Brine for Corned Beef, Photo by Donna

With the approach of St. Paddy’s day I got a brisket into the brine Friday, in time to make my wife the corned beef she loves. And I realized I’ve never blogged about it.  Everyone who cooks should corn their own beef.  It’s easy as brining a chicken. And when you make your own pickling spice (brine photo above, recipe below), you can really pump up the flavor.

Any cut of beef can be “corned” (corn was originally a generic term for grain, deriving from the same root as kernel and grain; corning beef referred to curing beef with grains of salt, McGee, page 477, thanks to Patrick for his corrective comment).  But the best cuts are the tougher, less-expensive cuts such as brisket. The only uncommon ingredient is the sodium nitrite, pink salt, available by mail here.  If you have any shops that make their own bacon, hams, or smoked sausage, they may have some on hand.  This is what accounts for the deep red color of the beef and also gives it its distinctive flavor.  I think it’s important but it’s not necessary from a safety standpoint.

I know this is a little late for your St. Patrick’s day, but it’s so delicious it’s worth making any time of the year.

The following recipe is from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.

Home-Cured Corned Beef

1-1/2 cups kosher salt*
½ cup sugar
4 teaspoons pink salt (sodium nitrite), optional
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons pickling spice
1 5-pound beef brisket
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in two
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped.

In pot large enough to hold brisket, combine 1 gallon of water with kosher salt, sugar, sodium nitrite (if using), garlic and 2 tablespoons pickling spice. Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.

Place brisket in brine, weighted with a plate to keep it submerged; cover. Refrigerate for 5 days.

Remove brisket from brine and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot just large enough to hold it. Cover with water and add remaining pickling spice, carrot, onion and celery. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer gently until brisket is fork-tender, about 3 hours, adding water if needed to cover brisket.

Keep warm until ready to serve. Meat can be refrigerated for several days in cooking liquid. Reheat in the liquid or serve chilled. Slice thinly and serve on a sandwich or with additional vegetables simmered until tender in the cooking liquid.

*A note about the salt. Salt level not hugely critical here because it’s basically boiled and excess salt moves into cooking liquid.  You can weigh out 12 ounces here if you feel better using a scale (approximately a 10% brine).  Or you can simply make a 5% brine of however much water you need to cover (6.4 ounces per gallon).  When you cook it, season the cooking liquid to the level you want your meat seasoned.  Another option is wrapping the brisket in foil and cooking it in a 225 degree oven till tender, but only do this if you’ve used the 5% brine.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Pickling Spice

2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons allspice berries
1 tablespoon ground mace
2 small cinnamon sticks, crushed or broken into pieces
2 to 4 bay leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger.

Combine peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a small dry pan. Place over medium heat and stir until fragrant, being careful not to burn them; keep lid handy in case seeds pop. Crack peppercorns and seeds in mortar and pestle or with the side of a knife on cutting board.

Combine with other spices, mix. Store in tightly sealed plastic or glass container.

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56 Wonderful responses to “Corned Beef: How To Cure Your Own”

  • Peter

    Thank you so much! I eat corned beef sandwiches are year ’round so St. Paddy’s Day may come & go.

  • Stephanie Manley

    I have done this a few times. I have done it without the pink salt, you simply end up with a piece of meat that looks far more normal than the intense red of corned beef. I have purchased the spice spend from penzeys.com to make my corned beef, and it has turned out well. I have also made it from a hand crafted blend too. It depends on what area of the country to live, as to how often corned beef is available. The hardest part for me is finding the container large enough to put it, but I took care of that by going to a restaurant supply place and purchasing one of their storage containers there.
    Homemade corned beef is far superior to the commerical kind, the flavors from your own kitchen are more intense, and it is so worth taking the time to do this.

    • Michael Greenberg

      I use the bottom drawer of my fridge…works like a charm, and there’s no worry about rips in a ziploc bag or dripping onto other food! I also use it for brining turkeys before Thanksgiving.

      • Nancy Singleton Hachisu

        Well that’s a pretty wild idea. I like it. My son has been bugging me to brine my chickens instead of salting them. I always tell him it’s a lot more trouble. Maybe not, eh? It’s all in the process. Thanks.

      • Nancy Singleton Hachisu

        I guess St. Patrick’s Day is coming. Hey, it’s tomorrow, here in Japan (better scrounge up something green to wear, lest I be pinched by ???…nobody).

        As I read Elise’s post, I realized that I had never made (or eaten) Corned Beef, but had been thinking about it as something I should do these last few years. In my mind, I can see Julia Child’s recipe, guess I missed the one in Charcuterie. I’ve got to stop skimming.

        Looks like I better clean out my refrigerator drawer to make room for some brining. I even have the pink salt hanging around for when I was ready to make saucisson. Guess, I wasn’t ready. Now I just have to figure out what cut brisket is in Japan. Thanks.

  • Darren

    I’ve made this before and it turns out wonderfully . . . but why stop here? Turn that thing into a pastrami!

    • Thayer

      No kidding–slather it in coriander and peppercorns and throw it on the smoker. The recipe in Charcuterie is amazing.

  • Patrick

    A correction on the etymology of “corned beef”…

    The term “corn” was in use in the English language as a synonym for “grain” before anyone had ever seen the indigenous American plant we now call corn. In the same way that we now commonly refer to a “grain of salt,” our ancestors thought of a “corn of salt.” So “corned beef” really just means “salted beef.”

    When the English speaking world finally “discovered” maize in the new world, they used the aptly descriptive name “corn” to describe a plant that is structured around so many individual grains. Of course, over time the new-world plant became so ubiquitous that it rendered all other uses of the term pretty much forgotten.

    Happy Saint Patrick’s!
    Patrick O’Leary
    thefooddemocracy.blogspot.com

  • Ben

    We’ll be having ours for dinner tonight (corned beef and cabbage); I started the cure on Wednesday. Due to time constraints tonight, I did the braise last night and filled the house with the most wonderful aroma. I reserved a couple pounds of the corned beef for pastrami. Can’t wait!

    • Cali

      Pink salt isn’t that hard to find. Any place that carries canning supplies (Mason jars, rings and lids, and etc.) will probably have it. My local Walmart carries it.

  • David Dombroski

    I have never liked measuring by volume when it comes to salt. It differs by brand. What would be the amount of salt, by weight, for the brine?

  • David Dadekian

    I just did this last week, using a variation on your spices, and cooked the dinner yesterday. Not only is the brine ridiculously easy but so is the cooking. I’ve never been a big fan of the “boiled” dinner but everything was loaded with flavor. Everyone should do this.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Bless you…with the onset of Passover you have given two incredible recipes to prepare. I must say Corned Beef, yes not smoked meat we montrealers are famed for, is a product I usually buy cryovaced at 1 1/2 times a regular brisket and can usually only find it in a Kosher section of meat or a Kosher butcher..odd it is not a food that French Canadians seem to enjoy…then proceed to boil…not this year…(the heritage of the corned brisket must emanate somewhere out of europe?)

  • Tony T

    I’ve got two briskets brining, one for corned beef and one for pastrami. I can’t wait.

    As far as containers for brining, I recently saw that Ziploc now has 2.5 gallon bags. I purchased these bags and find them plenty big enough for a 5 lbs brisket plus brine. Plus, I can fit them easier in my refrigerator.

  • Mimi

    Thank you for sharing this. I was thinking about homemade brisket as I ate a Rueben sandwich and german potato salad in early honor of St. Paddys day on Saturday.

  • lo

    Have always been tempted to try this… and I couldn’t tell you what’s been stopping me. Would probably opt to skip the nitrates on this one, but I love the proportions you’ve chosen for your pickling spices!

  • Susan

    I used to be able to buy Saag’s Corned Beef Round at Costco (eons ago) but have not seen it anywhere since. It was as tender and flavorful as any other corned beef, and I really liked the larger slices for sandwiches. Do you suppose that I could corn an Eye of Round roast or what would you suggest? Would I have to lengthen the brining time or pierce a thicker meat? Any tips? I’ve never tried curing meat.

    • Susan

      One more thing..if sodium nitrate is included, would you have to adjust the amount of kosher salt in the brine? Wouldn’t the inclusion make it an extremely salty brine?

  • Kelly Thos. Shay

    To be even more authentic you should try Irish Spiced Beef – it was the precursor to Corned Beef. It is made from a dry rub on the brisket that cures for 7 days – vs. a brine. It wouldn’t be Christmas or St. Paddy’s without it!

  • ladygoat

    Really, it’s that easy? I guess I know what I’ll be doing with the brisket in the freezer that I didn’t know what to do with!

  • Tinky

    You are my hero. This year I got a lovely corned beef from a really good butcher, but NEXT YEAR……….

  • Peter Duray-Bito

    Will this work for a London broil? My wife bought a couple on sale a few weeks ago and I wasn’t too happy with just grilling it. Tough and chewy. Is this a good solution for the one I still have in my freezer?

    • ruhlman

      sure, give it a whirl. it may be pretty lean so you’ll need to compensate for that.

    • Matt Rissling

      Off topic, although the flank may indeed be too lean for this corned beef method, but when preparing flank (london broil) make sure you score each side of the steak before cooking. Score it twice on each side to create a diamond pattern. This helps break up some of the muscle. A marinade of equal parts canola and oyster sauce, lots of fresh garlic and pepper go a long way to making this cut of beef delicious. Cook to a medium and slice thinly across the grain and I think you’ll be happier!

  • Jewel

    We, too, got our brisket in the brine on Friday. We have made a version from the Cooks Illustrated people but this will be our first with the recipe from Charcuterie.

    We always make our own corned beef and have folks over on St Patrick’s day; this year we’re having our house/dog sitter over for the run-thru before we go on vacation. He’s quite excited to try freshly-made corned beef. Of course we’ll also have cabbage, roasted new potatoes and parsnips with parsley-cream sauce. Probably bread pudding for dessert.

  • Romona

    I have several children who love corned beef. I always buy it from COSTCO but have never tried making mine own. I definitely will after this post!

  • jeff

    I have two questions. Will it turn out jucier and more moist if you use the navel cut of a brisket, or will the added fat mess be too much. Also, besides taking a longer time, what would be the difference if you dry cured it (just dusted it with salt in the same ratio as you do with bacon in your book). I know a lot of jewish delis in nyc dry cure their corned beef and pastramis rather than brine it.

    • Michael Greenberg

      I tend to use a whole brisket, fat on. It can be a little much, but you can always trim off the inch-thick parts.

      I’ve never tried dry curing it, but I can say that a few days longer in the brine doesn’t adversely affect things.

  • Elizabeth S

    I remember you mentioning that Donna’s food photography posts would be moving to their own space, but I’ve missed the details on where to find them. Is she on hiatus with the posts while she gets the new page organized, or have I already missed a few? Looking forward to reading more of her photo-notes!

  • vytauras

    Michael, first time post….love your blog and books ! in your books or blog you never mentioned about curing salts …such a Mortons quick cure or sugar cure..I usually use just like I would use salt for panceta , bacon ,pates and corned beef. Do you have any experience with those….?
    Any difference in a final product with saltpeter, pink salt..or ready to use curing salts ?? Your opinion ?? Please ? Thanks !

  • ruhlman

    elizabeth, donna’s new blog address is http://ruhlmanphotography.wordpress.com/

    i’ll start to link the photos to that page.

    vytauras, as far as i know, the morton’s cure is a mixture of sodium nitrite and other stuff, sugar and seasoning. I prefer my own stuff! so should you—better flavor. Saltpeter, potassium nitrate, not used as much anymore here in the US. Better to stick with sodium nitrite and for dry cured sausages sodium nitrate, available as DQ cure salts from butcher-packer.com

    • vytauras

      Thanks, for advise . I will definitely try sodium nitrite with Diamond Crystal kosher salt , which I prefer over Morton’s anyway . I can taste bad salt in my food , like …table salt…and Mortons ‘ tender Quick cure ” does leave some after taste too . I made Pancetta from your book using Mortons quick tender cure, which contains no other seasonings, just salt, 0.5% sodium nitrite and 0.5% sodium nitrate also PropyleneGlycol …( whatever that is ..) and Mortons Sugar cure also has some dextrose in it ..

  • Matthew B

    Why isn’t saltpeter used as much? I’ve found it at my local pharmacy and used it with good results. Is it a health concern, or does it not yield a consistent product in the way that sodium nitrate might?

  • Mantonat

    For people worried about using sodium nitrite: as long as you aren’t eating alot of store-bought cured meats, using sodium nitrite occassionally at home is not going to be a big concern. The studies done have indicated that sodium nitrite forms carcinogenic compounds primarily when the meat is cooked at high temp. Low temperature braising or smoking is probably not a concern. Also, the carcinogens are formed as a result of the oxidation of the sodium nitrite in combination with other chemical reactions caused by digestion. If you are worried, just take some vitamin C or E with your St. Patrick’s Day feast. I’m not a scientist, but I play one on the internet.

    • ruhlman

      it’s going to be flavorful but dry if you braise it. serve it with a fatty sauce or something like cabbage sauteed in bacon fat or serve with lots of the braising liquid (if you’re braising).

  • jfwells

    Another nice addition to the standard CB&C recipe is to remove the corned beef about a half hour before it is done and pop it in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes with a bourbon & brown sugar glaze (I suppose Irish Whiskey would work as well). The recipe I have is:

    1 c. Brown sugar
    1/2 c. bourbon
    1/2 c. apple juice
    3 Tbs. mustard

    Although it is a bit thin. Next time I do it I will drop down the liquid some.

  • Peter Duray-Bito

    How about laying bacon over the top of the London broil and braising (real slow – like 325 dregrees for 3 hours) sitting on a bed of mirepoix, with wine and stock? Do I expose the bacon or have the liquid cover it?

  • Peter Duray-Bito

    Sorry, I guess that’s no longer corned beef with the wine and stock. Maybe jfwells’ recipe but still keeping the bacon laying over the top. Not Kosher, maybe but damn the torpedoes!

  • Nancy B

    Michael,

    If I add more garlic will I get the same fabulous tasting Jewish corned beef they have in Chicago & NY delis? What makes theirs so juicy? It’s to die for! All my life (since moving to the West Coast) I’ve been searching for something like it— to no avail. My mouth starts watering just thinking about it!

    P.S. Your pastrami recipe is wonderful.

  • Mike

    I used a Kobe briskett this year (not much more than a good briskett) it was unbelievable. Also corned an antelope roast this year that was left over from hunting season. It made for good sandwhiches.

  • Ryan

    Methodology note/suggestion to those with space constraints in their refrigerators:
    I’ve been corning my own beef for a couple of years and since I didn’t have the top shelf frig space for a pot large enough to hold a brisket for 5 days, I had to come up with an alternative. I use one of those large plastic roasting bags found at the grocery store. I put the brisket in first, then cover with brine, and push out all of the air to make sure the meat is completely submerged before closing with the zip tie. I then place the bag in disposable aluminum half hotel pan to catch the small but inevitable amount of leakage. This cuts down the vertical space requirement to about 4 or 5 inches which allows me to store on one of the lower frig shelves. Funny, I’ve never used one of those bags to actually roast anything in…

  • Chad

    Any thoughts on how long this will keep in the fridge after coming out of the brine (before cooking)? I brined 8 pounds for a party that was supposed to be last Saturday and got delayed, so I’ll be cooking this on Sunday. I took it out of the brine on Monday and am wondering if I need to freeze it.

    Bye the way, I cooked up a half pound last night just to make sure it was worthy of serving to my guests, and it’s excellent!

  • pekmez

    We used the recipe in Charcuterie to brine a beef tongue and make deli-style sliced tongue, and it was fabulous! I love a good braised fresh brisket so I’m not willing to sacrifice a rare brisket for making corned beef – but I’ve been getting tongue for under $1 a lb whenever I want it… so into the brine it goes!

  • joshua

    I teach culinary arts at a high school technical level and we brined a whole case of brisket last week. We open a student run cafe between February and April break and I cant begin to tell you the amount of compliments we received from the senior citizens we served. Every customer over 60 that had our corned beef and cabbage said it was great, a couple even said that it was the best they ever had. If I can make a 60 to 70 year old Mainer say that, I really think I did something right.

  • Wizzythestick

    from someone who lives in a part of the world where the only corned beef I see comes in tins. Thank You. I have been meaning to get this book. This just seals the deal:-)

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