Home-cured Corned Beef

Home-cured corned beef.  It seems daunting, doesn’t it?  Curing meat at home is much easier than you’d expect, and there’s a growing community of home cooks who are beginning to revive traditional methods of food preservation and charcuterie.  Preparing corned beef at home is a simple entrance into this lost art; moreover, the flavor is richer, less salty and more deeply spiced than the pre-packaged corned beef you find in the supermarket in the weeks before St. Patrick’s Day.

Pairing corned beef wih cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day is decidedly more of an Irish-american tradition than it is a strictly Irish tradition.  The combination became popular in Irish-american homes during the 19th century as Irish immigrants began to settle down in American cities, they lacked easy access to their native foods – namely joints of cured pork which they customarily paired with cabbage – and thus began to use the more widely available cured beef.

While the combination of corned beef and cabbage may be more American than Irish, that’s not to say that cured beef lacks its own heritage.  Curing meat with salt and brine, much like fermenting vegetables for sauerkraut or kimchi, has long been practiced.  It was born out of practicality more than culinary preference as, prior to the days of refrigeration, people needed a way to preserve meat that could not be immediately consumed after harvest.

Traditionally, cooks would use saltpeter (a nitrate) to aid in curing their meat.  Saltpeter would help to preserve the meat’s pinkish color which, otherwise, would turn a dingy grey.  The substance was also to prevent contamination by pathogens.  While one could certainly use nitrates or nitrites for preparing home-cured corned beef, both nitrites and nitrates are not with out their own host  problems – having been linked to cancer.  Surely, only a small amount is used.

In this recipe for home-cured corned beef, I skipped the inclusion of saltpeter and resolved instead to focus on fresh whey (a source of lactic acid) as well as celery juice, which are used to prepare nitrate- and nitrite-free cured meats.  While the exclusion of nitrates and nitrites failed to produce a brilliantly pink piece of meat, it did produce a meat with a charming dusty rose hue.

As always, it is critical to choose grass-finished beef for home-curing as for any recipes here at Nourished Kitchen, it is a rich source of the wholesome fat conjugated linoleic acid which research indicates shows promise in the fight against cancer; moreover, violent strains of e. coli bacteria are greatly reduced in grass-fed beef.

recipe for home-cured corned beef

By Jenny Published: March 5, 2010

  • Yield: 8 to 10 Servings
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 2 to 3 days (curing at room temperature) OR 5 to 10 days (curing in the fridge) mins
  • Ready In: 12 mins

Prepared without nitrate or nitrate salts, this recipe for home-cured beef is quite simple to prepare, requiring little preparation – just good, wholesome ingredients. We serve it with boiled cabbage and new potatoes seasoned with a sizable sprinkling of fresh parsley. If you like to celebrate St. Patrick’s day with corned beef, cabbage and soda bread in the best of Irish-american tradition, you can begin brining the beef up to ten days prior to the date you plan to serve it. Want to see more photos of the curing process, view the full set on flickr.

Ingredients

  • ingredients for home-cured corned beef:
  • 2 to 3 lb grass-fed beef brisket or other cut of grass-fed beef
  • 1/2 cup unrefined sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pickling spices (mustard seed, bay leafs, all spice berries, cloves, coriander, peppercorns etc.)
  • 2 cups fresh whey
  • 2 cups celery juice
  • other items needed for curing beef:
  • 100% cotton cheesecloth
  • 100% cotton cooking string or twine
  • lidded ceramic crock or glass bowl
  • weight (such as a ceramic plate)

Instructions

  1. Rinse the beef brisket and pat it dry.
  2. Stir ½ cup unrefined sea salt with ½ cup pickling spice together and vigorously rub it into the beef. Roll the brisket together and tightly tie with 100% cotton cooking twine, then tightly wrap the brisket in 100% cotton cheesecloth.
  3. Set the beef in a lidded bowl or crock, and pour two cups fresh whey as well as two cups fresh celery juice over the beef to cover. If the mixture of fresh whey and celery juice does not completely submerge the meat, add enough filtered water to cover.
  4. Weigh down the beef with a clean ceramic plate or other weight, cover your pot or bowl securely.
  5. You may cure it in the refrigerator for a minimum of five days or upwards of ten days, or, try the method outlined by Sally Fallon in her landmark cookbook Nourishing Traditions (available on Amazon* or through independent sellers) which encourages curing corned beef at room temperature for two days or so.
  6. As the beef sits in brine, it’s important to turn the meat each day so that it cures evenly.
  7. Once the curing process is complete, approximately a week in the fridge, strain the beef and pickling spice from the brine. You can then serve home-cured corned beef as you would any corned beef. We prefer to add ours to the slow cooker along with fresh cabbage.

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What people are saying

  1. Leah says

    This looks amazing, but pardon my ignorance. What’s celery juice? And if it’s literally juiced celery, can I make it if i don’t have a juicer (or a vita mix)?

  2. Christine Kennedy says

    Hi Jenny,

    Could you clarify a couple of things? Is the piece of beef that we should use supposed to be a roast that has been “butterflied” so to say? In your instructions, it would seem that way as we are to roll it up (kind like a jelly roll?). I have not been able to get a brisket cut from my farmer, so could I use any other cut of roast? In that case, I wouldn’t be able to roll it up, so would I just encrust the outside of the roast with the salt and spices? Would I still encase the whole roast in cheesecloth?

    Thanks!

  3. Ryan says

    Celery juice is naturally high in nitrites so it’s a bit weird to skip using the saltpeter.
    Christine: If you can’t find brisket (my favorite cut for this being the point cut), you can cure a round roast which will be a little drier than a brisket but still good. You might want to adjust the time for the cure or butterfly the roast so that the surface area is more similar to the flatter brisket.

  4. Tamara says

    Hmm, can this work for ground beef? I would really love to make some corned beef hash once done making my ground beef.

  5. Jenny says

    Ryan – I don’t really have a problem with the use of naturally occurring nitrite. Especially when it’s used in such minute quantities. Celery juice is less concentrated in nitrite than, say, pink salt. But, honestly, I don’t have easy access to pink salt or saltpeter where I live so celery juice seems to effect, more or less, the same goal. If you wanted to avoid all nitrites – you’d have a tough time, since many vegetables contain them.

  6. Jenny says

    Christine –
    I actually didn’t have a brisket, and didn’t butterfly the meat either. The only meat I had available was a grass-fed chuck roast. What you see above in the photograph of the raw meat is just the natural separation of the meat from the fat. After rubbing the chuck roast thoroughly with the spices, I rolled it and tied it and left it, weighted, in the brine.

  7. Erin from Long Island says

    I am so tyhrilled to see this! I used to love it as a kid but as I grew up and learned more about it, I was afraid of it!

    I also LOVE that you recognize the roots of this dish. Irish-Americans in NYC used brisket since that is what they saw their Jewish neighbors using. The method of boiling meat with veg stems from their feudal days when the British kept them from having…well…anything and they had to hide the smell of any meat they didnt give up to their lords with the smell of cabbage.

  8. Sher says

    I’m picking up my quarter of grassfed beef today and this will be perfect for the brisket – my husband claimed the last one for the smoker/bbq, so this one’s mine!!

  9. LeahMarie says

    One other question… how long do you cook it? I’ve never made corned beef because it’s always got so much garbage in it. Do you cook it like a pot roast? Covered in water?

  10. Brenna says

    This sounds wonderful! Does anyone have more specific recommendations on which spices to use? I love the idea of making a theme St. Patrick’s day meal – cooking with the kiddo is so much fun!

  11. LeahMarie says

    I answered all of my other questions but now I’m wondering, how much celery does it take to get 2 cups of juice…

  12. Marta says

    I think you could make plenty of whey perhaps a bit more easily by taking 1/2 gallon of milk, (or as much liquid whey as needed) heating milk to 110 degrees and then either putting 1-2 spoonsful of either lemon or vinegar (white) to cut the milk and produce the whey (giving you some yummy ricotta by product if using storebought milk – or if natural milk – CHEESE!). It might be a bit simpler than the yogurt method which would take a lot of yogurt to make a small amount of whey it would seem (and take much longer because of the time it takes to drain). Just a thought…

    If you have left over whey, it’s great for plants, making rice (makes a yummy, yummy, rich rice), spagetti, boiling potatoes, etc. Also good for moisture in cakes, baking goods. Never throw it away! Use it!

    • says

      Hmm, there’s whey, and then there’s whey. This is the former (or maybe it’s the latter).

      Your suggestion would work ONLY IF YOU STARTED WITH RAW MILK. This is important. Doing what you suggest with pasteurized milk would probably make a big mess, but even if it did produce whey, it would be “dead” whey, which would not help preserve your meat.

  13. says

    I just found your site and I am SO excited! Have been expanding my whole food cooking knowledge for years (grinding my own spelt grains, making piima cream cultures), but your site is helping me take it to the next level. When you have a chance I’d love to learn more about how you got your site so fabulous. I have a health blog here http://www.lorigregory.com — mostly an integration of ayurveda and healthy living that i have cultivated for the past 15 years. But I was getting overwhelmed trying to include all the yummy food stuffs, now i’ll just refer to your site and stick to what i do best! thanks so much jenny!

    lori gregory

  14. SarahB says

    Hey there. I have a question about whey! I no longer have a source of raw milk, so I don’t have fresh whey leftover from cheesemaking. However, I do have access to non homogonized cultured buttermilk. It seperates just like non-homogonized milk, but the bottom liquid is clear-ish green watery stuff, just like whey. Do you think it will work??

  15. Jenny says

    Tina  -

    If you don’t have whey, I’d encourage you to use brine from cultured vegetables which is non-dairy source of lactic acid.

    Blessings-

    Jenny

    • Taylor says

      It’s not lactic acid per se you are looking for.
      Loctobacillus, a bacteria that produces lactic acid, is prevalent on almost every organic surface. It’s what makes sauerkraut, and almost any other traditional fermented food. You can find pure cultures at your friendly local homebrew shop if you don’t want to propagate your own from something else (e.g., cabbage.)

  16. says

    We just started making yogurt and kefir with our delicious local raw milk. We’re planning to start this tomorrow. I’ve got a bottle of “corning spices” from Penzeys that we’ve been wanting to use for some time. Has anyone used them before?

  17. Leesie says

    Jenny, I have a two pound (or less) grass-fed brisket that I’d like to try using for this recipe.
    Can you tell me how much less of the ingredients I should use to cure it? Also, I saw your reply on using the brine from cultured veges in lieu of whey – how interesting.

    P.S. I love the new picture, Jenny! You look awesome ;)

  18. says

    What may I substitue the whey with? Our family is lactose intolerant. I have everything now to make this and am unsure, being that I need 2 cups of whey and am unable to find a substitute. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!!

  19. says

    Leigh –
    If you don’t have whey, you can substitute the juice or brine from cultured vegetables which is a non-dairy source of lactic acid.
    – Jenny

  20. Kristian says

    Hi,
    I am new to whole foods cooking- so I am wondering . . . what are cultured vegetables? Love seeing this recipe- love corned beef but had given it up with cutting out nitrite foods. Thanks for the recipe!

  21. Tina H. says

    I’m draining some whey right now for my corned beef. My brisket is about 3 lbs. A few questions:

    – Is it necessary to wrap it while it’s brining? The Nourishing Traditions recipe doesn’t call for that, so I’m trying to understand the reasoning.
    – How do you know when the cure is complete?
    – Has anyone tried room-temp vs. refrigerator curing? I’d like to use the faster method, but I don’t want to mess it up and have bad meat. We don’t have a problem with curing at room-temp, but I have had mixed results with my fermented vegetables.

    • says

      - Is it necessary to wrap it while it’s brining? The Nourishing Traditions recipe doesn’t call for that, so I’m trying to understand the reasoning.
      Tying the roast improves the appearance of the roast and helps to promote more even curing and (when cooked), more even cooking.

      - How do you know when the cure is complete?
      Fermentation and curing aren’t exact sciences and are dependent on many factors. About a week in the fridge is sufficient and I imagine it could go longer.

      - Has anyone tried room-temp vs. refrigerator curing? I’d like to use the faster method, but I don’t want to mess it up and have bad meat. We don’t have a problem with curing at room-temp, but I have had mixed results with my fermented vegetables.
      I haven’t tried it at room temperature. Maybe I will!

      • says

        I’ve made this recipe on the counter three times now and it turns out fantastically! Just rinse the meat when it is finished curing and put it in a crockpot. Cover with water and cook until connective tissue has dissolved and meat will shred easily with a fork (about 4-6 hours).

  22. Katie says

    does this meat “keep” when it’s been cured? Like, could I put it in a crock covered with brine and it would stay good for weeks/months? I always thought that’s what our homesteading mothers would have done, but I don’t want to try it and have it spoil on me! Let me know what you think….

  23. Dina says

    Love the recipe and all the comments. I didnt know about the feudal origin of boiling the meat with the cabbage. And I totally forgot you can use whey to cook rice, pasta, potatos – brilliant! Last time I saw that done was by my grandpa a while back! And I didnt realize you can substitute juice from fermented veggies instead of whey – how cool! And I didnt know why (nitrates!) celery always comes up in such recipes – good to know!
    I’m defrosting a buffalo shoulder roast for this recipe right now – cant wait to see how it turns out!
    Thanks for all the great info and for the recipe!

  24. Dina says

    FYI, this turned out MAGNIFICENTLY with a buffalo shoulder roast! May be the best way to cook them, at least that I’ve tried so far. And so low effort – just space in fridge and waiting time :) Thanks, Jenny!

  25. gayle says

    I ‘corned’ 2 moose roasts with this recipe and it was delicious. Can I use the same brine again? I doubled the recipe. Also do you ever put the meat and brine in a zipper bag for curing? I had mine at room temp for 3 days. No problems at all.

  26. says

    Hubby is wanting corned beef and cabbage so I think I will have to make this! We got a quarter grass fed and finished beef yesterday so I’ll be looking for interesting ways to serve it :)

  27. Stephanie says

    I tried to follow the Flickr link but the page is set to private so I can’t see the pictures! Im going to have to try this soon. Thanks!

  28. CG says

    Hi Jenny!

    I have been looking for a home-corned beef recipe, and am so glad to find yours. Please tell me, how did it turn out with the grass fed chuck roast? My hubby doesn’t like ‘fatty meat’ – is it too fatty? I’m worried that a brisket will be too tough.

    Thanks!

    • Heather says

      I would be surprised if you could ever find any cut of grass-fed beef to be “too fatty.” Grassfed beef generally has much less fat than a comperable grainfed cut, and the fat is of a considerably higher quality, but nutritionally and taste-wise.

  29. robyn says

    Hi Jenny. I LOVE your site & look forward to the class posting tomorrow!
    I have made TONS of corned beef using another recipe from a ‘celeb homemaker’…. she does not call for whey or celery in her recipe. Not wanting/ able to wait for the meat curing class, I will ask here:
    What purpose does the whey serve if I am cooking the meat after the curing period, since all of the beneficials will be killed off during the cooking process.
    We have a celery allergy in our house- does the celery serve any purpose other than color retention? I am accustomed to grey corned beef, so that is not an issue here…. as long as the celery does not have any other effect on the quality of the product.
    Much thanks!

  30. Liliane says

    Ohhh…this I have to try! I made fresh ricotta over the holidays and I froze the whey. Can I use frozen whey or do I have to have fresh? I recently found your sight and I LOVE it!!!!

  31. Char Young says

    I just took our beef out to turn it for the first time to find that the liquid (whey & celery juice only) is now not sufficiently covering the meat. Should I add water so that the meat is covered?

  32. Kate says

    I am about ready to start making this recipe and just opened up my brisket and it has a thick layer of fat, I am assuming I should cut it off? Any suggestions.

  33. valerie says

    Make sure that your whey is CULTURED WHEY – at first I thought I could do make my whey by the vinegar in warm milk method but this is not cultured.

    if making getting whey via the straining from yogurt method It takes about 1 gallon of yogurt to get 2 cups of whey.

    I have made whey by straining kefir before and it took about 1/2 – 3/4 gallon to to get 2 cups of whey.

  34. Char Young says

    Tomorrow is the last day of curing. The meat looks raw. How is it typically eaten? Do you cook yours in the slow cooker?

  35. Char Young says

    Tomorrow is our last day of curing. The meat looks raw. How is it typically eaten? Do you cook yours (or just heat it) in the slow cooker?

    • Jessica says

      It is for sure still raw :) you’re going to want to cook it as you would any corned beef. Our favorite is crockpot! :) I started mine brining last Saturday!! I’m super excited! I put a little one in the brine for today and then a larger one I’ll cook Saturday :)

  36. says

    Your recipe sounds awesome, however there is a problem with it. You claim that it is Nitrite/Nitrate free and with the addition of celery juice that statement is simply not true. Celery juice is loaded with Nitrites. Adding celery juice is just a seemingly more natural way to add them, but make no mistake about it, you are adding nitrites.

    • Choymae Huie says

      This is an excerpt of an article from this site http://www.marksdailyapple.com/sodium-nitrite-meat/#axzz1tTTdycEu that explains why nitrites from vegetables are different from sodium nitrate added to commercial meat products. Nitrites, we should say, are related to but not the same as nitrates (PDF), which are present in many vegetables. When we eat nitrates, a small percentage of the nitrates is converted by the body into nitrites. A higher pH level in gastric juices results in more conversion of nitrates to nitrites. (Random note: Infants generally have a higher pH level in their digestive environment, which explains the guideline about limiting their intake of carrots.) Although vegetables constitute a fair amount our nitrite intake (after conversion), vegetables contain antioxidants that reduce the formation of nitrosamines, the real risk of nitrites.

      Read more: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/sodium-nitrite-meat/#ixzz1tTVreOUQ

  37. Lilliana Gladwin says

    That is a great site, would you be serious in doing an job interview regarding just how you forced it? When so e-mail me and my friends!

  38. says

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I’d reached a point where I was going to skip the nitrate/nitrite salt altogether as I was not happy using is after doing a bit of research. I’d resolved to use celery juice instead but never thought of whey. My corned beef is back on – was going to slow cook the brisket I had marked for this tomorrow! Timely finding, and yeah, thank you!!!

  39. Elizabeth says

    I finally cured my own brisket thanks to this fantastic recipe. I cooked it in my crock pot with cabbage yesterday and it turned out PERFECTLY. Thank you so much, Jenny for sharing this. I was pretty intimidated to start, but it was so easy! As a side note, I have not been able to find Sally Fallon’s version in my copy of Nourishing Traditions. I wonder if I’m missing something…

  40. Savvy says

    The people doing nitrate-free cures around here have mentioned that beet juice is also used. I wonder what that would do the color issue?

  41. Jill Swanson says

    I tried to make this and FAILED big time! I tried curing my meat on the counter top for 3 days and it was nice and pink on the outside and, not knowing any better, I tossed the brine and put it in the crock pot. When we cut it for dinner, only the outer 1/8 inch was cured and the rest was just boiled beef. I used 2 c. whey, 2 c. celery juice (I blended it in my blender) and then topped it off w/ water–I had to use quite a bit of water to cover the cut of meat (I filled a 3 qt crock pot). Could I have diluted the brine too much? I may have had a 4 lb brisket but even then NT only calls for 1/2 cup whey and your recipe calls for 2 c. so I figured I was fine….any thoughts? I am so disappointed it didn’t turn out!

  42. Choymae Huie says

    I tried your recipe and have uses it on other cuts of tougher grass fed beef, the last a cross rib steak. The cost of grass fed beef is so expensive and I was hoping that it would tenderize the cut enough to broil, but unfortunately, not enough. I plan to slice the rest across the grain and put it into a sandwich.
    My question is can you use the brine to season other things after the corn beef is cured? After curing my steak, I used it to cure chicken liver for two day and ate a few ounces raw with no apparent negative affects along with my raw pasture eggs for breakfast.

    The second time, I opened a coconut that had mold on the outside and extracted the meat and water, but left them both over night on the counter. The next morning, I had some of the water and coconut meat and some non fermented raw chicken liver, also left outside the frig for about a half a day and started to get a headache. Knowing I had pushed the envelope to far, I decided to drink some whey that had been fermenting in kefir grains and to my surprise the headache disappeared instantly.

    Today, I had some frozen chicken liver, that I had placed in the corn beef brine last night and ate with my raw eggs this morning and this time I have an ever slight headache. It’s so slight that I’m not sure if it’s my imagination or perhaps I need to ferment chicken livers longer than overnight if it was frozen to begin with.

    I’m just wondering if anyone has used the brine in this way and what was the results?

  43. Jan Jensen says

    Doubt about the celery juice.
    Is it made from stalks or roots?
    I live in Brasil,and here we can only get stalks!
    (I finally got my butcher to understand what cut of meat I want for this recipe,as it’s not used here)
    Hoping for an answer
    Regards
    Jan

  44. Rachel Maynard says

    This looks great! If I don’t have access to unrefined sea salt, can I use regular table salt?

  45. METG says

    Thanks for this recipe! I have Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” book, but I can’t find anything about her instructions for corned beef… can you help? Many thanks :)

  46. Teresa says

    During our 5 years living in the Dominican Republic we made corned beef for the first time, as we could not buy any. We followed a recipe (I can’t find it now) using non-iodized salt (to make a brine), spices, and a small amount of cut-up veggies (including some celery) and let it sit in the fridge (massaging it regularly) for 3-4 weeks. It turned out wonderfully! Due to the high salt content, the instructions said to sit in fresh water several times to rinse off the extra salt before cooking. Is there a problem or potential concern with doing this method over the celery juice and whey?

  47. Todd says

    I have a Harsch Fermenting crock and I’m making fermented sauerkraut. Could I use juice from the sauerkraut instead of whey?

  48. Taylor says

    I am very excited to try this! I always do the refrigerator salt-brine method, but love to ferment stuff.
    For those of you looking for a non-dairy source of lactic acid, it comes from lactobacillus (which is found in whey but also just about everything else.) Ferment some cabbage, horseradish, peppers, cucumbers, etc., and you’ll have your inoculum. You can also buy straight lacto from your homebrew shop.

  49. says

    I’m making this recipe for the second time this year for St. Patty’s. Getting a late start b/c I’ve been battling morning sickness and have a total disgust with meat. I was just wondering where the lovely pictures were that were on this post last year. I enjoy your photography as much as your recipes :)

  50. Charmaine says

    I tried this recipe but my corned beef didn’t corn very well. I used a brisket and after 8 days of curing it I cooked it. The meat still had a beefy taste and texture. What did I do wrong?

  51. diana says

    Hi there

    I read through all the comments. There was 1 made about my concern that cooking the meat destroys the whole purpose of the lacto fermentation. No reply was made to it. What is your response? And if heat does kill the good bacteria how do we make it so that we can eat it raw???
    Please help, I’ve been reading through websites etc ALL DAY to get an answer!!

    • Jenny says

      Yes, heat damages the probiotics, but that doesn’t mean it “destroys the whole purpose” of lactofermentation. Eat raw foods, eat cooked foods, eat fermented foods. If you want to try the meat raw, try it raw.

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