Make Your Corned Beef From Scratch for St. Patrick's Day

I have done this a few times in the past and the results are amazing! It is a totally different product than the store-bought corned beef in the plastic package that you boil up every year.

It takes some time to brine the brisket - so if you want to do this you need to start NOW. It is not hard, and it is totally worth it.

I am going to reproduce a brining recipe from AmazingRibs.com. They do a good job in taking you through the process.

Your first question has to be “Why bother?” And the answer is simple: Homemade corned beef is better.

Why? The commercial stuff, especially the cheap stuff mass marketed for St. Patrick’s Day for Irish wannabes, is usually made by taking shortcuts that result in odd flavors and gelatinous textures.

Home made corned beef can also be cheaper. And it’s easy. And you can customize it. Once you’ve had the real deal, you can’t go back. It just takes time. So start now.

Corned beef has no corn. OK, maybe the steer ate some corn, but no corn is harmed in the process of corning beef. Actually, to be precise, corn was the old British name for grain before corn on the cob was discovered in North America and usurped the name. “A corn of salt” was as common an expression as a “grain of salt” is today. So corned beef is really just another name for salted beef.

So corning has become another name for curing or pickling. Yes, we are pickling this beef. These are ancient processes invented for preserving meat by packing it in salt or soaking it in a concentrated brine, long before refrigerators. In recent years, curing is also done by injecting meat with salt. The process was probably discovered when some ancient hunter speared a deer and it fell into the ocean and washed ashore a couple of weeks later. Surprisingly instead of bloating and turning foul, the meat had been preserved, and tasted pretty good.

Brisket is cut from the pectoral muscles, a pair of thick muscles from the steer’s chest, and a whole “packer” brisket is a large hunk of meat made of two muscles and can weight 12 to 18 pounds. It can be bought whole, but is usually cut near the middle and sold as flat or point sides.

These are heavily worked muscles and are tough cuts. Making it into corned beef is a great way to tenderize and flavorize these otherwise lesser cuts, and a great way to preserve meat in the days before refrigeration.

This is a two step process. One step is to cure or corn the beef, and the next step is to cook it. You can make traditional corned beef and cabbage boiled dinner, you can make corned beef hash, you can make Reuben sandwiches. If you want, you can add two extra steps, smoke it and steam it to turn it into incredible pastrami.

Preparation time. 1 hour

Curing time. 5-7 days

Required ingredients

About 4 pounds of beef brisket

1 gallon distilled water

8 ounces Morton's Kosher Salt, by weight (about 7/8 cup)

2 teaspoons Prague powder #1

Optional ingredients

1 cup brown sugar, preferably dark

5 tablespoons pickling spices

4 cloves garlic, smashed or pressed

About the beef. Many delis use the fattier navel cut. You can also use boneless short rib meat, flank steak, tongue, or round, but round can be very thick, so cut in into 1.5" planks. For that matter you can use any cut you want, but brisket is my fave.

About the pickling spices. You can buy them premixed or click here for a recipe for pickling spicesthat you can make yourself.

Method

1) Find a proper container large enough to handle 1 gallon of brine and the meat as described in my article Science Of Curing Meats. Clean it as described.

2) Mix the cure ingredients and the distilled water. Stir until they dissolve.

3) Take the meat and remove as much fat as possible from the exterior unless you plan to use some of it for pastrami. In that case, leave a 1/8" layer on one side. Because corned beef is cooked in simmering water, the fat just gets gummy and unappetizing. But if you plan to then make pastrami from it, you will be smoking the meat and in that case the fat gets succulent and lubricates the sandwich. I like to buy a full packer brisket and separate the point from the flat, and cut the flat in half when making corned beef or pastrami. That gives me 3 manageable hunks of 2 to 4 pounds each. If you leave the point attached to the flat beneath, it will be very thick and take longer to cure, and there's an ugly hunk of fat between them.

4) Add the meat to the curing solution. It might float, so put a plastic bowl filled with brine on top of the meat until it submerges. The meat will drink up brine so make sure there is enough to cover it by at least 1" or else you'll find the meat high and dry after a few days. Refrigerate. Let it swim for at least 5 days, longer if you wish, especially if the meat is more than 2" thick. You will not likely need more than 7 days, but once it is well cured, it can stay in the brine for another week. Move the meat every day or so just to stir up the cure. When you are done, the exterior of the meat will be pale tan or gray and if you cut into it, it should not look too different than normal raw meat, just a little pinker.

5) Now decide which path you want to follow. You can make traditional corned beef and cabbage boiled dinner, you can make corned beef hash, you can make Rockin Reuben Sandwiches, or turn it into Close to Katz's Pastrami.

Michael Liss