Corned Beef Brisket Recipe

corned beef brisket recipe nitrate free

As an Irish girl (though married to an Italian), Corned Beef has been a St. Patrick’s Day tradition for years (yes, I know that it is really an Irish American tradition…)

If this is a tradition at your house as well, I’d highly encourage you to brine your own corned beef. (If this isn’t a tradition at your house, I’d encourage you to adopt it!)

Sure, you can buy a corned beef brisket pre-made and neatly packaged in its plastic bag…. it’s even nice and pink from the use of saltpeter in the brine.

What is saltpeter? Glad you asked…. It is known chemically as potassium nitrate and it is used in making fireworks and gun powder. It’s also strong enough to dissolve tree stumps. But I’m sure it’s safe to eat… or not!

If you aren’t a fan of eating gunpowder either, making your own corned beef from an inexpensive beef brisket is really easy and it has a much better flavor than store bought anyway.

The only thing it won’t have is that hot pink color that the store bought versions have. If that bothers you, just do what I do, and add beet juice and hot pink sauerkraut to the last part of the brining process…. voila! Hot pink corned beef.

The recipe I use to brine the beef is adapted from Alton Brown’s version. I love his shows, even though I won’t cook many of the things he does, but he explains the chemistry of cooking so well. (Yes, I’m a dork.. I know) I also like that his recipe lists the prep-time as 243 hours… (mine takes 5 days)

Willing to give making your own corned beef a try? Here’s what you’ll need:

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Corned Beef Brisket Recipe
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Irish
Serves: 8+
  • The meat:
  • One 4-5 pound beef brisket... grass-fed if possible
  • The Brine:
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 1 cup of sea salt (I use Himalayan sea salt)
  • ½ cup raw can sugar or organic brown sugar (don't worry, the residue sugars in the finished product are minimal)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon or about ¼ tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard seeds
  • 1-2 tablespoons of black peppercorns
  • ½ tsp whole cloves (about 8-10 individual cloves)
  • 1 tsp allspice berries (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (optional)
  • 1 tsp juniper berries (optional)
  • ½ tsp dried ginger powder or about 1 tsp fresh minced ginger
  • ½ tsp dried thyme leaf
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed or ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 2-3 bay leaves, crushed
  • ¼ cup beet juice or juice from homemade sauerkraut made with purple cabbage(optional)
  1. Put the water, salt, sugar and spices (except beet juice or sauerkraut juice) in a large pot and heat, stirring frequently, until sugar and salt dissolve. Cool liquid, using 2 cups of ice if needed, and place in fridge until very cold. It is very important that the brine is cold before it comes in contact with the meat.
  2. For the 3-5 day brining process, you can either place the brisket in a large, 2-gallon bag and add the brine, or place the brisket in a large glass container with a lid and add the brine. Either way, you want the brisket to be completely submerged and surrounded with the brine. Add the beet juice or sauerkraut juice (if using) at this point once everything is cooled.
  3. Place in the fridge (put inside another dish if you just use the plastic bag in case it leaks) and leave it there for at least 3 days and 5 if possible. Each day, flip it over and move the brine around. After 3-5 days, remove from the brine, rinse with cool water and cook as you normally would a corned beef brisket (don't normally cook a corned beef brisket? Instructions coming soon...)
  4. The end!

Ever made corned beef? How do you prepare it? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. Allison says

    I have mine brine cooling down for the brisket right now!  I am so excited to try this — it is my first time. Do you think it is ok for it to brine in a stainless steel dutch oven? I don’t have a glass container large enough for it.

  2. Cathy says

    Most of the spices called for in whole form I have in powder.  Do you think it would be a  problem to use those?  I was all excited to try this since I have the brisket from our recently purchased side of beef already but hate to make a trip and spend the money to buy all new spices (if I can even find them in my area, usually I have to get less common ones on trips to a city about 90-100 miles away).

  3. Honora says

    Bummer, I bought an overpriced nitrate-free corned beef at Whole Foods yesterday!!  Of well, next year.  And Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

  4. says

    WOW!  I just pulled this out of the slow cooker after 13 hours on low- phenomenal!  I had no idea it was possible to make something so authentic tasting, so easily!  I used sauerkraut juice even though it wasn’t pink- I think it imparted a nice flavor.  Thank you for this fantastic recipe!

  5. Annie says

    Thank you SO much! My husband is nitrate/nitrite intolerant, and I’ve been unable to fix the traditional St. Paddy’s day dinner for so long…I’m thrilled to find your recipe and can’t wait to try it out!!

  6. Terry H. says

    What do you think of using Annatto to color the Corned Beef in place of Beet juice or Red/Purple Sauerkraut juice?

  7. rebecca ramsey says

    I know this is an old post but I was looking at this recipe because I saw a prepackaged one in the store and was thinking how I love the stuff but would never buy that. I also LOVE Alton Brown and Good Eats (always have, I’m a dork too) and I love the plate in your picture. Pretty sure my grandma has the remnants of a set like that.

  8. Michelle says

    I am going to try this for St. Patty’s day. Would it be ok to use a food grade 5 gallon bucket to put the brine and meat in?

  9. Tracy K says

    I’m another Irish-American lass who is excited to find this! All the recipes I found called for nitrates, and I was wondering how to get around that. I’m getting a brisket asap! Thank you so much!

  10. Sheyona says

    What other cuts of meat can you use .. As here in Canada I have never seen a briskit at my local store???

  11. John says

    Any idea how long this can sit in the brine? 4 weeks? I was planning on smoking it low and slow (pastrami) but am worried about food borne illness. I am bummed if I need to toss it. The meat smells awesome good.

  12. Cory Barlow says

    Brining one right now, intending to do a smoked pastrami in 5 days. Does anyone have thoughts on necessary (or not) desalination of this method before final cooking?

  13. Daniele Cole says

    I have a question. I have been wanting to make Corned Beef and Cabbage for a while now. Normally I buy tha packaged Corned Beef. However, my husband has high blood pressure and the packaged Corned Beef is not good for that. Your recipe calls for a lot of sea salt. Do you know of a substitute in order to get the same tast, but no sodium or low sodium?

  14. David says

    I’ve been making my own corned beef for years. My base recipe is similar to yours and/or Alton Brown’s recipe.

    Just a few points of experience: can brine for as long as you like. I usually do mine a minimum of 1 week but prefer 3-7 weeks when using thick cuts (keep in mind I’m using a 15lb whole brisket or chuck roast, less time needed for a 5lb trimmed brisket). I Haven’t done them with enough frequency to say more or less time is sufficient, but the salt brine is a preserving method and as long as the temp is in the 50’s (F) you should be fine for as long as you want. If I’m making large batches (20+lb) I frequently store them in an ice chest/ice bath in my garage in winter and add ice every few days as needed.

    Plastic food safe containers work well (BPA free preferred, but just opinion). I’ve also done ziploc 2 gal bags, glass/ceramic croc and even made my own vacuseal pouches and brined in bag. I would use caution in stainless steel due to prolonged salt contact (just not sure). I would avoid aluminum due to its reactivity and tendancy to harbor off flavors. Also remember with plastic containers, they may become permanently infused with your brine smell (i.e. permanent brine bucket). Has happened with brine as well as kimchi/saurkrauts.

    Meat choice: any will do, but preferably a good slow-cook variety. My rule is anything that I would braise, I could brine with positive effects. Brisket is my second choice mostly because its hard to find a good quality packers cut in my area. I usually do a good chuck roast and I’ll cut that to about 2.5-3″ thick so I can get an optimal brine. Alternate meats also do well, particulary traditionally tough meats, deer or elk roasts, mutton leg and when its turkey day and I’m brining, bird goes in the same style brine but less time is required (usually 4-24hr depending on size). Try and avoid lean/tender meats such as sirloin and ribeye as they will not benifit from the long slow process. Beef tongue, for those willing to partake, does an amazing job for corned beef as does tri-tip for those who don’t want to do a whole brisket.

    Salt alternatives… Sea salt is a little better than regular table salt but its still NaCl (Sodium Chloride). Perhaps you could find a decent source of KCl (Potassium Chloride) as it has a traditional salt taste and active ingredient in most salt substitutes. Watch out though as many times people with Salt restrictions may also have Potassium issues. Check with your Cardiologist if you have one or family MD at minimum if there are any concerns.

    Saltpeter/nitrates/nitrites: rather important as it is the only additive that helps prevent the botulism spore from germinating and has been used for this purpose since the 12th century (or somewhere around there). The pinkening is only a byproduct of its addition rather than the purpose. The salt brine without saltpeter helps prevent most everything else, but not botulism. That having been said, I do not ever consider adding it to anything I make. Not the best reasoning, but I’ve yet to fall ill in my methodology and I see no reason to change. Just want everyone else to make informed decisions and realize the importance of proper cleaning and sterilizing when necessary.

    Final step, the rinse. Regardless of cooking method, be thorough, then rinse one more time. You are not going to wash off the flavor, and you can always add a little more salt at serving time if its under salted for your preference. If freezing; however, I usually lightly dry with tea towel or paper towels pre rinse then vacu-bag and freeze. Wash prior to cooking. High salt content will slow the freeze and decrease the thaw time as the brine has a lower freezing temp than neutral water.


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