At this time of year, I often make barbecued, shredded (or “pulled”) beef in the crock pot to serve on buns. Aside from the fact that it tastes good and fits well with barbecue-y occasions like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and summer potlucks, I like crock-pot pulled beef because round steak is cheap and I can cook for a crowd without blowing our food budget for the week. Also, using the crock-pot lets you go outside and play while the food cooks, and doesn’t heat up your house when its already feeling like Calcutta in August. (Actually, I have never been in Calcutta at any time of the year, but I have a vivid imagination).
I have made this many times before, using a bottle of barbecue sauce and a large, hunk of red meat from which I divest the greatest possible amount of fat before cooking. I have used both top round, round steak, and various other tough, inexpensive cuts of meat for this. Sometimes, I make the barbecue sauce from scratch using the same recipe I use to make barbecued brisket. Once I have hacked off the fat (an unpleasant but oddly satisfying process) the remaining work consists of covering the meat with sauce, letting it cook for about 8 hours on the “Low” setting, shredding it with two forks, letting it cook a bit longer to suck up more sauce, and serving it on buns. You may also add more sauce after shredding, if you have some left and like your sandwiches saucy.
If I think of it in time, I make the barbecue a day ahead, and chill it overnight so that the fat rises and solidifies. I can remove all of the fat, and re-heat it the meat in the crock-pot before dinner. The same thing can also be done using boneless, skinless chicken breasts or a large, de-fatted piece of pork like a picnic shoulder – you cook it slowly in barbecue sauce until its fork tender, “pull” it apart with two forks, and serve on buns.
I serve the barbecued meat on good quality onion rolls, and I usually make some baked beans and coleslaw as accompaniments. I am not a big fan of coleslaw, but when do I eat it I want it unadorned by apples, marshmallows, pineapple, nuts or any other unnatural flora or fauna. I make mine from a bag of shredded cabbage and a jar of Marzetti’s Cole Slaw Dressing, and it is just fine. We have also discovered that barbecue sandwiches are particularly good if they included a layer of coleslaw on top of the shredded beef.
As for baked beans, I sometimes make them from scratch and sometimes use canned, but the lumps of fat in the canned variety have haunted me since childhood. I remember eating Campbell’s Pork & Beans and hoping fervently that my little brother got all of the brown and white striped fat squares in his half. To avoid the fat squares but add some meat flavor, I usually buy good quality vegetarian baked beans, cook my own Center Cut bacon, and add it to the beans.
This is absolutely not real Southern “‘cue,” and I would never claim that it is. It does, however, taste great, appeal to people of all ages, and fit into even a tight-ish food budget all without heating up your house on a hot day.
Crock-pot Pulled Barbecue
- 3-4 pounds beef, pork or boneless, skinless chicken breasts (remember that if you buy fatty meat it will end up weighing less after you remove excess fat.
- 1 bottle or batch of barbecue sauce, any kind you like
- 1 package hamburger buns or kaiser rolls
Spray interior of crock-pot with non-stick cooking spray.
If using fatty beef or pork, trim off as much fat as you can. With some cuts, like round steak, you can easily cut the meat into pieces separated by fat and cut the fat from around each section. Don’t worry about getting all of the fat off; you can (as I suggest above) skim more off after cooking.
Place meat in crock-pot, cover with barbecue sauce and cook on “low” for 8 hours. Check chicken at 6 hours; it will tend to break down faster. When meat is easily broken apart with a fork, turn crock-pot off and shred meat, using two forks. Mix meat and remaining sauce, and add more sauce if you like. Replace pot cover, and cook on “low” for another 30-60 minutes to allow all shredded meat surfaces to cook in the sauce.
Spoon generously onto buns, and add a layer of coleslaw if you’re feeling adventurous.