Corned Beef (sometimes called salt beef) is brisket that’s cured in a pickle-spiced salt brine, then cooked slowly to fall-apart, juicy perfection. While you can buy it, nothing compares to the taste and texture of homemade. It’s easy and worth it!
Corned beef tastes intensely savory, warmly spiced, and a little tangy and sweet.
Its name might sound odd, but corned beef is delicious.
The curing process makes corned beef brisket truly unique; its taste and texture are unlike other cuts of beef you’ve tried before.
Pink curing salt gives the beef its signature pink hue, and it’s often served with cabbage, along with potatoes and carrots.
Corned beef is probably best known for starring in Corned Beef and Cabbage.
In addition to serving it as a main, you can turn it into a corned beef sandwich with sauerkraut and cheese, mix it into Corned Beef Hash, or add it to cream cheese to make a tasty dip.
This post shares exactly how to make corned beef, starting with one of the biggest questions: its name!
Why is it Called Corned Beef?
The word “corned” refers to the large grains of rock salt that were originally used to make corned beef. They resembled kernels of corn.
Corned beef has been around for centuries, when people needed a way to preserve meat for long periods of time without refrigeration. “Corning” (curing) the beef preserved it.
Today, corned beef is popular in the U.S., especially on St. Patrick’s Day.
Making homemade corned beef at home is a lengthy process that takes time and planning (you’ll need to refrigerate the brisket in the corning liquid for at least 5 days prior to cooking), but this labor of culinary love is worth it.
Similar to a wet turkey brine, the time the brisket spends in the salty, spiced, sweet, and sour liquid makes all the difference in the world in its final flavor and texture.
How to Make the Best Corned Beef
This traditional corned beef recipe is made with pickling spices (you can purchase it online, or see recipe notes below to make your own), pink curing salt (this colors the corned beef), as well as brown sugar and vinegar to give the brisket notes of sweet and sour.
Corned beef is the perfect St. Patrick’s Day recipe project.
The key to making corned beef from scratch is to plan ahead! You’ll need to allow 5 days:
Corned Beef Process Overview
- Make the corning liquid (the salt brine). It will take a few hours to boil the brine and let it cool. Add the brisket, then refrigerate.
- Refrigerate the Brisket in the Salt Brine for 5 Days. This is the curing process; it turns brisket into corned beef!
- Cook the Corned Beef. Prepare the corned beef brisket, allowing 3 to 4 hours for cooking and cooling. You can boil, smoke, roast it, or use the slow cooker or instant pot. Boiling is the most traditional method to cook corned beef.
- Brisket. Thanks to our corning liquid, curing process, and slow-cooking method, this tougher cut of beef becomes wonderfully tender and flavorful. Brisket meat is rich in vitamins, protein, and iron.
- Pink Curing Salt. Pink salt, also called curing salt, is what makes corned beef pink. It contains a compound called sodium nitrate, which both adds flavor and inhibits growth. Pink salt is NOT the same as pink Himalayan sea salt.
- Kosher Salt. Similarly to the pink salt, the kosher salt helps flavor and tenderize the brisket.
- Garlic. Adds a hint of delicious garlicky flavor.
- Brown Sugar. For a touch of sweetness that balances the more savory and sour flavors.
- Pickling Spice. Pickling spice is a blend of warm, earthy spices that provides rich flavor to the pickling liquid. A typical pickling spice packet may contain whole allspice, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, coriander seed, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, and whole black peppercorns.
- To brine the meat: Add the ingredients for the pickling liquid to a stockpot.
- Bring the mixture to a boil. Let cool for 30 minutes.
- Place a brining bag in a large vessel, then add the ice.
- Pour the brining liquid over the ice. Let the mixture sit for about 1 hour.
- Add the brisket to the brining bag, ensuring it is fully submerged. Brine for at least 5 days. Keep the temperature below 40 degrees F and above 32 degrees F.
- Remove the brisket from the brine, discard the brine, then rinse the brisket and pat it dry.
- Cook the brisket according to your desired method. To boil, transfer the meat to a stockpot, covering it with water. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and pickling spice. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 3 hours.
- Strain part of the liquid into a bowl, and discard the remaining liquid. Allow the corned beef to rest for at least 20 minutes. Slice the beef across the grain. ENJOY!
- To Store. Refrigerate corned beef in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm corned beef in a covered baking dish (like a Dutch oven) in the oven at 350 degrees F. Add a few tablespoons of water before covering to help keep the meat moist. You can also reheat corned beef in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze beef in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Leftover corned beef can be used to make homemade Reuben sandwiches. Place a few slices of corned beef and Mozzarella or Swiss cheese on your favorite bread. Add sauerkraut, pickles, or relish. Finish it off with Dijon mustard, spicy mayo, or both. You can toast the bread before assembling the sandwich or toast the entire sandwich in a skillet on the stovetop (this will help the cheese get extra melty).
What to Serve with Corned Beef
- Bread. You can’t beat corned beef with a side of Irish Soda Bread. Some Roasted Garlic Potato Rolls would also be tasty.
- Potatoes. Pair corned beef with Scalloped Potatoes, Crockpot Mashed Potatoes, or Hasselback Potatoes.
- Veggies. Roasted Carrots, Sauteed Cabbage, Cabbage Steaks, and Air Fryer Asparagus would all be tasty.
- Salad. Keep things light with a side of Arugula Salad.
- Mac and Cheese. For a crowd-pleasing side, try Instant Pot Mac and Cheese.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Stockpot. A large stockpot is a must-have when making corned beef.
- Measuring Spoons. These have magnets on the handle to keep them together during storage. Comes with teaspoons and tablespoons.
- Carving Knife. Makes carving the corned beef a breeze.
This corned beef brisket takes time to make, but the unique flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture are well worth it.
There’s no other beef like it!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can make corned beef pink without pink salt. If you’d prefer to not use pink salt, you could try adding a couple of beets to the boiling liquid when you’re cooking the brisket so still has a pink hue. You could also experiment with adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of beetroot powder to the brining liquid instead of pink salt.
No. While corned beef and pastrami are both cured types of meat, they are not the same thing. Pastrami and corned beef typically use different cuts of beef, and their flavor profiles are slightly different. Both pastrami and corned beef can be smoked, but corned beef is typically cooked by boiling or steaming.
The best method for cooking corned beef is up to you and what equipment you have at your disposal. You can boil, braise, or smoke the corned beef. I haven’t tried making slow cooker or Instant Pot corned beef, but I think a pressure cooker or crock pot could be another option for cooking corned beef.
No, corned beef is not considered a healthy food, as it is high in sodium. It’s best consumed in moderation as part of a well-rounded diet.
For Brining the Corned Beef:
For Cooking the Corned Beef:
- 1 tablespoon pickling spice*
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 garlic cloves peeled
- 4 cups ice cubes (1.5 pounds ice)
Brining the Brisket (5 Days in Advance):
- In an 8-quart or larger stockpot, combine 12 cups water, kosher salt, garlic, brown sugar, pink salt, and 3 tablespoons of pickling spice.
- Bring the liquid to a boil, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve. Cover the pot with a lid to make the liquid boil faster, checking on it every 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 30 minutes.
- Line a large bucket, tub, pot, the insert of a crockpot, cooler, or other similar vessel large enough to hold the brisket and brine snugly with a brining bag. Add the ice.
- Pour the semi-cooled brining liquid on top (if it is still a little warm, the ice will melt and cool it down the rest of the way). Allow this mixture to sit and come to room temperature, about 1 hour.
- Place the brisket into the fully cooled liquid (your patience is worth it for food safety!) and submerge so it’s covered in liquid. If the brisket floats, weigh it down with a heavy pot, bag of ice, or similar (we top ours with a stack of dinner plates that is about the circumference of the bucket; if you are using your crockpot, you can flip the lid upside down and use that).
- Let the brisket brine for at least 5 days (or up to 7 days), ensuring that it stays below 40 degrees but above 32 degrees so that it does not freeze. You can place it in a refrigerator, in your garage, or outside if it's cold enough (just make sure it's not below freezing).
Cooking the Corned Beef (the day of):
- When ready to cook, remove the brisket from the brine. Discard the brine. Rinse the brisket all over, then pat very dry. Trim off any excess fat with a paring knife, being careful not to cut away any of the meat itself.
- Place the brined brisket in a large stockpot (6 quarts or larger). Add water until it is at least 1 inch above the brisket. Add garlic cloves, bay leaf, and 1 tablespoon pickling spice.
- Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, keeping the liquid at a low simmer. Cover the pot and let simmer for about 3 hours, until the brisket is fork tender and registers 180 degrees F to 190 degrees F on an instant read thermometer.
- Turn the heat off and allow the meat to cool for 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove the corned beef to a cutting board. Remove 2 cups of the liquid from the pot. Strain the liquid into a bowl and set aside. Discard the remaining liquid from the stockpot. Rinse the pot.
- Allow the corned beef to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
- When you're ready to slice the corned beef, cut against the grain into 1/4" inch strips.
- *Depending upon your brand of pickling spice, it can be a little heavy on the allspice. If you prefer, you can pick out a few of the allspice berries, or enjoy it as is.
*TO MAKE YOUR OWN PICKLING SPICE, stir together the following: 1/2 tablespoon each yellow mustard seed, multi-colored peppercorns, coriander seeds, allspice berries, red pepper flakes, and whole cloves; 2 whole cardamom pods; 1/2 cinnamon stick, crushed; 2 dried bay leaves, broken into pieces; and 1 teaspoon ground ginger.
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