Brisket

The Best Recipe for a Tender Brisket, According to a Butcher

It wouldn't be complete without the "browned bits."

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May 21, 2021

Whether you're celebrating Passover or Rosh Hashanah, having a backyard BBQ or just gathering with friends on a Sunday, a simple beef brisket recipe can be the perfect way to feed a crowd. With a side of mashed potatoes or a lightly dressed green salad, a wine-braised brisket in the oven, cooked until fork tender, can be the ultimate comfort food. Here's how to make the best beef brisket—with a few tips and tricks to get you there with flying colors.


There are a handful of cooking firsts that stand out clearly in my brain amongst the daily fog of cold cereal and potato chip sandwiches. One is the first meal I ever made for my family: buttered spaghetti with boiled potatoes. There's also the first time I ever perfectly poached an egg: I was in college working in a restaurant kitchen under the tutelage of a crush, and I was cooking on an induction burner.

Then there's the first time I learned about “scraping up the browned bits": I was eight years old, helping my mom cook sweet and sour brisket for Rosh Hashanah dinner. It was, I think, one of my earliest introductions to the crucially messy and ugly steps—the blackened bananas, the bloody bones, the pasty roux, the browned bits—that often go into preparing the most comforting foods.

Photo by Ty Mecham

We eat sweet foods on Rosh Hashanah with the hope of ringing in a sweet new year. The sour part of the brisket (often achieved with vinegar or orange juice) is probably there as a practical measure to balance out the sweet stickiness of the dried fruit or honey, but I was always told it’s also meant to balance the darker memories of the past with the hope of a sweet future.

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Top Comment:
“As you can see in the last step in the video, after 4 hours of cooking the brisket is “fall apart” tender and hard to cut, even with a razor sharp knife. As a result, I always slice my braised brisket at the 2 hour point and return it to the braise to finish. At that point, the brisket is still firm enough to slice, and sliced, you can usually reduce the cooking time by one hour. One thing with getting tender, sliced brisket is to make sure you pay attention to the grain and absolutely slice AGAINST the grain.”
— Chuck48
Comment

What I love about sweet and sour brisket is that everyone and their grandmother has a different way of achieving the same flavors; some people swear by dates and vinegar, some use Welch’s grape jelly and powdered onion soup mix, and others turn to crushed tomatoes and brown sugar. Somehow, all that searing and scraping and simmering produces the same iconic flavor. It’s a little bit like a less acidic version of Carolina BBQ—only Jewish. It is a plate of ugly, gut-warming comfort, even if you didn’t grow up eating it, which makes it great for any holiday or event where you’re feeding a crowd. Christmas! Hanukkah! A non-traditional Thanksgiving! You really can't go wrong.

Now, let’s talk about those browned bits. The old way of thinking was that you sear the meat (thus, creating browned bits) before braising it to “lock in moisture," While this is a nice idea, it turns out that it's scientifically untrue.

So why do we still do it? Flavor! Sure, you could toss the raw brisket and some raw onion into your Dutch oven and it will still absolutely cook through and be fine—but fine is not fine. Searing the meat and caramelizing the onions before you throw them in to simmer will make a world of difference in the complexity and depth of your dish’s flavor. With meat, this is the result of a chemical reaction called the Maillard browning reaction; with onions, it’s because of caramelization.


The difference is in the details

Here are some of my best tips for cooking a delicious brisket, including how to make the most of all those delicious browned bits:

  • With meat, a dry surface is important for even browning, which is why recipes often tell you to pat your meat dry before searing it. For the best results, I like to season my meat with kosher salt and leave it in the fridge uncovered on a cooling rack (with a sheet pan underneath it) for one hour before cooking. This not only helps to dry out the surface, but it also creates a kind of quick brine. Over the course of an hour, the salt draws out the meat’s moisture and then sucks its own moisture back in, meaning your meat will be more evenly seasoned throughout.
  • Use a neutral oil with a high smoke point for searing. It may seem pointless to dry your meat out and then add wet oil to the pan for searing, but the oil does a lot of good: it helps to conduct heat; it acts as a buffer for all the uneven, craggy surfaces of your brisket; and it creates a smooth, hot surface for your meat to evenly sear. Don’t use olive oil, because it will burn before your it gets hot enough to sear. Instead, stick with canola, vegetable, peanut, grape seed, sunflower, or refined coconut oil.
  • Caramelizing onions takes patience, but your patience will be rewarded. If you’re in a rush, you can add a little baking soda to raise the pH of the onions, which will quicken the process. I would also recommend using a combination of a high smoke point, neutral oil (like one I mentioned above) for evenly distributing heat over a long period, along with butter for flavor.
  • Brisket is traditional for this recipe, but there’s no reason other hard-working cuts couldn’t be substituted. If you can’t find brisket, try chuck eye, shank, or bottom round.
  • Buy your meat from a butcher. As a butcher, I might be biased, but I think being able to talk to a human about what you want makes a big difference. Ask them to trim down the meat and tie it up, and find out where it came from and how it lived; it makes for more confident cooking.
  • Buy grass-fed beef; it’s better for the animal, which means it’s better for you. Plus, it gives you a major leg-up on flavor, and that's important if you want to still taste your meat in a recipe with this many powerful ingredients.
  • After resting, slice your meat against the grain. This is especially important with tougher cuts like brisket that are made up of long, strong muscle strands. If you cut along those strands, you are lengthening and toughening the muscle; if you slice against it, you’re shortening the muscle structure, therefore tenderizing it. The grain can be hard to spot on cooked meat, so if you’re unsure, give a corner of your brisket a little slice—the grain on cooked brisket can sometimes be easier to see from the inside.

We're firm believers in the fact that little things can make a big impact. The quality and freshness of ingredients can take a simple dish from good to great. Sharing a treasured recipe with friends can creating lasting memories around the dinner table. And home appliances that are reliable and intuitive—like their induction slide-in range, which comes with a handy quick preheat feature—can streamline getting dinner on the table, making your entire week less stressful. We've partnered with Bosch to celebrate these small but vital boosts in our day-to-day lives, with recipes, videos, and more.

Additional ideas from the editors:


More Beef Brisket Recipes

1. Nach Waxman's Brisket of Beef

The best recipe for beef brisket is a straightforward one: Here, Nach Waxman borrows from two beef brisket recipes he loves (his mother's and his mother-in-law's). The genius trick, though, is carving the meat halfway through cooking before it gets too tender. And oh, does it get tender.

2. Pressure-Cooker Corned Beef Brisket With Charred Cabbage & Dill Vinaigrette

Hugh Acheson's recipe turns a 4-pound beef brisket into a fork-tender corned beef brisket, thanks to spices like caraway seeds, yellow mustard seeds, Tellicherry black peppercorns, allspice berries, and Insta Cure #1, which is a basic sodium nitrite cure for meats, poultry, and fish.

3. Sweet & Smoky Brisket

Reminiscent of Texas BBQ brisket, Leah Koenig's recipe makes use of canned tomatoes, vinegar, and brown sugar for a sweet but balanced gravy.

4. Milk-Braised Brisket With Potato & Onion

"I ate a lot of brisket growing up," writes Recipe Developer Emma Laperruque. Her version is simple and classic—with one twist: the braising liquid. As Marcella Hazan braises pork shoulder in milk for tender meat and rich gravy, so too does Laperruque take advantage of the wonders of lactic acid to break down the fibers of a beef brisket.

5. Brisket Ghormeh Sabzi

Jew-ish cookbook author Jake Cohen takes classic Passover beef brisket and hybridizes it with both Ashkenazi and Mizrahi food cultures. His Persian treatment can be tasted in the dried limes and bright, fresh herbs.


and because we just can't get enough BBQ-ready roasts...

6. Steven Raichlen's Salt-Crusted Beef Tenderloin Grilled in Cloth (Lomo al Trapo)

Once you’ve mastered brisket, take a stab at this traditional Colombian beef preparation. The clothbound salt crust is a brilliant way to lock in moisture, yielding the juiciest possible beef, while grilling right on the coals imparts an unmatched smoky flavor to the meat.

7. Chicken al Mattone With Thyme Pesto

Think spatchcocked grilled chicken, but hit with a brick. It’s the Italian way! In all seriousness, this Tuscan technique for grilled chicken yields a slightly smoky, extremely juicy, crispy-skinned bird that is seriously delicious with any vegetable side and a big hunk of bread.

8. Coffee-Crusted Barbecue Beef Ribs

Yes, these coffee-rubbed ribs take a whopping 13 hours. Yes, they are worth it. You'll know for sure after that first bite of a deeply-spiced, sticky-sweet crusted, fall-off-the-bone tender beef rib. Patience is a virtue—you’ll be rewarded with four perfect racks of ribs. Tell your friends to bring the coleslaw and cornbread, and you'll be good to go.

10. Matilda, Maple, & Garlic Pork Shoulder With Crispy Skin

With nearly 250 glowing reviews, this maple-garlic glazed, pull-apart-tender pork shoulder is a winner. Don’t believe me? Take it from reviewer Sarah B., who writes, “This recipe is SLAP YOUR MAMA GOOD!! I'm telling you it may be one of the best recipes I have ever made!” I mean, I don't think there's anything else left to say about it.

11. Kalbi-Style Short Ribs

Short ribs are some one of the best, most overlooked cuts of meat in American grilling. Sure, they braise like a dream, but what about when it's too hot to turn on the oven? Take a note from Korean barbecue, head outside, fire up the grill, and make these spicy short ribs. The sugar in the marinade gets crispy and slightly charred over the coals, setting these ribs aside from the ones in brothy braises of colder months.

How do you cook your beef brisket? Let us know in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • KyleKerr
    KyleKerr
  • Cindy Freeborn Shults
    Cindy Freeborn Shults
  • Barbara Gruber Strongwater
    Barbara Gruber Strongwater
  • Chuck48
    Chuck48
Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog, Yummy-Books.com, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.

6 Comments

Rosalind P. June 1, 2021
The best thing about this article and recipe is the recognition of the endless variety of ways to create a great eating experience with what was at one time a very humble piece of meat (not any more!) -- many rooted in different American cultures and family histories. The recipe here is more complex than some of the best briskets I have made and or eaten, and it looks wonderful. The simplest ones (more onions than you would think possible), some acid and sweet; The brown bits can be produced without the initial browning (that's a recipe for another day, but I never bother with initial browning any more). And here's a brisket fact that I only recently learned: Jewish immigrants were the first to smoke brisket in the United States. By the early 1900s smoked brisket appeared on Jewish deli menus across Texas. The first mention of smoked brisket appears in newspaper advertisements in 1910 geared towards the Jewish community of Texas, Watson's Grocery in El Paso and Naud Burnett grocery store in Greenville both sold smoked brisket in their Jewish deli counter,
1950s to present. Texas brisket is almost as revered in that state as the Alamo, and i would bet that many Texans would be surprised to learn this history. Anyway, as always, Food 52 has opened a wonderful conversation that makes the food an experience that transcends its subject. Thank you!!
 
KyleKerr June 1, 2021
Thanks for these suggestions! We cooked a 12lb brisket last night and these tips definitely helped!

I had not used "neutral oils" before and that definitely helped with the searing process.

We have a great local butcher named Fraser Orr who had some great fresh, grass-fed briskets to choose from. Really appreciated getting meat also local to our island.
 
Cindy F. April 28, 2021
I have a 14 lb brisket, I'll be cooking it in 4 sections and each differently. One way, a bit unconventional is. I 1st trim as much fat as possible. Then I slice against the grain in long thin strips. In a bowl I mix 1 egg, feta cheese, Italian spices and chopped onions and peppers.
I preheat the oven at 350 and then lay our my strips flat on a clean dish towel and spoon my mixture down the strip. I fold over the end and roll them like a jelly roll. Place them all on their sides in a pan, salt and pepper them. Tightly cover the pan with foil and cook for at least 30 minutes. Enjoy
 
Barbara G. September 16, 2020
I watched the sweet and sour brisket pod there was no sound so other than seeing onions, o.j. salt and pepper you couldn't tell what else was in it can you write the recipe?
 
Rosalind P. December 9, 2018
Brisket is a great cut for pot-roasting (braising) as is chuck. I always brown chuck as directed in this recipe, but for some reason I have never browned brisket. I get the Maillard around the sides of the roasting pan, above the liquid level and in the cover, both of which i deglaze when I take the meat out of the pan. And the article is right on about the many ways to get that sweet-and-sour taste. Here's my very, very simple brisket way: lay the meat in a lightly greased pan (easier to clean); cover it with sliced onions (about two large for a 4-pound brisket) Add salt and pepper (go easy if you've dry-brined it or if it's kosher, already salted); dot the top with dollops of ketchup (a very respectable sauce/condiment); pour about 8 or 10 ounces of red wine around the meat. Cover tightly (I use heavy duty foil over a rectangular pan) and put it into a 375 degree oven for about two hours. Remove everything, let the meat cool a bit then slice. At service time, cook another 30-40 minutes in the sauce for falling-apart-tenderness. You can thicken the sauce slightly for serving. One more note: I used to do this by wrapping the meat in heavy duty foil, with enough room for the liquid/sauce. Maillard effect all over the foil when it's done.
 
Chuck48 December 30, 2018
As you can see in the last step in the video, after 4 hours of cooking the brisket is “fall apart” tender and hard to cut, even with a razor sharp knife. As a result, I always slice my braised brisket at the 2 hour point and return it to the braise to finish. At that point, the brisket is still firm enough to slice, and sliced, you can usually reduce the cooking time by one hour.
One thing with getting tender, sliced brisket is to make sure you pay attention to the grain and absolutely slice AGAINST the grain.