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Mar 1, 2009 08:45 AM

Homemade corned beef: what can I expect?

I have two small cuts of flat-cut brisket in my freezer and I am considering making homemade corned beef for St. Patrick's Day. I have never had CB other than the mass-produced cheap pink stuff that grocery stores sell by the ton every March, but I am definitely interested in avoiding all those chemicals this year (as well as the hormones/antibiotics/whatever else in mass-produced cheap meat).

However, I will be incredibly disappointed if I brine my own beef, spend time cooking it with all of the vegetables, and end up with meat that is tough or not well-seasoned (or cooking water that is insufficiently flavors my potatoes, cabbage, and carrots--the best part of the meal!).

I saw this recipe on the front page ( and am worried that a 3-day brine won't result in flavorful and tender beef. I've got plenty of time (16 days until St. Patrick's Day!) so a longer brine would work--I just want to make sure I choose the best one.

Does anyone have experience making CB from scratch? Any tips to share? I'd really appreciate it.


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  1. A three day brine will be fine. Heck, a giant turkey does wonderfully in a 24 hour brine. The recipe says you can brine for up to a week, so bring it to seven days instead of the three. The brine ingredients look like they would be robust and salty enough to do the trick. The only way you'd end up with tough beef is if you cook it too quickly. Low and slow for a couple hours as stated would be perfect. A local market here brines their own brisket which I have bought in the past to avoid the industrial brining chemicals in the mass market stuff. That recipe looks like it would be good, I may try it myself instead of buying it pre-"corned"!

    1. Sorry, mels, but brining a turkey is completely different from brining a brisket for corning beef. Brining a turkey (or pork loin) is not to alter the flavor, but to use the salt to open up the meat to leave room for the juices, which ordinarily are pushed out of the dense meats during the cooking. The brining in that circumstance unravels some of the proteins and results in a much more moist and tender outcome. Brining a brisket for corned beef is to radically alter the flavor, and also to preserve the meat through the salt process.

      A good resource is this week's lead story on -- she has done a radio cooking call-in show in the L.A. area for years and her site is excellent at explaining processes like this, why things work, and troubleshooting when things seem to go wrong.

      1. Go to Martha Stewart's website and do a search. It's a 14 day brine involving pink curing salt and many other goodies. Sounds really good; I watched her start the process on Thursday or Fridays show. adam

        1. I've used the Cook's Illustrated dry "brining" technique several times and been very pleased with the results. Remember that it will cook up grey, but that's good because it means there aren't the added nitrites. As for the toughness - cook it slowly and gently to get it tender without becoming stringy. I suggest cooking it separate from the veg, then adding the veg to the cooking liquid and reheating the meat for service.

          Good luck - remember to make enough leftovers for hash!