How to Make Corned Beef - How to Make Homemade Corned Beef Brine Brisket

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Corned Beef Hash
Corned Beef Hash
The ultimate corned beef sandwich - a Reuben.
The ultimate corned beef sandwich - a Reuben.
The brine ingredients.
The brine ingredients.

Corned beef is fabulous. The flavor is unlike anything else. Redolent of cinnamon and juniper, it's incredible served alone, with potatoes, cabbage or turnips, braised, roasted or smoked.The top three dishes made with corned beef in the US are Corned Beef Hash, the Reuben Sandwich and Corned Beef and Cabbage - with an explosion of the last one around St. Patrick's Day.

Corned Beef and Cabbage is Irish-American rather than traditionally Irish. After that the history seems a bit murky. One story is Irish immigrants looking for a replacement for their Irish bacon learned from their Jewish neighbors about this meat on the lower East Side in the late 19th century. Another is that the Irish were preserving low-quality cuts of beef in a salt brine as early as the 16th century. Perhaps part of both stories is true. However it came to be, it's delicious when done correctly.

That's when I realized recently that the flavor of what I was buying at the grocery was rather insipid. So of course I decided to see if I could do better. I have to say - I did. The directions look complicated, but they're not. Whip up a brine, trim the beef, submerge and chill it, turn it once a day, then cook it off. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. The result is tender, juicy and intensely flavored.

One thing I have to mention at this point - many of the recipes I found called for saltpeter - the common name of potassium nitrate. In searching it down, I discovered that just about the only way to obtain it was at the hardware store - where it is sold as a stump remover. I had issues with the potential purity of the product. In looking on line for food grade saltpeter I found only a couple of sites selling it for "women who wanted to keep their men from cheating." Uh....well now.

Since its only function (in corned beef) was to preserve the pink color of the meat, I decided that perhaps I didn't need it the corned beef to be traditionally pink after all.There was no function as far as a flavoring or preservative. The preservative properties are mild, and I'm not making thist to keep for months - it's gone at my house within days. I mean, dang. So this recipe will result in a corned beef that's just plain old brown. Your men will thank you.


A 7 1/2 lb beef brisket, with the fat cap up, the 'top' side.
A 7 1/2 lb beef brisket, with the fat cap up, the 'top' side.
The underside of the same brisket, untrimmed.
The underside of the same brisket, untrimmed.
The top side of the brisket, with the fat trimmed off closely.
The top side of the brisket, with the fat trimmed off closely.
The trimmed underside of the brisket.
The trimmed underside of the brisket.
Find a container large enough to hold the entire brisket and brine, with the brisket completely submerged. Make sure it's glass or plastic, or non-reactive metal.
Find a container large enough to hold the entire brisket and brine, with the brisket completely submerged. Make sure it's glass or plastic, or non-reactive metal.
Brining done, the brisket hits the stockpot with some veggies to simmer.
Brining done, the brisket hits the stockpot with some veggies to simmer.
Cooking done and ready to slice. Make sure you go across the grain - in this picture you'd start slicing at the end at the top of the photo.
Cooking done and ready to slice. Make sure you go across the grain - in this picture you'd start slicing at the end at the top of the photo.

2 quarts water

1 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces

1 ½ teaspoon mustard seeds

1 ½ teaspoon black peppercorns

10 whole cloves

10 whole allspice berries

10 whole juniper berries

3 bay leaves, crumbled

1 teaspoon ground ginger OR

1 3-4 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and broken into pieces

2 tsp pickling spice

1 gallon ice

1 6-7 lb beef brisket

After brining, to cook:

1 medium yellow onion

2 celery stalks, roughly chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1. Trim fat from beef brisket.

2. In a large heavy saucepan, place salt, sugar, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Heat just until the salt and sugar have dissolved. This is the brine solution for the corned beef.

3. Pour the brine into a large container – it needs to be big enough to hold the brisket, and to keep it submerged. I use a big 2 gallon container.

4. Add the ice and stir until melted – or mostly melted. You want two things from the ice – you’re adding enough liquid to keep the beef submerged, but you’re also bringing the temperature of the brine down to where it’s safe to add the beef. If you add it to the brine while it’s hot, you’ll be parboiling the out outside, which is not only dangerous from a bacteria side, but it will prevent the brine from penetrating as well as you want. The temperature needs to be 40F or less for safety.

5. Once the brine and ice are at or below 40F, add the brisket to the container. Make sure the brine completely covers the beef. If it doesn’t add just enough very cold water to cover the beef by about an inch.

6. Stash the container in the refrigerator. It needs to ‘cure’ in the brine solution for 6-7 days. Once a day you’ll need to stir the brine and turn the beef.

7. Once 6-7 days have passed, remove the brisket from the brine. Discard the brine. Rinse the brisket well under cold running water.

8. Place brisket in a dutch oven or stockpot. Add onion, celery and carrot. Add just enough fresh cold water to cover brisket by about an inch. Bring to a boil.

9. Reduce heat to a bare simmer. Allow corned beef to simmer, covered, for about three hours or until tender.

10. Remove from the pot and place on a cutting board. Allow to rest for about ten minutes. Make sure you slice very, very thinly, across the grain of the meat. Store tightly covered, with a little bit of the juices from the pot to help keep it moist.

Now it's ready for whatever you want to do with it. Corned Beef and Cabbage, Corned Beef Hash, a phenomenal Reuben sandwich, straight out of the container at midnight...you get the idea. Give it a try - you'll love results!

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Comments 7 comments

Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 6 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Fantastic information, superbly well presented and plenty of great photographs. Great Hub!


DixieMockingbird profile image

DixieMockingbird 6 years ago from East Tennessee Author

Thanks Gordon - it really IS good. And I so appreciate the feedback!


scarytaff profile image

scarytaff 6 years ago from South Wales

Thank you for this information, Dixie. It sounds great.


kerryg profile image

kerryg 6 years ago from USA

I made corned beef and cabbage for the first time this St. Pat's Day and it was a huge hit, but I was really unhappy about all the nitrates and MSG and stuff in the store-bought corned beef I used. I'm really happy to have found this recipe! Next time, I'll make my own!


DixieMockingbird profile image

DixieMockingbird 6 years ago from East Tennessee Author

Thanks Kerry! You know - I'm not a fanatic about preservatives - I understand why they are necessary sometimes. But the saltpeter here freaked me out - I mean I do have a bunch of boys. And I just couldn't see the purpose at home for color. Sure it isn't pink - but we don't have to keep it for months either! Hope you like it - and thanks again!


Ray P 5 years ago

Dixie, the easy way to make your own corned beef pink is to use Tender Quick from Morton Salt. If there is a Kroger store near you they usually stock it for half of what you can buy it on the internet. It contains about 0.5% sodium nitrate and 0.5% sodium nitrite, which is enough to cause the traditional pink color. I use it with regular table salt to cure a whole brisket, but I keep my spices for when I cook the brisket, then use some of the spiced broth produced by boiling the beef and spices to cook the cabbages.


DOAADI 4 years ago

I know this is an old post, but just a little bit of advice about the saltpetre/saltpeter - if you leave it out you have to be very careful not to let the meat spoil in any way. It isn't just in there to make the meat stay pink, it is also a preservative.

Generally, since the meat is going to be cooked, harmful bacteria are usually killed. But if the clostridium botulinum bacterium gets in there you'll end up with the botulinum toxin present (which causes botulism). This might not be destroyed at the low temperatures typically involved in cooking cured meats.

You don't have to use nitrates and nitrites, of course. But they ARE there for a reason.

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