Onion-Braised Beef Brisket

brisket

This recipe was recently featured in Food 52’s Genius Recipes column.  It comes from Nach Waxman — owner of the New York City cookbook shop, Kitchen Arts & Letters — and was originally published in The Silver Palette New Basics Cookbook in 1989.  Apparently, it is the world’s most Googled brisket recipe and, since I love a good brisket, I had to try it. Three delicious brisket dinners later, I can tell you that the recipe lives up to the hype. It’s surprisingly simple: unlike all other briskets I’ve made, there’s no wine, stock or bottled sauces added. Instead, the brisket is cooked on top of a massive heap of onions, which slowly caramelize and release their juices, making a flavorful French onion soup-like braising liquid all their own.

Brisket is easy to make, but it’s a tough cut of meat that needs to cook for a long time.  The most important tip I can give you is to ask your butcher for a well-marbled brisket with a thin layer of fat on top. The fat bastes the meat as it cooks, ensuring the meat becomes nice and tender. It’s also best to make brisket a day ahead of time, so the meat has time to reabsorb some of the braising liquid.

Begin by seasoning the meat with lots of kosher salt and pepper.

Dust both sides with flour.

Heat the oil in a heavy flameproof roasting pan or ovenproof enameled cast iron pot until shimmering, then sear the brisket on both sides until brown and crusty in spots.

Transfer the meat to a platter, then add the onions to the pan.

Cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until softened and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Place the brisket back in the pan on top of the onions and spread the tomato paste on top. Scatter the carrots and garlic around the edges.

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil or a lid, and bake for 1-1/2 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the brisket to a cutting board. Using an electric or sharp knife, slice the beef into 1/8-inch thick slices against the grain. It’s much easier to cut at this point than it is at the end.

Place the slices back in the pan on an angle, so that the top edge of each slice is showing. Baste the meat with the pan juices.

Cook for a few more hours, basting a few times, until the meat is tender. You can serve it right away, but it’s better to refrigerate it overnight and reheat the next day. It also freezes well.

Note: After making this brisket several times, I made a few minor changes to the recipe (for the original recipe, click here). For example, Waxman only uses one carrot in his recipe, but I call for six — I don’t mind the slight sweetness they impart (he does) and I like the idea of cooking vegetables along with the meat (that’s one less thing I have to do later!). I also added a bit of water to the recipe to help deglaze the pan while cooking the onions (I found it necessary to release all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and prevent them from burning). 

 

Onion-Braised Beef Brisket

Servings: Serves 8-10
Cook Time: 2 Hours 15 Minutes
Total Time: 4 Hours

Ingredients

  • 1 5-6 pound first cut (a.k.a. flat cut) beef brisket, trimmed so a thin layer of fat remains in some spots (do not over-trim!)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 6 carrots, peeled and halved
  • Handful fresh chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Set an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Season the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper. Lightly dust the brisket with the flour, then shake and turn to coat evenly. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy flameproof roasting pan or ovenproof enameled cast-iron pot just large enough to hold the brisket and carrots snugly. Add the brisket to the pan and sear on both sides until crusty brown areas appear on the surface here and there, 5 to 7 minutes per side.
  3. Transfer the brisket to a platter, then add the onions to the pot and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the onions are softened and golden brown, about 15 minutes. (If browned bits stick to the bottom of the pan and start to burn, add a few tablespoons of water and scrape with a wooden spoon to release them.)
  4. Turn off the heat and place the brisket, fatty side up, and any accumulated juices on top of the onions. Spread the tomato paste evenly over the brisket, then scatter the garlic and carrots around the edges of the pot. Cover the pot very tightly with aluminum foil (preferably heavy duty or two layers) or a lid, then transfer to the oven and cook for 1-1/2 hours.
  5. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and, using an electric or very sharp knife, slice the meat across the grain into approximately 1/8-inch-thick slices. Return the slices to the pot, overlapping them at an angle so that you can see a bit of the top edge of each slice. The end result should resemble the original unsliced brisket leaning slightly backward. Check the seasonings and correct if necessary. If the sauce appears dry, add 2 to 3 teaspoons of water to the pot. Cover the pot tightly and return to the oven.
  6. Lower the heat to 325°F and cook the brisket until it is fork-tender, 1-3/4 to 2-1/2 hours, or longer if necessary. Check once or twice during cooking to make sure that the liquid is not bubbling away. If it is, add a few more teaspoons of water—but not more. Also, each time you check, spoon some of the liquid on top of the roast so that it drips down between the slices. It is ready to serve with its juices, but, in fact, it's even better the second day. It also freezes well.

Reviews & Comments

  • Hi Jenn,
    I am making this Rosh Hashanah next week. If I make it one day in advance, do I cook it the entire way? Or stop cooking at the slicing point? What is the best way to reheat?
    Sorry for so many questions?
    Best,
    Candi

    - candi on September 18, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Candi! I would definitely cook it the entire way; it will taste even better the next day. And you can reheat it, covered, in a 300 degree oven. I would allow 35-40 minutes for it to get hot. Hope you enjoy it!

      - Jenn on September 18, 2014 Reply
  • I’m making a 5 lb brisket for a small dinner party and will have plenty of leftovers. What is the best way to freeze the leftovers?

    - Aaron Hacker on September 17, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Aaron, I use zip lock freezer bags; just be sure to remove as much air as possible from the bags before sealing so that frost doesn’t have room to form.

      - Jenn on September 18, 2014 Reply
  • Hi Jen. Looks like yet another great recipe! Thank you! Gonna make this for sure.

    - Heather Lampman on April 12, 2014 Reply
  • Hi Jen,
    I wanted to thank you for your input last year. I followed your advice and sliced the brisket 1/2 way through the cooking and you and Nach Waxman are right! Slicing it 1/2 way through the braising process makes for an incredibly moist brisket with all of the liquids seeping into the meat and making it “to die for”. My friends husband didn’t mind one bit that he I robbed him of getting to do his manly thing by carving the brisket. In fact, it made it a lot easier when it came to serving to appear at their door with a fully carved and delicious brisket, waiting to be devoured by hungry masses. Suffice it to say, while he didn’t get to do the ‘manly thing’, his ego survived the blow, but his waistline didn’t since he did do the “piglet” thing and had 3 servings!

    The only thing I changed was adding a full head of garlic to the recipe (I’m 1/2 Jewish and 1/2 Italian so the more garlic the better in my book). Since the garlic cooks along with everything else, it becomes wonderfully mellow and if you’re lucky enough to be able to fish out a few cloves of garlic when you’re serving and then smashing them on top of the brisket, the mellowness of the flavor, coupled with sweetness of the onions and deep flavor of the meat, serves to increase the depth of flavor.

    One last question….I’ve seen some recipes where they refrigerate the meat 1/2 way through, then slice it cold the next day and continue the cooking process. I’m wondering if you or anyone else has tried that method and what they thought of it.

    HAPPY BRISKET EVERYONE!

    - Judy on March 29, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Judy, So glad you enjoyed the brisket. The idea behind slicing it cold is the same as slicing it half way through; it’s just easier to cut.

      - Jenn on March 30, 2014 Reply
  • Made it exactly as written. Burnt to carbon.

    - Terry on January 23, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Terry, I’m so sorry you had trouble with the brisket. You might need to need to calibrate your oven – sounds like the temperature might be off.

      - Jenn on January 23, 2014 Reply
  • Sounds delicious. I suggest using a cheap London Broil cut to save money.

    - Pete on January 7, 2014 Reply
  • This was my favorite recipe for brisket ever. I also cooked an entire bag of carrots, not just 1 as the recipe indicates. Loved it….

    - PATRICIA on November 14, 2013 Reply
  • Boy am I glad I found you Jenn! Thank you for all the wonderful recipes. I finally have a variety of foods I can cook and follow step by step. Thank you for all the pictures, they are so helpful! Keep up the good work as it is an inspiration to me because I love cooking and need all the help I could get.

    - Ana Melendez on October 8, 2013 Reply
  • can i use big chunk beef for this recipe? similar cut like your beef stew with carrot and potato?

    - mala on April 20, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Mala, I don’t see why not. If you try it, please let me know how it comes out.

      - Jenn on April 20, 2013 Reply
      • hi jenn… i’ve tried it with big chunk beef and the taste is fenomenal.super easy and delicious.but i can tell that its much more better looking dish with brisket.. thanks for sharing

        - mala on April 29, 2013 Reply
  • Hi Jennifer,
    I am making this now for Passover Seder. Just wondering, there is no braising liquid when you put it in the oven? Does the liquid come from the fat and the onions? I want to make sure I don’t burn it, I”m used to a braiding liquid.
    Thanks!
    Lori

    - Lori on March 26, 2013 Reply
    • Don’t worry, Lori. The onions release a ton of liquid and the brisket will not burn or dry out. I know it’s a different cooking method but it works!

      - Jenn on March 26, 2013 Reply
  • This has been my favorite brisket recipe for years! I’m wondering if anyone has ever made it but has not sliced it midway through cooking. I’m bringing this to a friends house and her husband likes to do the manly thing and slice the roast so I’m wondering what you all think.

    Appreciate the help folks!

    - Judy on March 26, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Judy, In my opinion it’s better to slice a brisket midway through cooking, as in this recipe, or after it’s cooked and chilled (before reheating). If you try to slice a brisket hot, it can tear to shreds.

      - Jenn on March 26, 2013 Reply
  • Absolutely love this recipe!! You can never have too many onions or carrots in this recipe. I didn’t have a use for the leftover tomato paste so I used the whole can and it was not a problem. Great site for great recipes!!

    - Michelle on March 11, 2013 Reply
  • love this recipe. meat always turns out so tender. And is always better the next day.

    - Shebrina on March 11, 2013 Reply
  • Definitely making this one for my Passover Seder this year

    - Sharyn on March 10, 2013 Reply
  • Love this recipe, It is so easy and delicious. Sometimes oldies and goodies really are the happiness of the kitchen.

    - Kathy on March 9, 2013 Reply
  • It was delicious and a real keeper. All loved it and wanted the recipe.

    - Clifford Anglin on March 9, 2013 Reply
  • Looking forward to serving this on Passover. It was a hit the last time that I served to friends.

    - Carol on March 9, 2013 Reply
  • This recipie was fantastic! I also poured some Guinness beer in the dish to give it a little extra moisture and flavor! Amazing :)

    - Nicole Conger on March 9, 2013 Reply
  • Hi Jenn – I have had brisket failure in the past, but love your step-by-step instructions and can’t wait to try this one. If I am making a 3-lb brisket, is there a rule of thumb for how I should adjust cooking time for each of the oven-cooking steps?

    - Sarah on January 30, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Sarah, Definitely cook it for 1-1/2 hours before slicing it, then place it back in the oven and check it again after 1-1/2 hours. It may be done at that point, but if not just keep checking every 15 minutes or so. Hope that helps and it comes out good!

      - Jenn on January 31, 2013 Reply
      • Thanks, Jenn! The brisket was a huge hit!

        - Sarah on February 24, 2013 Reply
  • Made this for a large family gathering over the holidays. It was a big hit. very tender and flavorful. I bought a trimmed brisket, but had quite a bit of liquid in the pan after cooking it. Almost to the top of the brisket. Was this due to my brisket not being trimmed enough? The only water I added was a couple of tablespoons while sauteing the onions to help loosen the browned bits on bottom of pan.

    - Danita on January 3, 2013 Reply
    • Hi Danita, Was your pan on the smaller side? This would cause the braising liquid to rise higher. Either that or you had very juicy onions :) Either way, it doesn’t affect the brisket one bit; in fact, the more braising liquid the better.

      - Jenn on January 3, 2013 Reply
  • Jennifer,

    I just read that it’s better the 2nd day, but I plan to make it tomorrow for NYE dinner and serve the same night. Is it still delicious and worth serving or should I find another main dish to serve?

    Thanks,
    Erin

    - Erin on December 30, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Erin, No worries, it’s still delicious!

      - Jenn on December 30, 2012 Reply
  • Hi Jennifer,

    What kind of pan are you using for this recipe? I have a big roasting pan, but it seems too big for what you describe in this recipe.

    Recipe looks great, hoping to make it for New Year’s!

    Thanks,
    Erin

    - Erin on December 26, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Erin, I use a flame-proof roasting pan but a Dutch oven would work just as well. If you don’t have either of those, you can sear the brisket and start the onions in a large skillet, then transfer it all to a baking dish.

      - Jenn on December 27, 2012 Reply
  • I have a small brisket, (about half the original recipe), curious, how long should I cook it to ensure it will be just as tender as the original recipe?

    - Katzzz on December 18, 2012 Reply
  • Jennifer,

    You do inspire me. I made this and it was very good. Thank you for sharing.

    - Sheree on December 18, 2012 Reply
    • So nice to hear, Sheree! Glad you enjoyed!

      - Jenn on December 18, 2012 Reply
  • Doubled this recipe (11lb piece of brisket) for large family gathering of 16. Cooked the day before exactly as recipe stated and it was delicious. Even the kids loved it. Wasn’t even a scrap left for the poor old dog.

    - Catherine on December 17, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Catherine, I need to do this for an upcoming event. How long did you cook the 11 lb brisket?

      - Danita on December 18, 2012 Reply
      • Hi Danita
        So sorry I didn’t reply but I just never looked at the reviews again. At this point I can’t even remember how long it took just remember it being so good. Hope it worked out for you. I live in the U.K. but my sister is in the U.S. so we love sharing our attempts at recipes on this blog. So far everything great. She just did the chocolate muffins and said they were terrific.

        - Catherine on March 7, 2013 Reply
  • This looks like it’s about to fall apart! It’s hard to hate a good brisket…

    - Loretta | A Finn In The Kitchen on December 10, 2012 Reply
  • oops! well, we shall see how this goes.. it is still quite moist with an hour to go. thanks!

    - Emily on December 9, 2012 Reply
  • hi there, am making right now….smells and looks incredible. question: do you cover it again with the foil after slicing it?

    - Emily on December 9, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Emily, Yes, it should be covered the whole time.

      - Jenn on December 9, 2012 Reply
  • I have been craving BIG MEAT (as Chef Anne Burrell puts it) for a while now… but it’s 70 degrees in December so methinks I need to wait till the temp drops. I swear, I do a double take every time I see my Christmas tree in my living room with the windows open. Nutso. This will DEFINITELY go on my list to make- I love that there are no packaged ingredients, and it looks easy to make! THANKS!

    - The Food Hound on December 9, 2012 Reply
  • We have friends coming over for dinner next week – i think I’ve found our main course! Thanks for the straightforward instructions and lovely step-by-step photos.

    - Cynthia on December 6, 2012 Reply
  • I could almost smell this oe while reading your email. And it smells great!

    - MickMil on December 6, 2012 Reply
  • Wonderful Site!!!!!!

    - Fran on December 6, 2012 Reply
  • Hey Jenn, what’s the best way to reheat this if served the day after it’s made?

    - Jennifer on December 6, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Jennifer, Cover it tightly with foil and reheat in a 350 degree oven for about 25-35 min., or until heated through.

      - Jenn on December 6, 2012 Reply
      • Thank you!!

        - Jennifer on December 12, 2012 Reply
  • Finally, a step by step with pictures to follow. I have never made a good brisket as of yet, but now it is within my reach. Thanks

    - Tamyla Abraham on December 6, 2012 Reply

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