Homemade Corned Beef

Here’s how you can corn beef without adding chemicals—albeit, you’ll reduce the fermentation period to one week (versus the traditional 3-week period). By keeping the meat submerged below the brine’s surface, and in an anaerobic—or air-free—environment, it safely cures.

Once fermented and then cooked, slice corned beef very thin and serve with horseradish sauce or mustard. Or, use on sandwiches or as a savory ingredient in soups and stews. The name “corned” refers to the salt (traditionally “corn-sized” chunks of salt). I, however, use and recommend sea salt.

6 cups water
3/4 cup sea salt
6 cloves garlic
6 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
2 tablespoons whole coriander seed
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon juniper berries
4 cloves
2 ½ to 3 pound beef brisket

Bring water and salt to a boil. Let cool.

Place spices and brisket in a deep enameled pot, wide-mouthed gallon glass jar, a non-reactive container, or in a zipper-style plastic freezer bag. Cut the meat in half, if necessary, to fit into the container.

Cover the meat with the cooled brine. To keep the brisket submerged, weigh it down with clean rocks or a water-filled, tightly capped jar. Cover the container. Cure in the refrigerator for one week, turning the meat after 3 days.

Drain and discard the brine. Soak the meat in fresh water for 10 to 15 minutes to reduce the salt. Discard soaking water.  Place the meat in a deep pot, cover with fresh water and (optional, add an onion, carrot, celery stalk and fresh spices such as those used in the brine) simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours or until fork tender.

Remove the meat; to serve some hot, slice very thin as it’s concentrated. Reserve the broth for use as a stock and discard the onion, carrot and celery. Press the remaining meat into a container into which it just fits; cover and refrigerate with a weight (like a jar filled with water) pressing down upon it. The moisture pressed from the meat forms a delicious jellied coating. Refrigerated, corned beef holds well for up to a week.

Note:  My corned beef guru does not use saltpeter; and he brines meat for the traditional three-week period.  Health safety, however, advises the addition of sodium nitrite to meat aged over one week as botulism can form in improperly cured meat.


For New England Boiled Dinner, simmer parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, onions, potatoes and cabbage in some of the stock that remains after cooking the beef. (Taste the stock for saltiness and, as necessary, dilute.)  Serve these vegetables with the corned beef.

For Red Flannel Hash combine New England Boiled Dinner leftovers plus some grated beet and cook, with fat, in a skillet until browned.

May you be well nourished,

Rebecca Wood

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