My Mom’s Brown Sugar BBQ Beef Sandwiches


Earlier this year, we posted a recipe based on my mother’s meat loaf with a little backstory on how it held a special place on the family’s short list of favorite meals.  Another from that list would be her BBQ beef sandwiches with a thick sweet sauce and topped with a cold, creamy cole slaw.  It was always such a summer dinner favorite growing up, and I’ve been craving one ever since the temperature hit 90.

My mother’s recipe is slightly different then the one below.  She kept it extremely simple and far less time consuming.  Her recipe consisted of the following ingredients: ground beef, open pit bbq sauce, and brown sugar.  She cooked it all in a big sauce pan and it probably took 30 minutes to make. I, however, wanted to see if I could match the flavors using a different cut of meat, cooking method, and sauce from scratch.  Same goes for the cole slaw.

Her method for preparing cole slaw was just as easy and even more old school.  She basically threw everything in a bowl and mixed or added until the textures and flavors were right. There was no need for recipe cards or cookbooks. It was far more instinctual.


Other than the flavor of those sandwiches, the thing I loved the most was how much she made.  Not only would I eat two or three sandwiches that night, I would likely have it for lunch the next day as well.  It’s almost better the next day, really. The pulled beef has more a chance to marinate in the sauce.  That was my goal with the quantities used in the recipe below as well.  It’s just me and Jane so I didn’t want to make a full family size but I did want some for the following day as well.  I also wanted to save a little sauce for other dishes.  You’ll have a bit leftover of that as well.

Finally, the slaw recipe is plentiful, and perfect for a picnic.  You can cut that in half if you’re only serving 4-6 people.  I chose to go big because I wanted to use the whole cabbage as well as test the flavors and consistency. I also happen to love cole slaw and love to eat leftovers.

Served on our favorite plates from Anthropologie.

My Mom’s Brown Sugar BBQ Beef Sandwich

8-10 servings

3.5 hours


BBQ Sauce

2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

cole slaw

1 head of green cabbage (2 – 2.5 lbs), shredded
2 medium sized carrots, grated
1 medium sized red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup of scallions, sliced
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of paprika
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp of celery seed
1 tsp of black pepper
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar

braised beef

2.5 – 3 lbs chuck roast
1/2 tsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 strips of thick cut bacon, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 140z can diced tomatoes
1 can of unsalted beef stock
3 sprigs of thyme, tied
1 bay leaf


BBQ sauce

Place all ingredients in a medium sized, non-reactive sauce pot but start only with 3/4 cup of brown sugar.  Place over medium heat and mix together with a spatula.

Allow the sauce to come to a simmer and drop the heat to low, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes, giving the sugar enough time to melt. Check the sweetness and color at this point. You want the sauce to have a deep reddish brown color in the end but you’ll need to wait for the sugar to melt and darken the sauce.  Add 1-2 tbsp of brown sugar at a time every 5 minutes or so and allow it to melt.  I reach the desired flavor and color with a total of 1 to 1-1/4 cup after 30-40 minutes almost every time .  The sugar will eventually hide the vinegar flavors with its sweetness but you don’t want it to be overwhelmingly sugary or syrupy.  The cayenne and paprika will keep it just slightly hot and smoky.

When you’ve achieved the desired flavor, remove from heat and set aside. It can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks as well.

cole slaw

In a large mixing bowl, toss together the cabbage, carrots, onions, scallions, and parsley.

In separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.

Pour the mayo mix into the cabbage mix and mix thoroughly, cover in plastic, and keep in the refrigerator until the BBQ is ready to serve.

braising the beef

With a mortar and pestle, grind the coriander and fennel seeds to a powder, add paprika, salt, and pepper and blend completely.

Pat down the beef with a paper towel and sprinkle all sides with the spice rub.

In a cold dutch oven or stock pot at least 5 quarts, add bacon and bring heat to medium low.  Allow to render for 8-10 minutes and remove just before it becomes crispy. Place on a paper towel to drain and keep the renderings in the pot.

Turn heat up to medium and brown the beef on all sides, approximately 10-12 minutes. Remove and set aside with bacon.  There should still be enough oil in the pot to move to the next phase but you can always add a tablespoon of cooking oil if needed.

Add onions, cook until soft (8-10 minutes). Add garlic and stir around for 1 minute before adding the tomato paste. Stir paste and cook for another minute before adding the chopped tomatoes and beef stock. Bring to a boil and drop the temperature to a medium low keeping a slight simmer. Return the beef to the pot with thyme and bay leaf.  Cover and cook for 2.5 to 3 hours turning every 30 minutes.

When the meat is finally tender, remove from the pot and braising liquid and set aside on a chopping board. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes and then shred using a fork.  Once shredded, without any large clumps, add the BBQ sauce and mix.

Serve on a toasted bun topped with cole slaw. We always included potato chips on the side.


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