Learning how to make corned beef at home isn't difficult, and will give you better flavor than most store bought options.
There is something almost magical about transforming an ordinary cut of meat into a uniquely flavorful cured creation. Sure, you can go to any supermarket at purchase corned beef in less time than it takes to make your own, but crafting it in your own kitchen is immeasurably satisfying and gives you complete control over the final flavor.
How to Make Corned Beef
Making your own homemade corned beef begins with a beef brisket. Yes, the same cut that is coveted by BBQ aficionados is also transformed into a uniquely different dish by curing and brining it over a period of ten days.
I find the easiest way to brine a brisket is to place it in a 2 gallon ziploc bag and pouring the brine in with it. This requires less brine and less fridge space than soaking it in a large storage container. Every few days the brisket should be flipped to ensure it is brining evenly. I recommend letting it soak for ten days, but if you have time constraints brining for 7-10 days will still turn out great.
Tip: Set the brining bag in a rimmed pan or baking dish to catch any potential leaks.
Do I need to Use a Cure?
Yes, using a cure is important. Pink cure, also known as Prague Powder, gives corned beef its famously pink color and tangy flavor. Pink cure is most commonly used as a preservative in sausage making, allowing the sausage to be cooked at very low temperatures without dangerous bacteria forming. Pink cure is most easily ordered online, as many grocery stores don't stock it.
Flat vs Point Brisket
When choosing a brisket for making corned beef you will often find both flat cut and point briskets. Point is typically less expensive, fattier, and awkwardly shaped. For this reason I prefer to use flat cut briskets whenever possible. They cook more evenly, have a more uniform texture, and are better for slicing. However, you can use either for this recipe.
What are Pickling Spices?
Pickling spices are a flavorful blend of spices and seasonings that soak in the brine along with the beef, imparting their flavor into the meat. This recipes uses an adaptation of my homemade pickling spice featuring black peppercorns, coriander, mustard seed, bay leaves, allspice, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and crushed red pepper.
You can purchase store-bought pickling spice, but if you are putting in the effort to make homemade corned beef I highly recommend mixing up your own pickling spice blend since this is what gives the beef the bulk of its flavor, and allows you to bend the flavor to suit your personal tastes.
How to Cook Corned Beef
Once your brisket is done brining it is important to rinse it under cold water to remove excess salt on the surface. You do not have to worry about this washing away flavor from the meat, as the brining process has locked the flavor of your seasonings inside the meat.
The most popular way to cook corned beef is boiling it in water. The beef is placed in a large pot with a tablespoon of pickling spice and enough water is added to cover it by an inch. If your corned beef doesn't fit, it is OK to cut it in half. Boil the corned beef for two to three hours, or until it is tender when pierced with a fork.
Tip: The leftover water from boiling the meat is extremely flavorful and can be used to boil vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.
What to Make with It?
This popular Irish-American entree (yes it isn't actually a true "Irish" dish) is most famously used for corned beef and cabbage. However, you can use it in any of these tantalizing recipes as well:
- Corned Beef Hash - The classic dish with potatoes and eggs.
- Reuben Sandwich - My all time favorite sandwich!
- Hot Reuben Dip - A uniquely flavorful party dip!
- Reuben Quesadilla - the classic flavors of a Reuben inside a grilled tortilla!
How to Make Corned Beef
- 5 pound beef brisket (I recommend flat cut)
- 2 gallon ziploc storage bag
- ½ gallon water
- ⅔ cup kosher salt
- 2 ½ teaspoons pink cure
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons pickling spices
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons black peppercorns
- 1 ½ teaspoons mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon allspice berries
- 3 bay leaves (crumbled)
- 1 inch cinnamon stick (crushed or broken into pieces)
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 10 whole cloves
Making Homemade Corned Beef
- Mix together all pickling spices.
- Add water to a large saucepan along with salt, pink cure, brown sugar, and two tablespoons of pickling spices (reserving remaining 1 tablespoon of spices). Bring to the simmer and cook for 5 minutes or until sugar and salt have dissolved fully.*
- Place brine in the refrigerator and allow to cool.**
- Place brisket in 2 gallon storage bag and pour in brine when cooled. Seal tightly and place in a baking dish to capture any potential leaks. Set in the refrigerator and flip the brisket every few days. Let brine for ten days.
Cooking Corned Beef
- Remove the brisket from brine and rinse under cold water to remove excess salt.
- Place corned beef in a large pot and add remaining 1 tablespoon of pickling spice, and enough water to cover the brisket by an inch.
- Set pot on stovetop over high heat and bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for approximately 3-4 hours or until corned beef is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Add more water as needed during cooking.***
- Remove corned beef when tender, let cool slightly and slice across the grain for serving.
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