Nach Waxman's Brisket of Beef

November 28, 2012

Every week -- often with your help --  FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The straight-shooting brisket to get you through the winter (with a clever technique that makes every slice the best slice). 

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Like biscuits and gravy or baked ziti, brisket is a way of life, imprinted on us from the moment we learn to eat -- I don't expect that we will all agree on what makes it genius.

Having grown up not in the tradition of Brisket, but in the kindred one of Pot Roast; having never been served the pale, tasteless slivers, nor the ethereal ones -- I can only hope to understand as a brisket-eater newly born. But I can still appreciate a damn good brisket when I taste one. 

So you'll see why I was so happy to discover Nach Waxman's Brisket of Beef: it comes from a man who knows recipes (his store Kitchen Arts & Letters on Lexington and East 93rd is one of the finest cookbook shops anywhere) -- and who really knows brisket. 

His recipe was first published in Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso's The New Basics in 1989 and, according to The Brisket Book's Stephanie Pierson, might be the most googled brisket recipe ever. (By some accounts, it was even served in the White House, at the Obamas' first Passover Seder.)


Other recipes hide brisket among prunes or lemon or dozens of garlic cloves, ketchup or Coca-Cola. This one does nothing of the sort. It has precious few ingredients, applied deliberately and memorably.

Waxman took the best parts of two versions passed down in his family, weaving them into one simple treatment. (Because isn't that how these things always work?)

From his mother, he learned to skip adding liquids and instead spearhead the seasoning with what he calls a "spectacular quantity of onions" -- for their subtle, supportive (and moisture-delivering) flavor. 

From his mother-in-law, he borrowed the genius trick of slicing the hunk of beef thinly halfway through cooking, then leaning it back on itself like a heap of fallen dominos. At this point, it's fully cooked but still firm, so the slices don't fall to shreds.

And this way, all the surrounding goodness has more avenues to seep in, making each slice a little like an end piece. (The best part? Discuss.)


Aside from one other delightful step, in which you paint the top of the seared brisket with tomato paste "as if you were icing a cake", that's about it. Then you just cook it, next to one lucky carrot, rather slowly, and for a rather long time.

It bastes itself from all sides, under a protective blanket of tomato paste and its own modest layer of fat, with a bed of simmering onions below. First it steam-roasts in onion juices, then those slices slowly stew and melt together with the onions.

Waxman says he will "absolutely" be serving this recipe for Hanukkah, with latkes, pickled green tomatoes, and sauerkraut warmed in a little olive oil and beer. Another friend said that this would be akin to serving roast turkey on Halloween.

Whatever your tradition tells you is right -- and whether you're a brisket newbie or an old hand -- this recipe will make this winter better than the last.

Nach Waxman's Brisket of Beef

Adapted slightly from The New Basics (Workman Publishing, 1989) and The Brisket Book (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011)

Serves 10 to 12

1 (6-pound) first-cut (a.k.a. flat cut) beef brisket, trimmed so that a thin layer of fat remains
1 to 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour (or matzoh meal)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons corn oil
8 medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt
2 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photo of Nach Waxman from the Post-Gazette; all others by James Ransom




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  • Erica
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Erica December 9, 2015
Brisket is in the oven as we speak (and smells wonderful!) One concern: there is a LOT of liquid (the meat is swimming in it now) - I'm concerned because of the directions about adding water if it looks dry. Any advice?
karpenko May 8, 2013
This is my go-to brisket recipe; I've made it dozens of times. It is the best!!!!!
KLL5 December 25, 2012
Didn't work for mom and me... but maybe we aren't brill cooks like the rest of you!
calfes December 17, 2012
I also made this last night for friends (ie guinea pigs) and everybody loved it. I love a simple, unfussy recipe that come out great. By the way i am not a fan of stringy pot roast and this did not fall in that category at all..a happy compromised with my pot roast loving husband
marcellatp December 5, 2012
I made this for dinner last night and it was so very delicious! My house smelled so good - like the best roast and french onion soup combined. Can't wait for the leftovers for dinner tonight.
isabelita December 5, 2012
Brisket looks like a must do, however, I'm enjoying Amanda's fork from a previous (few years ago) article in the NYT featuring this fork and other utensils. Am I correct?
Kristen M. December 8, 2012
Yes, that's one from Amanda's collection of handsome bone-handled forks. See here for more about them:
FAL December 5, 2012
The comment mentions slicing the brisket 1/2 way thru cooking and then finishing the cooking process. I know every chef tells you to let meat and such rest after cooking so that the juices are not lost. Doesnt this do the same thing as slicing too soon? Thank you.
Kristen M. December 5, 2012
If you were to eat it right after slicing, that might be true -- but, because you cook the sliced brisket further, low and slow in its own juices, it becomes lovely, moist, and tender.
FAL December 5, 2012
Thank you for the feedback.
marie.killian.5 December 4, 2012
Thank you! I have not really ever done anything with a brisket befoe...a little intimidated! I think I will try this.
Really good olive oil?
Jean |. December 3, 2012
Thanks, Food52 Editor Marian! Here is the link to my own "genius" brisket -
bgavin December 2, 2012
I like the idea of not slicing all the way through. Adding this to my list of recipes to try on a cold winter evening. This along with sauerbraten. Gonna be a good winter!
alflynn December 2, 2012
Please explain the one carrot. Is it supposed to be a joke?
Kristen M. December 2, 2012
Nach doesn't like the sweetness of carrots to take over, so he only uses one for flavor. (Same reason he doesn't recommend fully caramelizing the onions.) You can add more if you like.
heidiho December 2, 2012
Can this be cooked in a slow cooker? If so, would the cook time be the same as an oven?
Kristen M. December 2, 2012
I think it would work well in a slow cooker (after searing the meat and cooking the onions a bit on the stovetop to get up the brown crusty bits, pile them in the slow cooker). It would take longer overall, but I'm not sure by how much. Start it early -- more low, slow cooking won't hurt brisket at all.
nolongrecipes December 3, 2012
I have made this recipe many many times in the oven, but the one time I tried in a slow cooker it was awful. Maybe I messed something up, but I've never tried it again. It really is a genius recipe but for me it's an oven-only recipe. I add a couple of extra carrots for slicing and some garlic cloves and a splash of red wine, but otherwise do it exactly as written. Turns out heavenly every time.
saltyplum December 2, 2012
I was lucky to have a nice chat with Nach Waxman many years ago about The Art of Jewish Cooking by Jennie Grossinger, a very sought-after older cookbook, the Joy of Cooking for Jewish cooks. This recipe is a nicer version of Jennie's brisket, which is swimming in onions and has tomato pasted on it; I am going to guess that it was the inspiration for Mr. Waxman's?
ctgal December 3, 2012
We have both of those cookbooks, The New Basics, of course, and we have The Art of Jewish Cooking by Jennie Grossinger. I want you to know that I have looked at both of those brisket recipes and, for some reason, they never interested me. I'm giving in and trying it this year. My mother, by the way, never made brisket and I was only introduced to it at a friend's house in high school. My mother explained that she cooked like her mother and they were from Lithuania. I guess no brisket there!! When I first learned how to cook, the Grossinger book taught me how to make chicken soup. I have used her measurements for 30 years, and every guest and my family have always raved about it. I still refer to it from time to time, just to get her take on a Jewish dish. I was delighted to see you mention it in your comment.
Jean |. December 2, 2012
It looks delicious, but I'll stick with my own unique way of doing brisket. Don't we all think our own version of certain things is "genius"! :D
phyllis December 2, 2012
Except for slicing the brisket before it's fully cooked, this is the recipe my grandmother and mother cooked starting in the 1940s. It's really wonderful. I've fiddled with it a little and add some more carrots and sometimes a bit of celery. It's amazing cold on delicious bread with spicy honey mustard.
Vivi B. December 1, 2012
I have this in the oven right now and my house smells incredible! I am jealous of that one lucky carrot.
fgressette November 30, 2012
This really is a great recipe; I've made it off and on since it was first published. I like to use it as a main course for supper with friends on a cold night.
thirschfeld November 30, 2012
Funny I had never seen this recipe but had combined the Second Ave Deli version with a couple of others and do something very similar to this and I swear by the onions.
witloof November 29, 2012
I had a very very wicked stepmother but she made a great brisket: a cup of cheap beer mixed with a cup of catsup, poured over the seared brisket resting on a bed of garlic and onions.
Brette W. November 28, 2012
Yeah, that oil burning for eight days and nights was pretty great, but THIS is the real Hanukkah miracle.