April 8, 2024
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April 8, 2024
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Craig Claiborne’s Vinegar Beef

Vinegar beef? Sounds awful! But it is quite the opposite: a wonderful combination of flavors balanced just right. This recipe comes from the renowned chef Craig Claiborne, New York Times’ food editor and critic for 30 years. Claiborne’s recipes tended to be complicated and extremely treif, but my mother spotted this simpler, kosher recipe many decades ago, and it’s a keeper. With a little potchka-ing around, it may even be suitable in a Shabbat afternoon slow cooker (see notes), but it’s best when cooked for three to four hours at most, such as on a Sunday afternoon.

One caveat, though: Be sure to use plain, old-fashioned “white vinegar” such as Heinz, rather than something fancier such as wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or balsamic. More than once, when we gave the recipe to friends, they wouldn’t believe it used such a common ingredient—and so they substituted a “better” vinegar. And it just didn’t work as well.

If you’re like me and you don’t always measure ingredients as you cook, feel free to vary the amount of meat and onions. But the balance of ingredients that go into the sauce are best kept in roughly the same proportions that are listed here.

This dish is even more delicious the second day, so this might be a good recipe to make in advance.


  • 2 ½ to 5 pounds of beef, e.g., any “chuck”
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil
  • 3 medium sliced onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • Optional: ½ cup light beer mixed with the tomato sauce


  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoon brown sugar (or white if you have no brown)
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • ¼ cup ketchup


  1. Rub the oil on the slab of beef, lightly salt and pepper it, and brown on both sides in a big, heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven. Set the meat aside on a plate.
  2. Add the onions to the pot, with a little more oil if needed, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the garlic and sauté a minute more. Add the tomato sauce, return the meat to the pot, and bring it to a gentle boil.
  3. Cover the pot, and cook, just barely simmering, for 1 ½ to 2 hours. (Don’t cook it much longer or the meat may become tough. It has another hour to cook yet!)
  4. Combine all the ingredients for the sauce, mix well, and add to the meat, stirring it in. Bring back to a simmer, and let it cook, covered, for another hour.
  5. Just before serving, check if there’s enough liquid. Add a bit of water if you think it’s dry. Typically there is a lot of sauce, and I either ladle some out into a fry pan, boil to reduce it, and add it back to the pot—or I mix up a couple tablespoons flour in water and add that to the pot, letting it cook a minute or two more to thicken it.
  6. It’s best served over wide egg noodles, but regular noodles, or rice, will be fine.


  • You should use a cut of meat that softens as it slow-cooks for a long time. My favorites are a chuck, such as shoulder chuck, or top of rib. Brisket should work, too. Do not use cuts of meat like top-quality steak, which get tough when cooked for hours. Your butcher may know better which cuts will work.
  • If you use a slow cooker on a low setting over Shabbat, you run the risk of overcooking the meat, and it can end up dry. So it may be best to try this in the summer when Shabbat starts later. Also, you will have to add all the ingredients at the start instead of adding the sauce near the end.
  • If you don’t have dry mustard handy, you can substitute 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, or any other wet mustard, or 1 teaspoon turmeric. Then, go buy some dry mustard. It gives a nice tang to food without adding any overpowering flavor.
  • For historical purposes: Claiborne’s recipe called for ½ cup water rather than light beer, and only ½ teaspoon dry mustard. Those two changes are to my own tastes.
  • If you are worried about mixing Worcestershire sauce (which contains fish) with meat, check out Rabbi Jachter’s excellent discussion, “Adding Worcestershire Sauce to Meat,” in The Jewish Link, January 18, 2024 (https://bit.ly/3uJDrbu). For those who still are concerned, a few alternatives would be Haddar brand’s Worcestershire, which contains no fish, or some finely chopped mushrooms and soy sauce … perhaps some nutritional yeast flakes.
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