Homemade Corned Beef

Corned Beef
Corned Beef and Cabbage. Photo © Molly Watson
    200 min

I'm always amazed at how easy homemade corned beef is to make. All you need is a bit of time—about a week to brine and an afternoon to cook with almost no work in between. I find a brisket is enough for an ample family dinner plus leftovers to thinly slice for sandwiches the next day plus some to chop up and turn into corned beef hash. Using organic, grass-fed beef in this recipe adds extra flavor, and the sometimes more assertive taste and texture of grass-fed beef is a good match for the salt, spice, brining, and slow cooking that makes good corned beef.

Note: Pink salt is a curing salt with nitrite added to it. It gives corned beef its characteristic color and flavor. Some people choose to avoid as many nitrites as they can and it is not absolutely necessary to use. If you choose to eschew it, know that the final corned beef will be grey (but still delicious!), not the more familiar red color, when all is said and done.

What You'll Need

  • 1 brisket (about 5 pounds)
  • 12 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 ounce (about 5 teaspoons) pink salt, a.k.a. curing salt (see note above)
  • 4 cloves garlic, divided
  • 1 recipe Pickling Spice, divided
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 onion

How to Make It

  1. Rinse off the brisket and pat it dry. Trim off any excess fat from the meat, if you like. Set the brisket aside.
  2. In a medium pot, bring the salt, sugar, pink salt, 1/2 of the Pickling Spice, and 4 cups water to a boil. While it heats, mince 3 cloves of the garlic and add that to the pot, too.Once the mixture boils, reduce the heat to a simmer and stir the mixture until the salts and sugar fully dissolve. Transfer the mixture to a bowl or pot large enough to hold the brisket but small enough to fit in the fridge and add 12 cups of cold water.Let the mixture fully cool and submerge the brisket in the brine. Use a plate or other kitchenware to weigh down the brisket so it stays under the brine. Cover the vessel with plastic wrap, chill, and let the brisket cure in the brine for at least 5 days and up to 10 days. You can check on it, if you like, but there really isn't any reason to - just let it sit and have the brine work its magic on the beef. This is the "corning" part of corned beef.
  3. When you're ready to cook it, lift the brisket out the brine (you can discard the brine) and rinse it thoroughly with cool running water. Put the brisket in a pot and cover it with water. Add the remaining 1/2 Pickling Spice and bring to a boil.
  4. While the water comes to a boil, clean and trim the carrots and celery stalks and add them to the pot. Peel and quarter the onion and add it. Mince the remaining clove of garlic and add that. After it boils, partially cover and reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook the brisket, more or less undisturbed, until it is fully tender - you're gong to want to eat it with a fork, so when you pierce the brisket with a fork you should be able to do so very easily - between 3 and 4 hours.
  5. When the brisket is done, transfer it to a cutting board. (The liquid you cooked it in will now be a delicious, although mighty salty broth. I find it too salty and intense to use as a base for soup but just about perfect for boiling potatoes in.) You can cover it to keep it warm while you finish other elements of the meal. When ready to eat, slice the corned beef against the grain (the short way across the brisket) and serve hot or warm. For sandwiches or to slice the corned beef thinly, let it come to room temperature and then chill.

Want cabbage with that corned beef? See Corned Beef and Cabbage, or try a side of Butter Braised Cabbage, Seared Cabbage, or Cabbage Potato Casserole instead.