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.


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

  1. Kristy Avatar

    Hi, I made this today after brining for 4 days. Flavor was great but even though I used beet juice, it barley tinged the meat. Color of the brine was a pretty, deep shade of reddish-pink but nothing on the meat. Any advice for next time? We raise our own beef (grass-fed) and I wondered if that had anything to do with it, as it can be a little tougher than store-bought….maybe more difficult for the juice to penetrate? Thanks in advance!

  2. Jamie Avatar

    We are doing the Whole30, do you think this would turn out without the sugar in the brine? I was really hoping to make my own corned beef for St. Patrick’s day.

  3. Alexandria Avatar

    If you add beet juice or pink sauerkraut juice, how much do you add? Never made corned beef before, but just found out my husband really likes it. Can’t wait to try this!

  4. Grace Avatar

    All done and can’t find the crock pot part of this. Please help!!!

  5. Janet Avatar

    5 stars
    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!

  6. Silva Avatar

    5 stars
    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!

  7. Catherine Sullivan Avatar
    Catherine Sullivan

    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

  8. Almathea Avatar

    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.

    1. Morgey Parks Avatar
      Morgey Parks

      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.

  9. Bri Avatar

    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. 🙂

    1. Morgey Parks Avatar
      Morgey Parks

      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.

  10. Nelson Avatar

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

  11. Marlynda Avatar

    5 stars
    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.


    1. hasna Avatar

      I’m not crazy after all lol…. thanks for the extra info!

  12. Kerri Avatar

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

  13. Jan Avatar

    5 stars
    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!

  14. Karin Avatar

    4 stars
    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

  15. Laura Avatar

    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?

  16. Melani Avatar

    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???

  17. Pauline Avatar

    5 stars
    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.

  18. Jason Leonardo Avatar
    Jason Leonardo

    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!


  19. leo Avatar

    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?

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