of the brisket with the seasoning mixture.
- Stir together the honey barbecue sauce and brown sugar. Pour half of the sauce into the bottom of your slow cooker. Place the seasoned brisket, fatty side up, into the slow cooker. Don't worry if it's a little big for the cooker, the brisket will shrink as it cooks. Cover the top o the brisket with the remaining sauce.
- Cover the slow cooker. Cook brisket on low for 9-10 hours, or until fork tender.
- When the brisket is cooked, remove it carefully from the slow cooker and place it on a cutting board.Pour the sauce from the slow cooker into a large bowl and let it cool.
- Slice off the fat cap from the top of the brisket and discard.
- Flip the brisket over so the leaner side faces upward. You'll be able to see the direction of the meat grain better on this side. Slice the brisket against the grain. The meat will start to fall apart and "shred" as you slice... this is good.
- Skim the fat from the sauce in the bowl. The fat will appear lighter in color than the sauce, like droplets of oil on the surface. Skim as much fat as you can.
- In a small bowl, stir together cornstarch and 1 tbsp of water till completely smooth. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the sauce and stir to combine.
- Pour half of the sauce back into the slow cooker. Layer the slices of brisket meat on top of the sauce. Pour the remaining sauce over the brisket.
- Turn slow cooker to high for about 1 hour, till the meat and sauce are heated through and the sauce begins to bubble and thicken. Note that some slow cookers run hotter than others; keep a close eye to make sure the sauce doesn't get too hot or overly dry. If the sauce starts to dry out, add some hot water or more barbecue sauce to the slow cooker. Switch to warm as soon as the sauce begins to bubble and thicken. Shred the meat with a fork till desired texture is reached. Taste the meat; season with more salt and pepper, if desired. For a sweeter sauce, stir in a little more brown sugar to taste. Keep the slow cooker on warm setting till ready to serve.
- Serve meat on soft warm slider buns. Sometimes I top the meat with a little coleslaw or a pickle slice. You don't need anything too fancy, these sliders are just great as-is-- easy, simple, homemade comfort food.
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