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. Cindy Avatar

    Thank you for this! Before reading allll the way through your recipe, I went to Alton’s recipe and thought, huh, I have bottles and bottles of beet kvass in the fridge, why not use some in the brine? Unfortunately, I didn’t think to add it after heating, so I’ll get the color but not the advantages of the probiotics. As I’m starting on 18th I’ll just let it set for the 10 days he recommends. Also, didn’t have a brisket (for those in same boat) so am using two sirloin roasts. Won’t be the *same* but hopefully will taste wonderful.

    1. Rebecca Avatar

      Of course! This is just the brining instructions; you then cook it in the slow cooker 🙂

  2. julie Avatar


    We made this last year and came out delicious! A little behind this year as we just got our brisket.
    Can we brine for less than 72 hrs?


  3. Charissa Avatar

    Is the amount of sea salt coarse or fine ground? That would make a large difference. Thanks! I’m excited to try this!!

  4. Charles Avatar

    Sodium nitrate does not dissolve the tree stump but adds nitrogen to speed the growth of fungi in the stump. It is the fungi that break down stump not the sodium nitrate.

  5. Rachel Avatar

    Have you ever brined a frozen beef brisket? I’d like to save time and do it all together (thaw & brine). There are only 9 days until it needs to cook in my slow cooker, & I’d love your thoughts on this. Thanks!

  6. Steve Avatar

    Question: Is it ok to brine the brisket in a large stainless steel stock pot with a lid?

  7. tera Avatar

    People should know that the purpose of the curing salt is NOT to give a pink color or a certain flavor, but to prevent the growth of botulism. The salt is colored pink so you don’t mistake it for table salt.

  8. Nancy Avatar

    5 stars
    Well, I made this about a year and a half ago for St. Patrick’s day (just to be festive, since we aren’t Irish but it’s still fun to get into spirit of things), and kind of forgot about it. But Chanukah is coming up and I decided to make corned beef again this week to have with our (no flour) potato latkes. I’m doing a middle-eastern chicken recipe for the first night of Chanukah, going with the middle-easter/Israeli vibe. But the second night of Chanukah will be the corned beef with leftover latkes. And then we can alternate, along with our weekly batch of broth to have chicken soup. Some classic Israeli and/or Jewish dishes. Another great side with this is what we call “faux-bouleh” which is just making the tabbouleh recipe, but leaving out the cracked wheat. It’s Friday night and I just stuck the brisket into the brine a couple of hours ago. Will be ready to go into the slow cooker on Wed morning, to eat for dinner Wed night. Thanks for the great recipe!

  9. Christy Avatar

    5 stars
    This was amazing! I was hesitant to “experiment” on my guests (8 people), but it turned out fantastic! My husband is now a convert (he thought he didn’t like corned beef until eating this one), and my mother–who ALWAYS made it from the pre-brined package–went back for seconds and thirds. My only complaint is that there wasn’t enough!!! 🙂 THANK YOU!!!

  10. sharon m Avatar
    sharon m

    can you tell me what to do with the spices on top of the meat after cooking??? I usually battle with trying to pick them out….can they be safely eaten or better yet can i place them in a spice bag and maybe cook them on the bottom of the slow cooker before cooking ???

  11. Kendra Avatar

    5 stars
    3/17/2017 This turned out great. It was my first time ever making corned beef. I like to make all my own stuff from scratch when I can. The only thing I left out in the brine was the juniper berries. I used beet juice, but it wasn’t really that pink, not that it mattered, it tasted great, My Irish husband loved it. I was able to do 3.5 days of brining. I slow cooked for 8 hours with potatoes, carrots, garlic, and onion, plus I added spices (mustard seed, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, allspice berries, whole cloves. homemade seasoned salt, and homemade vegetable bouillon) since I had read about the pickling packet that comes with conventional corned beef. I added the cabbage the last hour of cooking. Growing up my mom always put a little bit of apple cider vinegar on the cabbage after it was served. So excited to have leftovers for a couple of days. Thanks for the recipe!

  12. Carol Watt Avatar
    Carol Watt

    5 stars
    Even though this is an old post I want to thank you thank you thank you! I usually stock up this time of year but there has been a major shortage for some reason! My husband, an over the road trucker, actually transports beef and pork and can get me brisket anytime I want, right from the farm. He mentioned it to me the other day about making my own but after looking at Alton’s recipe I declined 🙂 Not now! When I talk to him today I’m putting in my order, LOL I’m going to make a few and freeze them so I can have them anytime I want! Oh and off to Amazon pantry to order the spices, I live in a small southern town and half those things can’t be found in the grocery stores here, not even Walmart 🙂

  13. Sara Avatar

    Alton has this exact same brine for turkey. It makes me think he’s not such a clever cooking chemist

  14. Laura Avatar

    5 stars
    I think there is a big difference between celery and a processed poisonous additive.
    I love you Wellness Mama, I have already gone to the store for the week, but as soon as I can, I shall make me this dish of my fore-fathers. Thank you so very much, Lassie!

  15. Amber Avatar

    5 stars
    This was amazing! My husband and two teenage boys have never tried homemade corned beef before, and this dish definitely made a good impression on them, thank you for the recipe. Just wondering what you do with all the leftover broth? The taste is so unique . . . would it make a good soup base? (No leftover corned beef, by the way). I don’t have the heart to throw the broth away. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. Amber Avatar

      This comment was supposed to go on the “Corned Beef and Cabbage” recipe page . . . after slowco king, the juice (broth) that’s left in the crock is nice and rich looking, but has a taste very different from regular soup stock. Golly! I hope you don’t think I’d consider using the brine! lol

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