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. Cenes Hallern Avatar
    Cenes Hallern

    5 stars
    This is the… actually I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve used your recipe as my base, but regardless it’s past time to thank you for it!

    I add some baking cocoa, rosemary, cumin, red chile, paprika, and cooked off sherry to my brine. Sometimes it ends up as a brisket roast/corned beef hybrid depending on proportions, but after the initial shock everyone loves it.

    I also bought a meat stabby device (https://www.amazon.com/Tenderizer-Stainless-Tenderizing-Accessories-Ccfoud/dp/B074V2BS22/), which delivers more of the flavors of the brine deeper into the meat (and speeds up the brining to 3ish days, because I’m a terrible procrastinator).

    I found that sealing sections of meat in bags with the brine, and the bags in a dutch oven in the fridge, helps manage without having a large bowl of liquid sploshing everywhere. If you don’t want to manage individual bags, a turkey bag works great too.

    Lastly, the Instapot does wonders for corned beef, comes out perfect in about 2 hours instead of the all day slow cook (also because I’m a terrible procrastinator).

    Thank you so much for years of excellent corned beef, and for many to come!

  2. Michelle DeBruin Avatar
    Michelle DeBruin

    5 stars
    Wondering if the corned beef may be brined for more than 5 days. Would up to 9 days be okay? Thanks so much!

  3. Randy Tendering Avatar
    Randy Tendering

    5 stars
    This is so awesome that my youngest daughter (42) wants to learn how to brine her own. She hosts every March 17th and had bought a corned beef from the store! After tasting mine she said she never wants to eat another store-bought one ever again! I started doing this because I have multiple chemical sensitivities (if you can’t pronounce it it will make me sick [think migraine]) and store-bought has a lot of unhealthy stuff in it. This is super easy to do and tastes delicious!

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      It can be frozen for up to 1-2 months before cooking, but it’s best if there’s very little air in the container. Some sources recommend vacuum sealing in plastic, but you could wrap it in parchment paper first so it’s not in direct contact with the plastic.

  4. Nancy Schill Avatar
    Nancy Schill

    5 stars
    EXCELLENT!! it tasted just the same as the store bought versions. I LOVED making this recipe and will share it. I was happy with the outcome and will do it again with an eye of the round roast.

  5. Jeremiah Donier Avatar
    Jeremiah Donier

    4 stars
    I love this recipe, the only place it falls short is cooking it at the end. Braising corn beef in a Dutch oven until it is fall apart tender is the best way. I boiled cabbage and beef for years before learning this was so much better.

  6. ian Avatar

    Quick question , im making this for my mother in law , she is on a low sodium diet and the sodium content is way to high , if i leave out the salt and brine for just 3 days so the meat doesnt go off in the fridge would this be ok to cook or is the salt a must , thanks

  7. Jim Walker Avatar
    Jim Walker

    I love this corned beef recipe but believe it or not I’ve never used it to corn beef. I corn ham with it as a precursor to making Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham. It is to say the least heavenly. I’m making a 9# bone in ham now and I doubled all your ingredients except the thyme and whole cloves which I left single and I tripled the bay leaves and juniper berries. I boil the ham in the “brine” until the ham is up to temp (160°F) then I leave it in the bring in stainless steel for a week. Then in the fridge it goes ( in Michigan it’s the garage) then I use the stuffed ham recipe from Fairmont which is Savoy cabbage, kale, crushed red peppers, celery seed and a couple of other things I can’t remember off the top of my head. Debone the ham, cut pockets and stuff it. Follow the directions. Refrigerate the ham and slice it for dinner or finger sandwiches (best on Hawaiian rolls) yummo!

  8. rowena lovell Avatar
    rowena lovell

    Corned beef and cabbage is something you don’t really see in Ireland. In fact I’d never heard of it before moving to the US, despite being from the UK, and working in Ireland for 34 years. Bangers and mash is generic UK food, and definitely not Irish either. Lamb stew – now there’s an Irish dish. Boxty is super Irish. Colcannon and champ. Boiled ham and potatoes. Black pudding and white pudding with. Coddle. Soda bread…..I looked it up and it seems corned beef has American Irish roots – the Irish immigrants substituted corned beef for bacon back in the day. In the nicest way possible, it might be a lovely idea to share some real Irish heritage foods and break out of the box next paddy?

  9. T.W. Avatar

    5 stars
    Love the history lesson. And those that enjoy the science behind Alton’s recipes are the true chefs! Without science, we are left with store bought (everything) and a lack of self-sufficiency, which coincidentally, is why we are left with poor and high priced choices in our grocery stores.
    If we really spent time educateing ourselves, GMO foods would not have been forcibly passed under Bush Sr. for the sake of “starving nations”; for those of you educated in the world of politics and food – only you will understand the purposeful quotation marks.

  10. Julie Avatar

    What is the purpose of the sugar in this recipe? Will the end product be affected if I leave out the sugar?

  11. Gail Avatar

    This sounds delicious. However, can the sugar be substituted with something else like erythritol. I can’t use the sugar. Thank you.

  12. Sue Avatar

    I don’t have a large glass container, but I do have a 7 quart Crockpot. Would that work? It does have a lid, but it’s not airtight. Is important to have an airtight seal? If so, do you think plastic wrap over the pot would work OK? Thanks for any additional info. I’m really excited about finally getting around to brining my own corned beef!

  13. Shona Avatar

    I have just popped my brisket in the slow cooker after brining for 3 full days. But I’m having a slight panic moment as my brisket came out of the freezer before brining. The normal advice is to cook and eat raw meat from frozen within 24 hours. I assume the brining process is keeping it from going off? Or have I made a blunder and now have off meat??

    1. Anna Avatar

      Shona, how did yours turn out? I did the same thing, I let it thaw I the fridge completely and then added to the brine. It will be 4-6 days post-frozen by the time I cook it!

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