© 2024 NPR Illinois
The Capital's Community & News Service
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The one where friends offended seven Jewish grandmothers with their brisket

Left: Marissa Dates (clockwise from upper left), her mother, Ellen, her brother Nathan, her grandparents Bud and Diane. Right: Marissa's brisket.
Marissa Dates
Collage by NPR
Left: Marissa Dates (clockwise from upper left), her mother, Ellen, her brother Nathan, her grandparents Bud and Diane. Right: Marissa's brisket.

All Things We're Cooking is a series featuring family recipes from you, our readers and listeners, and the special stories behind them. We'll continue to share more of your kitchen gems throughout the holidays.


When Marissa Dates first tried to make her grandmother's brisket, things did not go exactly as planned. It was her senior year of college in Michigan, and Dates was living with six of her good friends. They all were spending Rosh Hashanah away from home for the first time, so they decided to celebrate the Jewish New Year together.

The plan was for everyone to make one thing for the big meal and then the group would come together to make brisket — the main dish and staple of many Jewish holidays.

"Obviously, all of our grandmothers have a brisket recipe, but [they] really aren't all that different," Dates said. All seven housemates reached out to the grandmothers for their recipes.

"We were going to pick the one that we thought was the best, but they were all so similar, so we were like, OK, we'll just combine them," she said.

The brisket turned out great, but then the grandmothers wanted to see pictures of the final product.

"Of course, we sent them all pictures and they're all like, 'That's not my brisket. I don't know what you did. It looks wrong,' " Dates recalled, laughing. "We're like, oh my God, we just managed to offend literally seven Jewish grandmothers in one text message."

Dates now lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif., with her husband. Food continues to bond her to relatives who don't live nearby. She said making brisket helped her stay connected to family in Chicago when the pandemic began and she wasn't able to make the trek home for the holidays.

"Whenever I'm feeling really homesick, it's easy to run out [and buy a brisket]. You stick it in the oven for six hours and you have something that reminds you so much of home," Dates said.

Making brisket also reminds Dates of her connection with the larger Jewish community, she said.

"It's kind of always on the forefront of my mind of that continuation of Jewish tradition and how it was interrupted and almost lost," she said. "And for me, that's so much of what Jewish cooking is. It's like, were they making briskets amongst shtetls of Poland? No, probably not. But does it connect me to my Judaism? Yes, absolutely."

These days when Dates makes her grandmother's brisket, she doesn't try to combine it with any other recipe. Instead, she'll shoot her grandma a text to let her know she's making it. Her grandmother does the same.

"She still cooks for all the Jewish holidays and hosts these gigantic dinners still, and that's what I aspire to be like," Dates said. "So much of what I've learned, especially in the kitchen, has been from her — what she learned from her mom. And that, again, is ... a continuation of American Judaism in a way that is really special."

Grandma's brisket

Recipe submitted by Marissa DatesHermosa Beach, Calif.


  • 6-pound brisket, trimmed of most fat
  • 1 bottle of chili sauce or spicy ketchup
  • 1 onion
  • beef broth
  • chili powder
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • Directions

    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

    Slice the onion into thin rings and line the bottom of a roasting pan or semi-deep pan, keeping a few rings off to the side.

    Place the brisket in the pan, fat side up. Liberally season with salt, pepper and chili powder. Place the onion rings you set aside on top of the brisket. Place the pan in the oven uncovered and cook until juices start to form in the bottom of the pan (about 1 hour).

    Take the pan out of the oven and add beef broth to cover the bottom third of the brisket. Cover the pan with tin foil, place it back in the oven and cook for another 90 minutes.

    Take the pan out of the oven and remove the tin foil. Cover the brisket with chili sauce and cook for another 45 minutes.

    Remove the brisket from the oven and slice. Once sliced, place the brisket back in the pan, cover and cook for another hour or until fork-tender.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Wynne Davis is a digital reporter and producer for NPR's All Things Considered.
    Related Stories