How to Make Your Own Real Corned Beef Brisket (Recipe)

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How to make authentic corned beef brisket
Wellness Mama » Blog » Recipes » Beef Recipes » How to Make Your Own Real Corned Beef Brisket (Recipe)

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 recipe nitrate free

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 nitrate free

Corned Beef Brisket Recipe (Brine Your Own)

Corned beef often contains additives and dyes to get the color. Make your own with this delicious recipe and get the benefit of some delicious and healthier additions. 
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 3 days 8 hours 20 minutes
Calories 640kcal
Author Katie Wells


8 +


For the brine:


  • 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!


Nutrition Facts
Corned Beef Brisket Recipe (Brine Your Own)
Amount Per Serving (4 oz.)
Calories 640 Calories from Fat 252
% Daily Value*
Fat 28g43%
Saturated Fat 12g75%
Cholesterol 280mg93%
Sodium 4160mg181%
Carbohydrates 8g3%
Protein 60g120%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.


Make sure your brine is completely cold before using and make sure you submerge your meat completely. 

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

Avoid the chemicals this year by brining your own corned beef brisket with all natural herbs and spices. It's simple!
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


119 responses to “How to Make Your Own Real Corned Beef Brisket (Recipe)”

  1. Carissa Avatar

    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?

  2. David Avatar

    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.


    1. Keith Avatar

      David, Thank you for your input. I learned a lot. I’m just starting out doing this and I appreciate the info. 🙂

  3. Daniele Cole Avatar
    Daniele Cole

    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?

  4. Cory Barlow Avatar
    Cory Barlow

    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?

  5. John Avatar

    5 stars
    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.

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      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…

  6. Sheyona Avatar

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

    1. Susan Killin Avatar
      Susan Killin

      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.

      1. Liz O'Brien Avatar
        Liz O’Brien

        For Susan Killin
        I live in Mississauga and would be grateful if you would give me the name of the farm you purchase your grass fed meat from. I am dying to try the brisket recipe as there is that chill in the air!
        Thank you
        Liz O’Brien

  7. Tracy K Avatar
    Tracy K

    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!

  8. Michelle Avatar

    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. rebecca ramsey Avatar
    rebecca ramsey

    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.

  10. Terry H. Avatar

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

  11. Annie Avatar

    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!!

    1. Mike G Avatar

      2 stars
      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.

      1. Jay Avatar

        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.

        1. Denise Avatar

          Nitrate is nitrate. Same chemical formula regardless of where it came from

          1. Chris Avatar

            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.

        2. Lisa Avatar

          Yuppers I think your comparison is spot on, people that don’t understand the difference aren’t conscious of healthy eating. IMO

      2. Chris Avatar

        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.

    2. David Avatar

      5 stars
      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.

  12. Kirsten Cleigh Avatar
    Kirsten Cleigh

    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.

  13. Stephanie Avatar

    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!

    1. Carol Avatar

      When you place it in the crock pot do you cover it with fresh plain water or do you add some of the brine?

  14. Jim Avatar

    Did you give simply recipe a shout-out from where the picture was taken?

  15. Honora Avatar

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

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      I’m just impressed that you got a nitrate free one 🙂 and Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh to you too!

    2. Bernadette Avatar

      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.

  16. Cathy Avatar

    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).

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      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.

  17. Allison Avatar

    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.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      stainless steel is fine… let me know how it turns out! 🙂

      1. Karen Avatar

        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.

  18. Susan Avatar

    Awesome. This Irish lassie is going to make this this week, I can’t wait!  Thank you!

    1. Pamela marty Avatar
      Pamela marty

      I don’t have a glass or stainless steel container big enough for the brine. Can I use plastic or Tupperware ?

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