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Mar 17, 2008 03:13 PM

Home-curing Corned Beef- ? and Nitrates/Saltpeter

I am going to try my hand at home-curing some corned beef for my boyfriend's birthday celebration. I am seeing a whole lot of back-and-forth on the situation with including sodium nitrate. I understand it will keep the pink color, but, my question is this: Some "natural" producers that I have seen around the web have pink corned beef. Is there another way to keep it pink? I know that sodium nitrate is pretty much naturally-occurring, so I assume you can be BOTH organic and have nitrates? Anyone have experience with using it or curing your own corned beef at home?

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  1. yes. instacure 1 or prague powder 1-goes by various names depending on mfgr. pay careful attention to amounts used. also the briskets are pumped with cure to 110% of their green weight. Go to the library and find a book by Rytek Kutas " Great sausage recipes and meat curing" good info om cures, prague powder s etc.

    1. or, you could just go with the Ruhlman/Polcyn Charcuterie; will answer your questions re: "prague powder no. 1"

      1. I use the Cook's Illustrated brine recipe and it turns out fine. No chemicals involved.The meat is brown like any other pot-roasted meat. It's lovely. The flavor is great without being overly salty and makes great sandwiches and hash with the leftovers. Use a point cut brisket if you can get one from your meat market. Why add chemicals to your meals if you don't have to?

        takes about a week of marinating/turning.

        7 Replies
        1. re: toodie jane

          I like that one too. Agree about the salt and it's not super sweet (like a lot of commercially prepared corned beef) either. I've tried it with a brisket and a bottom round so far and both were great.

          1. re: toodie jane

            Why add chemicals to your meat? Because sodium nitrate gives you that rosy hue and cured flavor. I, for one, don't want brown corned beef.

            1. re: aelph

              Speaking as a biochemist for over 40 years, I would rather have brown beef than cancer.

              1. re: Joebob

                Reading as a biochemist for over 40 years, you should be familiar with the reviews conducted by the National Toxicology Program and Californa's DART committee in 2000, both of which found that there is no link whatsoever between the ingestion of nitrates and nitrites and cancer in humans.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  Do you believe EVERYTHING government tells you? That aside, Cook's Best says it tastes better without, and I believe that source.

                  1. re: Joebob

                    Between a unanimous group of experts and an anonymous internet poster, there really isn't much question as to which I'm going to believe.

                2. re: Joebob

                  Sorry. I meant sodium nitrite(not nitrate which is sometimes used for much longer curing periods). You know I sometimes encounter that kneejerk sodium nitrite reaction(most recently, before this post at my local butcher where I enquired if they carried the powder...apparently they used to, but got too many upset nincompoops worried about supposed "cancer" and supposed "health"). If you read the selections on sodium nitrite use in the book I mention above you will see that this fearmongering is built upon myth. Sodium nitrite preserves rosy hue in meats and terrines as well as providing the iconic "cured" flavor. Yes, it's poisonous in large quantities; so are many, many other things.

            2. Alton Brown had an episode of Good Eats where he corned a brisket. He bought saltpeter (potassium nitrate) at a pharmacist and used it, but indicated that its only function was to preserve the pink color. You can find the recipe on

              5 Replies
              1. re: alanbarnes

                when my brother was rasing his own hogs, he had a local processor cure the hams. They were awful, full of a nasty chemical flavor. Maybe the chemicals used were different from the salt petre, but given a choice between pink meat and clean flavor, I'll take the latter.

                I wonder if aleph has tried the CI method, and still prefers the chemical 'cure'?

                1. re: toodie jane

                  I've had both (not the CI recipe, but Whole Foods' corned beef), and much prefer the cured meat.

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    I have not tried the CI method. I'm not a big fan of CI, but that's for another thread. Anyway...I started corning my own beef when the cookbook I've been flogging upthread ;) came out and I've been perfectly pleased with their recipe. I make corned beef once a year to appease the s/o and well, of course I enjoy it too(the implicit criticism being that I'm trying to reach the ethereal heights of my local Jewish deli, but they have at least a century on me, so...I'm happy with my results so far and each time I make it I adjust to different circumstances/products and maybe get a li'l bit closer to their platonic ideal). Not terribly interested in experimenting with an uncured beef(my bias and possible loss, I know). I'd imagine if a corned beef has a chemically flavor it's from an overabundance of saltpetre or an off ratio in the cure itself.

                  2. re: toodie jane

                    I know this will get removed, but it's not an's a corrruption, AELPH

                    1. re: aelph

                      sorry my mistrake I'm always in ahrruy!

                2. Thanks all- I am leaning 90% towards not using it. I spoke with the folks at my neighborhood meat shop and they suggested I try it without. Does anyone know where to get it non-mailorder? And I'd rather not go to the hardware store and buy a box of "Stump Remover" to put in my meal, because that just feels filthy.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Chowsmurf

                    I get mine at The Spice House in Chicago. Some forward-thinking butcher shops may still carry it.

                    1. re: aelph

                      My local buter shop, Avedano's in San Francisco, does not have. They are also the ones who suggested I make it without.

                      235 Cortland Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110

                      1. re: Chowsmurf

                        And they are totally right, you can make it without. To me the pink color and flavor(not to mention botulism retardation and alleviation of fat rancidity) are tantamount in a good corned beef. FYI: I'm actually cooking my home cured beef atop the stove as I I'm not talking out my butt :)

                        I've never had a brown corned beef. The idea just sounds icky...I do realize commonly-consumed fare such as pot roasts and the like are uniformly brown and often tasty.

                        1. re: aelph

                          I'm curious...what's "iconic cured flavor" like ?? Are you saying sodium nitrite has a distinct taste or it's somehow a flavor enhancer (like MSG) to the spices in your brine?

                          1. re: petradish

                            pg. 177 Ruhlman/Polcyn-Charcuterie:

                            "Nitrites add a piquant flavor to meats(a chicken cured with pink salt will have a distinct ham flavor and rosy hue)."

                            I'd say the idea of "ham flavor" is iconic.

                    2. re: Chowsmurf

                      we buy ours from the pharmacy. homemade corned beef is the best! we usually buy 2 briskets to brine... one gets boiled then roasted for corned beef, the other gets smoked to make the best pastrami you've ever had! ;)