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I’m an Irish girl (though married to an Italian), and corned beef brisket has been a St. Patrick’s Day tradition for us for years. The week before St. Patty’s the menu plan always features shamrock shakes (the not from McDonalds kind), bangers and mash, and other traditional Irish meals.
Ironically, the Irish don’t even have a tradition of making corned beef on St. Patty’s Day as we do in America… or of green beer or cheerful leprechauns for that matter.
So why the popular dish? Read on!
Corned Beef Brisket: A Wee Bit O’ History
Corned beef brisket wasn’t native to Ireland originally, but came about when the British came to rule. The British married their love of beef to Ireland’s plentiful salt (which tended to be a large, corn kernel size salt, hence the name “corned”) to produce “corned beef.”
Ironically, the Irish seldom ate corned beef themselves as it was too expensive. It was actually Irish-American immigrants who adopted the dish from their Jewish kosher butcher neighbors and started serving it in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, along with the very Irish potatoes and cabbage now traditionally served with the dish.
We’re happy to carry on this delicious tradition at our house and take our corned beef seriously. There’s one important step that makes all the difference: a homemade brisket brine.
Brining Your Own Corned Beef
Why brine your own brisket instead of buying prepared corned beef?
It’s easy enough to find a corned beef brisket in just about any grocery store before St. Patrick’s Day, pre-made and neatly packaged in its plastic bag and very … artificially pink. They use saltpeter to accomplish this (chemically known as potassium nitrate) which is also used to make fireworks and gunpowder, and even dissolve tree stumps.
I don’t like the sound of that kind of thing in my food, so I’ve started making my own corned beef from beef brisket instead. It’s an inexpensive cut of meat, really easy to make, and 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. To compensate, I add beet juice and hot pink sauerkraut to the last part of the brining process, and … voilà! Hot pink corned beef.
How to Make Real Corned Beef Brisket
I adapted this brining recipe 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.)
Homemade corned beef brisket does take a little meal planning ahead of time, but I promise the result is so worth it! Alton’s version lists the prep time as 243 hours (!), but my version takes 3-5 days at most. Of course almost all of that prep time requires no work at all. Just let the brisket sit in the fridge and absorb all the (healthy) yumminess.
Step 1: Buy Beef Brisket and Spices (A Week Before You Need It)
Buy from a trusted farmer or quality butcher if you can. I don’t have either in my area so I keep meats from ButcherBox stashed in my deep freezer. If I buy one from the store, I skip the cuts labeled “corned beef” and buy a plain brisket with no additives instead.
Note that this recipe calls for either beet juice or purple cabbage sauerkraut to get the pink color corned beef is known for. If you make sauerkraut or have been wanting to try, start it well ahead of St. Patrick’s Day following this recipe.
Step 2: Assemble Spices
Don’t let the number of spices intimidate you; several of them are optional if you don’t have them around.
Step 3: Brine 3 to 5 Days Ahead of Time
Let your brisket take a bath in the pickling liquid for 3-5 days before St. Patrick’s Day (or any time you want corned beef)!
On St. Patrick’s Day: Make Corned Beef and Cabbage!
Take corned brisket out of the bath, discard brine, and put meat into slow cooker or Instant Pot. Cook according to directions for tender, falling apart corned beef, add veggies, and enjoy the result… a much healthier St. Patty’s Day celebration!
Corned Beef Brisket Recipe (Brine Your Own)
- 4-5 lb beef brisket
For the brine:
- 2 qt water
- 1 cup sea salt
- ½ cup cane sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1 cinnamon stick (or ¼ tsp cinnamon powder)
- 1 TBSP mustard seeds
- 1-2 TBSP black peppercorns
- 8-10 whole cloves
- ½ tsp ginger powder (or 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced)
- ½ tsp thyme
- 5 cloves garlic (crushed, or ½ tsp garlic powder)
- 2-3 bay leaf (crushed)
- 1 tsp allspice berries (optional)
- 1 TBSP coriander seeds (optional)
- 1 tsp juniper berries (optional)
- ¼ cup beet juice (or juice from homemade sauerkraut made with purple cabbage, optional – it's just for color)
- Make the brine by putting the water, salt, sugar, and spices (except beet juice or sauerkraut juice) in a large pot and heating, stirring frequently, until sugar and salt dissolve. Cool liquid, using 2 cups of ice if needed, and place in refrigerator until very cold. It is very important that the brine is cold before it comes in contact with the meat.
- 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.
- Place in the fridge (if you use the plastic bag put it inside another dish in case it leaks) and leave it there for at least 3 days (5 days if possible). Each day, flip it over and move the brine around.
- After 3-5 days, remove from the brine, rinse well with cool water, and cook as you normally would a corned beef brisket. (Don’t normally cook a corned beef brisket? See this recipe.)
- The end!
Ever made corned beef? How do you prepare it? Share below!
Discussion (118 Comments)
What do you think of using Annatto to color the Corned Beef in place of Beet juice or Red/Purple Sauerkraut juice?
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.
Nitrate is nitrate. Same chemical formula regardless of where it came from
Actually natural occurring nitrites and nitrates have been shown to reduce risks of some cancers and diseases. The human body also uses the natural occurring nitrates and nitrites as a antimicrobials in digestive system.
Yuppers I think your comparison is spot on, people that don’t understand the difference aren’t conscious of healthy eating. IMO
The average person gets 80% of there nitrites and nitrates from natural sources. If he is like me and salt, it is the over consumption of that particular nutrient that causes issues.
the Nitrates and Nitrites are Natually accuring and in vegatable, Nature, and the Human body. No danger to the human body as long as you do not add shovels of it.
it is added to the Brine to stop the anarobic grown of Botulisim (Costridium b.), which unlike Nitates/Nitries can kill you and is the worlds most leathal food poison.
Anyone with a Chemestry degree will tell you , as already mentioned by someone, Nitriates & Nitrietes are chemicals and it is complete BS to believe they are any diferent than the ones in plants.
there is too much focus on anything that sounds like chemicals, just as the MSG alergy was disproven years ago but people still believe in it.
Eat healthy, yes! !!!!!!! but do not go off the deep end and believe all the Voodoo cures you read from nutitionists on the web.
I’m not irish and don’t usually cook corned beef, but this recipe sounds fantastic, I’m totally going to try it for St. Pattys day.
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!
When you place it in the crock pot do you cover it with fresh plain water or do you add some of the brine?
Did you give simply recipe a shout-out from where the picture was taken?
Bummer, I bought an overpriced nitrate-free corned beef at Whole Foods yesterday!! Of well, next year. And Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!
I’m just impressed that you got a nitrate free one 🙂 and Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh to you too!
Heh. I bought an overpriced corned beef at WFM, too. Too bad I didn’t get this recipe in my e-mail until the day of St. Patrick’s Day. I guess I can try to save it for next year.
Cannot wait to try this. We love corned beef!
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).
probably would be fine. I haven’t tried it, but I’d reduce to about half the amount of each since the powder will be more concentrated.
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.
stainless steel is fine… let me know how it turns out! 🙂
Where do you recommend finding a good sized stainless steel pot to brine in? I am removing all plastics in this house. Thanks.
P.S. Saw you on the Thyroid Secret.
Awesome. This Irish lassie is going to make this this week, I can’t wait! Thank you!
You are welcome! Didn’t know you were irish too 🙂
I don’t have a glass or stainless steel container big enough for the brine. Can I use plastic or Tupperware ?