A Tale of Two Briskets


I made my first brisket 20 years ago when I hosted my first Rosh Hashanah dinner as a graduate student in Boston. My mom had kept a recipe card in her recipe box titled, “Mom’s Brisket.” Pictured below, it reads: Season with salt + pepper (Lawry seasoning), 1 can whole cranberries, liptons dried onion soup, 1 bottle Russian or French dressing and 1 bottle of water. Thankfully at the time my Grandma Mitzi was still alive and living in Chicago, so over the phone she walked me through more detailed instructions for her brisket and other infamous holiday dishes which I’ve since documented. My mom worked full time and I remember she would make Grandma Mitzi’s brisket weeks in advance, freeze it (separating meat from sauce) and defrost a day before the holiday. That’s exactly what I did that first Rosh Hashanah as I was busy finishing exams and papers. What I couldn’t anticipate was Grandma Mitzi being hospitalized days before the holiday and having to fly home to Chicago, leaving behind my brisket for my friends, my future husband and his parents to enjoy without me. I felt so fortunate to have had the chance, albeit over the phone, to cook that brisket with my Grandma as she passed away a few months later. 

I continued to use her brisket recipe for almost ten years and eventually as with all good family traditions I began to adapt, adjust and improve on it. I’ve settled on two excellent recipes that I’ve made over the years. The first, Tori Avey’s Holiday Brisket which is probably the closest to Grandma Mitzi’s as it has that sweet and sour taste with a bit of tang. It uses an entire can of whole tomatoes, brown sugar and tons of garlic along with diced carrots and celery which all get blended together before you roast the brisket. I used this recipe for years until my in-laws couldn’t eat cooked tomatoes and had to find a substitute. There are several more steps to this one and in turn, several pots including a food processor or blender that need to be cleaned so be forewarned.

In search of a brisket recipe without cooked tomatoes or ketchup (or Russian dressing) led me to Jake Cohen’s French Onion Brisket which I make almost exclusively now. Instead of packets of Lipton’s dry onion soup mix, this recipe calls for sautéing 5 large sweet onions, loads of garlic and 1 cup of Calvados. It’s a little bit easier (many fewer ingredients and steps) to make than Tori’s Holiday Brisket although both call for browning your brisket first. This extra step is a bit of a hassle especially when you have a brisket over 6 lbs as I can never get the uncooked piece of meat to fit in one pan. I’ve managed to do it by browning one end at a time but it can be a little tricky to maneuver. 

I highly recommend both recipes, it really depends on if you want your brisket to have that traditional Ashkenazi sweet and sour taste or if you want it a little more savory and umami forward. I’ve kind of learned to appreciate the simplicity of the French Onion Brisket and love the ode to my Grandma’s packet of Lipton’s French Onion Soup mix. For both, make sure your meat is covered in enough brazing liquid to keep it from coming out dry. It helps to prepare both at least a day ahead of time, giving the meat a chance to rest, cool overnight and then slice and reheat the next day. As Grandma Mitzi always used to say, “Don’t forget to slice your brisket against the grain!”

Tori Avey's Holiday Brisket

  • Servings: 12
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Credit: Tori Avey


  • 1 (5-7) lb first cut brisket, do not trim fat
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 lb celery, peeled and sliced
  • 1 28 oz can of whole, diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups beef or chicken broth, divided
  • salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Rinse your brisket and pat dry. Rub both sides of brisket with black pepper and salt.
  2. Heat your largest skillet over medium heat, drizzle 2 tbs olive oil. Brown brisket on both sides – it usually takes 4-5 minutes per side. Your brisket will likely overlap the edges of the skillet if so, brown one side at a time.
  3. While the brisket browns, pour canned tomatoes, garlic, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and 1 1/2 cups of broth into a food processor. Add 2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Pulse until the garlic is chopped small and all ingredients combined.
  4. Remove brisket from skillet, it should have shrunken a good bit.
  5. Drizzle two more tsp olive oil in the pan and add the sliced onions, saute them over medium heat for a few minutes until they wilt. Add carrot and celery slices, saute for another 5-6 minutes until the onions are soft and browning and vegetables are fragrant.
  6. Pour the vegetables out of the skillet into a bowl or plate, set aside. Add 1/2 cup beef stock or chicken stock to the skillet, let it heat up. Using a spatula gently scrape the brown bits and pan juices clinging to skillet. Turn off heat.
  7. Pour half the tomato mixture into a large roasting pan, placing brisket on top of tomato sauce, fat cap facing up.
  8. Pour the cooked vegetables across the top of the brisket along with the broth and brown bits.
  9. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the top of the vegetables and brisket.
  10. Cover the roasting pan tightly with a layer of parchment paper followed by a layer of aluminum foil.
  11. Place the brisket in the oven. Let it roast undisturbed for 5-7 hrs. It will take about 1 hr per pound of meat. Brisket is ready when it flakes tenderly when pierced with a fork. Brisket should have shrunken in size by about half.
  12. Brisket should be made at least a day ahead, allow it to sit in the fridge for 1-2 nights which will only improve on flavor. If making it ahead, let brisket cool and switch meat to a ceramic or class dish (the pan can react with the acid in the sauce) cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Brisket can also be frozen at this point.
  13. 1-2 hrs before serving, remove brisket from fridge and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. The fat of the sauce will have solidified on top of brisket so use a spoon to scoop out the fat bits and discard.
  14. Take the brisket out of the dish, place on cutting board, fat-side up. Slice the meat cold, capping off the brisket then slice thinly against the grain.
  15. Return sliced meat to the dish and spoon sauce over it. Cover dish with layer of parchment paper, then aluminum and place in oven.
  16. Let brisket roast for 45-60 mins until heated through. Serve with warm sauce and veggies on top.

French Onion Brisket

  • Servings: 10-12
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Credit: Jake Cohen


  • 1 (5-7lb) first cut beef brisket, do not trim fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup Calvados or sherry
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 4 sprigs sage


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Season each side of the brisket with 2 heavy pinches of salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-hight heat. Sear brisket on both sides till golden brown – it usually takes 5-7 minutes per side.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the onions and garlic to the pot. Cook, stirring often, until softened and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the Calvados, then stir continuously with a wooden spoon for 1 minute to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.
  4. Stir in the stock and 2 heavy pinches each of salt and pepper, then return the brisket to pot. Tie together the thyme and sage sprigs with a small piece of butcher’s twine (tying is optional, but makes it much easier to remove the herbs after cooking) and nestle the herb bundle in the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 3 hours to 3 hours 30 minutes, until very tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, then refrigerate overnight.
  5. The next day, skim off and discard any fat, if desired, and discard the herbs. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and cut it against the grain into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices. Return the meat to the sauce and heat over medium heat until warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, then serve.

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