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:

4.6 from 9 reviews
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 Interactions

Reader Comments

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

  4. 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. 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!!

    • How does he eat plants like lettuce, celery. Beets or any plant. Since they’re full of nitrites and nitrates. Thats whats so phoney about these uncured bacon, hams, sausage and hotdogs. They use celety juice or powder mainly but many of these “uncured” products contain up to ten times the nitrites of normally cured products.

      • I wonder if the nitrate in celery for some reason is different to the nitrate used in processed meats? I have no idea, just my guess.

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

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

    • I’m in Toronto and I buy the grass fed beef brisket from our local farmer. It is like an entirely different meat when bought from the farm. It’s so good. I have never tried corning the beef myself before but I am going to do it today.

  11. 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.

    • Usually the brine is very preserving and I’ve let mine sit for a few weeks and be fine, but I’d definitely research it more yourself and make sure you are comfortable with using it…

  12. 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. 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. 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.


  15. I’m really excited to try this recipe. I have the option to buy the brisket with or without the fat back. Is the fat back trimmed off the brisket before you brine it?

  16. why does yours only take 5 days when it is almost a clone of alton’s? are you concerned with the botulism issue since no potassium nitrate in yours?

  17. Hi Katie,

    I live in India and have been missing Corned Beef for a long time. I used your recipe this week and it turned out great!! We have to use water buffalo here as beef is not available. Thanks for posting the recipe!


  18. I know you posted this years ago, but the season had me searching for an alternative to store-bought, chemical infused corned beef. I bought the cheapest cut of beef I could find since no brisket was available and my dad advised any tough cut would do. I left it in the brine for seven days, simmered it yesterday with an onion studded with about 8 cloves and a bay leaf. Near the end, I removed the onion and bay leaf and added wedges of fresh cabbage and cooked until tender. Absolutely delicious!!!!!!!

    This will become a new tradition.

  19. Does the beet juice and hot pink sauerkraut change the flavor at all? Going to try this today. Will 3 days be enough to brine???

  20. Wish I’d seen this recipe last week, so I’d had time to brine it. But I will use your recipe next time. One question… I don’t have beet juice, but I do have food-safe beet root powder. Could I add a tsp or two of that with my spices instead of the juice?

  21. Is the sugar necessary? I know it isn’t that much but I am not sure why it is added except for sweetness.

    I am thinking about trying this with a chuck roast. Hope it turns out…

    Thank you

  22. I made my very 1st corn beef & cabbage dinner and all I can say is WOW!!! I followed your brine recipe (and added a few more ingredients like pickle juice and a host of other seeds) Had it soaking in mixture for 5 days. I simmered it black beer on stovetop for 4 hrs gradually added my veggies during the last 45 mins. Served it up with horseradish, a good marble rye and cucumbers & sour cream. What can I say but THANK YOU for the direction to a real pot of gold!

  23. Delicious! I made it exactly as written, with all the optional ingredients . I will be making this again and again.

  24. I just made my first corned beef from scratch, and served it for St. Paddy’s day. I found it a little salty, so I was glad to see your recipe calling for half the salt. I didn’t want to use pink salt in my brine, so I like the idea of the beet juice for coloring. I will be trying your recipe soon.

    I haven’t been able to eat corned beef for about ten years, but not because of the nitrites. All commercially prepared corned beef briskets contain either “Natural Flavoring” or “Celery Powder”. These, along with rosemary extract, and spice extractives are “flavor enhancers” derived from the minute amounts of MSG found naturally in many edible plants. Natural flavor is made by boiling fruits or vegetables or protein from dairy or meats in a solvent until a foam rises to the top. The foam, when dried, is one of the most concentrated forms of MSG available, and is added by the shovels full into almost every product found in the center of the grocery store, and much of the meat department. You will find it not only in foods, but in candy, cough medicine and most other OTC medicines, mouth wash, toothpaste, ALL flavors of soda pop, and on and on. It doesn’t change the taste of the product but tickles the neurons in your brain into THINKING the stuff tastes better, and usually causes you to want more. The added affect for me, and I’m sure many others, is an almost immediate need to sleep, only to wake up with a terrible fog in my brain that makes me sort of stupid for sometimes as long as three days. I have learned to read my labels very carefully, and to say NO THANKS to anything offered for which I can’t read the ingredients. I’m sure if you do a little research, you will find that natural flavoring is in almost everything, and is most definitely NOT natural. If you read organic labels, you will often find organic natural flavoring. I have to cook almost everything from scratch. I make my own mayo, ketchup, and salad dressings. (ANNIE’S ketchup and mustard are safe) There are virtually no commercially made sauces, seasoning mixes, or broths without some form of flavor enhancer.

    Having discovered this some years ago, my ability to function normally, and my quality of life has gone way up. What’s scary, is that you find these and other related ingredients too numerous to mention, in foods everyone feeds their children of all ages, every day. Please Email me if you would like more info.

    Thanks for trying to help people eat healthier.


  25. If I were trying to make, corned beef hash, could I just use ground beef and add all the spices

  26. I may be being anal, but – in the ingredients listing – I believe you meant Himalayan _mountain_ salt, not sea. Also, why not use Celtic Sea salt? Seems to be more in-line with the tradition. 🙂

    • The reason some call it Himalayan sea salt is because *supposedly* millions of years ago sea pools covered that part of the earth, and the remaining salt from that sea water was left untouched in those mines for millions of years.

  27. Quick point, that Himalayan salt you like, contains potassium nitrate. All Pink salts are high in potassium nitrate, that’s what makes them pink. So, you might want to avoid them to skip the nitrates. Celery extract is also high in nitrates, which is why some people use it instead of prague powder in recipes. It’s all just different sources of the same chemical.

    • Actually, the pink color from Himalayan pink salt is not potassium nitrite, it is from iron oxide. If you look up the 84 trace minerals, or elements, in Himalayan salt, you will not find potassium nitrite anywhere. You will find potassium, but no nitrites or nitrates. The Meadow has a list of all minerals in the salt.

      Curing salts are specific for curing meats, and have potassium nitrite added to them, and are dyed pink so consumers will know not to use them for anything but curing. During the curing process, the potassium nitrite oxidizes and is no longer dangerous for consumption.

      Curing salts, with added pink color, are not the same as Himalayan pink salt, and should not be confused. There is no danger in consuming Himalayan pink salt.

  28. My family has always celebrated St. Patricks’ day with corned beef and cabbage. Always that lovely pink prepackaged one from the store. I never really thought it could be easy to make my own and avoid some nasty chemicals! Thanks

  29. Haha! I made this a few weeks ago, The only things I didn’t have were the Juniper berries, and the colorant. It was scrumptious! And, no guilt. Thank you, THANK YOU!!! I’m back at it today. I forgot I wanted to put the red/pink in it, so I just went all the way back to the store for a beet that I put through the blender with some of the mixture, and strained it back in the pot. I’m thinking it’s probably overkill, we’ll see. It was a small beet, but still. No beet juice at the nearest store, and I’ve not seen the red or pink kraut that I can recall. The thing I’m laughing about, is that I’ve been looking around on the web to see if anyone uses other cuts to do this, (I found no mention) and all I needed to do was read the comments here. Must try to get Juniper berries for next time. SO good anyway!

  30. Came across this recipe a week ago wanting to home corn my beef brisket for St. Patty’s Day. Nothing more disgusting to me than the pink slime covered beef you find this time of year. I used pink Himalaya salt but although pink will not pink up your meat. You need actual nitrates for this. After 5 days in brine however, the flavor was great! Way more mild than the prepackaged stuff thus allowing for roasting (how I prefer to cook) without being too salty. Ill do this every year now. Super easy, too!

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