Edna Lewis’s Oven Brisket

Our Edna Lewis’s oven brisket recipe is a classic. It’s an eminently affordable Sunday supper made with a bare minimum of ingredients—essentially just brisket, onions, and love.

An enamel baking dish holding a sliced oven brisket topped with onions with jus on the side.

Edna Lewis was well known and loved for many reasons. Her spare prose. Her soulful recipes. Her kitchen frugality. Her endless wisdom—and not just as it pertains to culinary matters. All these attributes come together in this oven brisket recipe that’s simply flavored with onions and pan drippings. Ms. Lewis relied on brisket as opposed to other cuts of meat as it possesses “a bit more taste than some of the other more expensive, better-known cuts.” She suggests you use whatever size brisket is available “so long as you purchase half as many onions as beef.”–Renee Schettler

How do I know when my brisket is ready?

This recipe was originally written entirely in Edna’s inimitably charming, albeit rather spare, style. What we mean is there was a certain amount of knowledge she assumed on the part of the home cook—namely specific temperatures and timings and seasonings. Understandably given that back in her day, cooking was done by instinct, a knowing that came with practice. Anticipating a little confusion in today’s home kitchen, we snuck in a few specifics here and there. Still, there are places that allow for the cook’s discretion. Embrace it.

Edna Lewis's Oven Brisket

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 25 M
  • 3 H, 10 M
  • Serves 6
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C).

Pat the brisket dry and season it with salt and pepper to taste. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, slick it with just a little oil, then add the brisket. Sear it well, turning until all sides are well-browned. Place the seared brisket in a heavy ovenproof pot or pan such as a Dutch oven.

Wipe the skillet clean and then add the butter or oil and onions and return to medium-highish heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pretty well browned, 7 to 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the brisket with pepper and then add the browned onions, allspice, and bay. Cover tightly and transfer to the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 225°F (107°C) and let cook, undisturbed, for 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer the brisket to a cutting board to rest. Reserve the pan juices in the skillet.

Spoon off any visible fat from surface of the juices and discard the bay leaf. Spoon the onions into a sieve or strainer, place it over the pan juices, and press the onions through the sieve, discarding any solids. If desired, strain again and reduce over medium heat for a few minutes. Taste and season the pan juices with salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the brisket and serve with the pan juices. Originally published April 21, 2011.

Print RecipeBuy the The Taste of Country Cooking cookbook

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

This recipe reminds me of brisket I'd be served at a Louisiana or Texas BBQ stand. It’s a pretty easy recipe for those who don’t make a brisket very often too, as there is no need to deal with a smoker outdoors. I trimmed off the fat cap so I had about 1/4 inch-thick fat on top of the brisket. I gave it a very heavy coating of an artisan smoked salt and some fresh ground pepper on both sides, then seared both sides and the edges to a nice brown with bit of a crust.

As the brisket rested and the onions were cooking, I placed the Dutch oven into my Breville Smart-oven to warm up to 400°F. The onions browned up pretty quickly, and when they were ready, I placed the brisket, fat side down, into the Dutch oven, and it gave off a nice sizzle as it hit the bottom of the cast iron. I scattered the onions atop the meat, added the allspice berries and bay leaf and then sealed it with a bit of aluminum foil before placing the top on the Dutch oven. I used my Breville as I knew I could control the 225°F temperature much better than my normal oven.

When it was ready, it was tender and juicy. As I let the brisket rest I prepared the onion gravy (I reserved the onion for another use) and finished off the meal with some roasted veg. I stored it in the fridge with the remaining broth to keep it tender and avoid it drying out. I had a nice steak, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich the next morning. And as I was really enjoying this brisket, I also had it for lunch! I melted some Monterey jack cheese on a tortilla, then added the brisket, topped with some horseradish sauce and a bit of romaine.

Edna Lewis's oven brisket is perfection. It magically hits all the notes with the sparest of ingredients and seasoning, somehow achieving great depth of flavor. Ms Lewis gives us fork-tender brisket wizardry in this recipe.

I don’t think there is an easier introduction to cooking brisket than this recipe, and the results were enjoyed for several meals afterwards. My brisket was just over 3 1/2 pounds, so I scaled my onions up to half that weight and the result could not be more pleasing. Using tongs, I made sure to sear the edges as well as the flat surfaces, and seared all to a nice brown. Spooning the rendered fat out, and wiping with a paper towel, I used the same Dutch oven for the onions and this way I captured any fond on the pan from both browning the meat and the onions, making sure to not scorch the onions.

When the brisket went into the oven, I placed a large round of parchment on top of the onions and meat, then the lid and after 15 minutes at the high temperature, lowered the oven to 225℉ and left it alone for 2 1/2 hours. The meat was tender yet firm (not falling apart), and after sieving the onions and removing more fat from the juices (a fat separator made this most straightforward), I reduced the sauce a bit and served. That left a nice chunk for future meals and for two people we probably got 8-10 servings from this, a really good return on effort. Even though this is a simple method, it was worthwhile visiting my favourite butcher, and making it the best example we could.

Brisket doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can be a very satisfying meal worthy of Sunday dinner or a series of great meals. I don’t consider these bonus meals to be ‘leftover management’ as much as component cooking—I always count on future hash for instance, when considering cooking corned beef or other brisket.

There is something wonderful about about a simple recipe that allows the beef to be the shining star of the meal. This is such a recipe. Basic ingredients, time and you have an epic brisket worthy of the finest tables.

Preparing the meat is simply pat dry, season and brown. I was using a cast-iron Dutch oven so I removed the meat to a plate while I cooked the onions. The onions took 10 minutes to brown. Then it's a matter of putting everything back into the dutch oven and slow roasting for 2 1/2 hours. I must say after about an hour the aromas in the kitchen were mouth watering.

While the roast was resting, I defatted the pan juices, discarded the bay and allspice berries and removed the onions. I know the recipe says to discard the onions but I have to wonder why. They were nicely browned and caramelly and delicious. I broke the rules and set them to the side to serve with the brisket for those who wanted some. After checking the juices for seasoning we served the sliced brisket.

This recipe did not disappoint. This is brisket at it's best, tender and full of flavour. The pan juices were delicious as were the onions I'd set on the side. We had a very little left over. I served this with a garlic mashed cauliflower and a mixed green salad. We got 6 servings. I don't know if I'd make a brisket any other way now.


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  1. Thank you. It is a tribute to Edna Lewis that her writing and her recipes continue to inspire people and give them pleasure. In my film I also hope to convey the timelessness of her contribution.


    1. I saw it and loved it. The ending had me in tears. You captured all of the most important, and even unexpected elements, of her culinary journey. Bravo!

  2. Edna’s spare style is perfect in an overly wordy world and I thank her for it. The brisket turned out perfection, too. The onions made the gravy all on their own that was amazing. There is no better dinner on a plate than this. Wish we had this kind of simplicity over and over. JSH

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