How to Make Corned Beef from Scratch

It's as easy as brining a brisket.



Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

With St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, you could just buy the vacuum-sealed parcel of corned beef from the supermarket. But if you flirt with breadmaking or pickling, consider homemade corned beef as your next exciting (but totally manageable) cooking project. The payoff is exponential. Compared to the salty store-bought stuff, homemade corned beef is nuanced and flavorful. Here are some considerations for when you DIY — plus an easy recipe for the brine that will help you pull it off.

Use the Flat Cut of Brisket

Corned beef is typically made from brisket, and there are two cuts of brisket: the flat and the point. The point is more marbled with fat; it’s often used in barbecue and tends to fall apart when it’s slow-cooked. You want the flat cut, which is leaner and slices neatly. Opt for a big beautiful piece that weighs several pounds.

Customize Your Brine

To turn your brisket into corned beef, you’ll need to submerge it in a homemade brine made from pickling spices, sugar, kosher salt and pink curing salt. Some recipes call for a generic store-bought pickling spice, but the fun part of DIY is that you can hop on an express train to flavortown by adding your favorite whole spices. Think: mustard seeds, peppercorns, whole cloves, allspice berries, juniper berries and bay leaves. Want to add a little heat? Add some red pepper flakes. Combine it all in a pot with water, bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.

Wait, What’s Pink Curing Salt?

Calling all bacon eaters: Whether you know it or not, you’ve eaten pink curing salt before. Not to be confused with pink Himalayan sea salt, pink curing salt is a preservative made from sodium chloride (table salt) and sodium nitrate. Dyed pink to differentiate it from regular table salt on the shelf, it preserves food like bacon — and gives corned beef its characteristic rosy color and tangy flavor. Look for pink curing salt #1, which is used to preserve meats you’ll cook (versus pink curing salt #2, which preserves items like charcuterie).

Give the Brisket a Soak

Once the sugar's dissolved, add a couple cups of ice water to your steamy brine so it cools down, and boom: most of your work is done. All you have to do now is grab your largest zip-top bag, add the brisket and the brine and seal it, removing as much air as possible. Stash the package in the fridge for at least five days (and up to seven), flipping it over every other day, to let the brine work its magic. Once it’s brined, rinse the brisket under some cool water before preparing it just as you would the pre-brined stuff.

Corned Beef Brine

Yield: One 3-pound corned brisket
Active Time: 20 min
Total Time: 120 hr 20 min

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoons pink curing salt, such as Prague Powder
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
10 allspice berries
10 juniper berries
2 bay leaves
3 pounds flat-cut beef brisket

Add 2 cups water, salt, sugar, curing salt, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, cloves, allspice berries, juniper berries and bay leaves into small saucepot over medium heat. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Pour into a large bowl and add 4 cups of ice water. The brine mixture should be cool to the touch. Place the brisket into a large zip-top bag and pour the brine mixture into the bag. Seal the top, carefully removing as much air as possible. Refrigerate for at least five days, and up to seven, flipping over and rotating it every other day. Rinse thoroughly under cool water before cooking.

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