This homemade corned beef recipe is easy to make and nitrate free! It is tender and delicious, just like real corned beef is supposed to be. The pickling spices and flavor from the brine make this corned beef have really amazing flavor. Here’s how to make corned beef, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!
Homemade Corned Beef
Have you ever had real corned beef? Not the store bought, precooked stuff, but the real deal? There are many delicatessens and butcher shops that make it in house, which is where I had my first taste of it. I was completely blown away at how tender and delicious it was! It was so good, I wanted to learn how make it for myself.
I did some research on how corned beef is made, and realized that it is a cured meat. Curing meat with salt, which is what we’ll be doing here, is a method of fermentation. Corned beef is a bit easier to make than traditional salami or ham, as those need to hang for months at a certain temperature and humidity.
I want to mention here that I don’t call for saltpeter, or pink salt as it’s often called, in this recipe. Saltpeter is a nitrate that is commonly used when making corned beef, mainly to retain its pink color. Many people are trying to avoid added nitrates, and it is not a necessary ingredient when making corned beef.
I’ve made this corned beef many times now, and it always turns out amazing!
Pickling Spice Blend for Corned Beef
The first thing you will need to make is a simple pickling spice blend. You will use some of it in the brine, and some of it when you cook the corned beef after it has been brined. I find it’s easiest to make up a small batch of the spices, then it’s ready whenever I need it.
To make the pickling spice blend, simply mix together equal parts of black peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, allspice berries, juniper berries, and whole cloves.
How to Make Corned Beef
The first step in making corned beef is to brine your meat.
Brisket is the cut that is most often used for making corned beef. It is a tough cut of meat that has a lot of connective tissue, but with brining and a long cooking time it can become quite tender.
Like always, I recommend that you buy your meat from a local, grass fed source if possible.
To make the brine, put 3/4 gallon of water, 1 cup of canning and pickling salt (kosher salt will also work), 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 Tbsp pickling spice blend, 3 crushed garlic cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 bay leaf, and 1/2 tsp ground ginger in a pot and bring to a boil.
Once it boils, take it off the heat and let it cool completely. Then add the ice cubes and the brisket to the cooled brine and keep it in the refrigerator, covered, for 5-7 days.
Corned Beef Brining Tips
There are other options if you don’t have the space in your fridge for a large pot of brine.
In the past I’ve put the brisket and brine in a 2 gallon zip top bag that was placed into a casserole dish (in case of leaks) in the fridge, and it worked great.
Another time my fridge was full to the max, so we decided to brine it in a cooler with a block of ice, that we kept outside in the shed. First we put the brisket, cooled brine, and ice cubes into a double plastic bag.
Then we closed the bag with a twist tie, getting as much of the air out as possible. We put a block of ice in the bottom of the cooler, then the bag of brisket and brine on top.
This worked very well for us, and there was still some ice leftover at the end of the week. Be sure to check that you still have some ice in there for the entire brining period as it needs to stay cold, especially if you do this in warmer weather.
Cooking the Corned Beef
After 5-7 days in the brine, it’s time to cook your beef! This will take most of the afternoon, so start early. Take it out of the brine and rinse it well with cold running water. Put it in a pot with water to cover, a halved onion, 2 Tbsp pickling spice, and a bay leaf.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 3-4 hours or until the corned beef is tender. If you like, towards the end of cooking, add a quartered cabbage. We did this and it turned out so good! Classic corned beef and cabbage right there.
When it’s all finished, both the beef and the cabbage should be tender. Take the corned beef out and cut it in slices against the grain. It should slice quite easily. If for some reason it’s not fully tender yet, keep simmering it for a little while longer until it is.
Now, I’m going to tell you the real reason why I made this corned beef. I’m a Reuben sandwich lover, and I need it to make my completely home fermented homemade Reuben sandwich!
This excites me to no end!
I think this corned beef gets even better as it sits in the fridge. It slices easy and is perfect for a corned beef sandwich, even if you don’t have all the makings for a Reuben.
There you have it, your own homemade, nitrate free corned beef! It’s so fun to make traditional recipes at home. I really hope you try it!
Homemade Corned Beef (Nitrate Free)
Pickling Spice Blend
- 2 Tbsp pickling spice
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 onion halved
- 1 head cabbage quartered (optional)
- Combine all of the pickling spice ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container.
- Make the brine by putting all of the brine ingredients, except the brisket and ice cubes, into a pot and bring to a boil. Once it boils, take it off the heat and let it cool completely.
- Put the brisket, brine, and ice cubes into a brining vessel, and keep it in the refrigerator or on ice for 5-7 days.
- Once brining is finished, take the brisket out and rinse well with cold running water.
- Put the brisket in a large pot with water to cover, the halved onion, 2 Tbsp pickling spice, and bay leaf.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 3-4 hours, adding the optional quartered cabbage during the last hour, until tender.
- Plan to start this at least 5-7 days ahead of time, as that's how long it takes to brine the meat.
- If you can't fit the big pot with the brisket and brine in your refrigerator, you can brine it in a 2 gallon zip top bag that is placed in a casserole dish to prevent leaks to save space. You can also brine in in a bag on ice in a cooler.