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How to Cook Corned Beef from Scratch

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How to Cook Corned Beef from Scratch

Corned beef always rises in popularity come St. Patrick's Day but it is a delicious and comforting dish to make year round. The best part? Making corned beef is not complicated at all. Let's take a look at how to cook corned beef from scratch without any special equipment.

Why is it called corned beef?

The term ''corned'' refers to meat that is cured with salt. Traditionally, this beef dish was cured with large chunks, or 'corns', of salt, hence the name.

How To Cook Corned Beef: The Essentials

A brine is what will give corned beef its characteristic sweet and tart flavor. Traditionally, corned beef is brined with a mix of spices including coriander seeds, allspice, whole peppercorns, bay leaves, mustard seeds, sugar and salt

The meat will sit in the brine for a minimum of five days and up to 10 days. This is an essential step required before cooking.

While you may use your choice of spices for the brine there is one ingredient you should not leave out: sodium nitrate, aka pickling salt, which will lend the meat its signature pink color. Without it your corned beef would be gray and unappetizing. If you are uncomfortable with using sodium nitrate Wellness Mama offers a fabulous natural alternative.

Corned beef requires braising, which means the meat will be cooked with some liquid over low heat for several hours. This extensive cooking will allow the beef to get tender and delicious, perfect for making reuben sandwiches with the leftovers.

Recipe For Corned Beef From Scratch

Now that we've given you an overview of the basics, let's get down to the recipe for corned beef

Just a note before getting started: the brine requires an extensive list of spices but you may purchase a pre-made mix called ‘’pickling spice’’ which is readily available in the spice aisle of most supermarkets.

If using pickling spice, measure out 5 tablespoons to add to the brine.

Homemade Corned Beef
(adapted from The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook)

a 5 lb beef brisket (make sure it has not been brined)
one gallon of water
1 cup brown sugar 
1 cup of kosher salt

pickling spices:
5 bay leaves
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp of whole black peppercorns, crushed
2 tbsp dill seeds
2 tbsp mustard seeds (yellow or black)
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp celery seeds
1 tbsp juniper seeds, crushed
1 tbsp cardamom seeds, crushed
1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 large cinnamon stick
2 tsp whole allspice, crushed
1 tsp whole cloves, crushed

Combine the spices, water, salt and sugar in a large pot. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Stir well and continue to cook until the sugar dissolves completely. Turn off the heat and allow the brine to cool. You may add ice cubes to speed up the process.

Once the brine has completely cooled pour it over the meat. You may either do this is a large container with a lid (you can weight down the brisket with a plate) or a large releasable plastic bag. Refrigerate for a week. If the meat is brined in a bag be sure to turn the bag over once a day to ensure the meat cures evenly.

Remove the beef from the refrigerator an hour before you intend to cook it. Pour out the brine and discard it. Rinse the beef under running water to remove the excess salt.

Place the beef in a large heavy bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover the meat by an  inch. Cook over high heat until the water boils then turn down to a simmer.  Cover the pot and cook for three hours or until the meat is fork tender.

If you'd like to add vegetables to the pot add them in the last hour of cooking. Potatoes, carrots and cabbage are great additions. Cabbage should be added in the last 20 minutes of cooking. Serve with a side of mustard.

Tip: Don't forget to cut the corned beef against the grain!


Now that you know how to cook corned beef put the leftovers to good use by making a corned beef, cheddar and bacon sandwich. Here is the must-try recipe.

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