Keef Cooks logo
British food-lover Keef shows you how to cook amazing food with easy to follow recipes and videos. So stop wasting your time and money on takeaways or supermarket ready meals, and Get Cooking!

Home Made Corned Beef

Introduction & method

Corned beef means different things to different people around the world. Americans might be familiar with thick slices of pink cured meat served on rye bread in a New York deli. To us Brits, corned beef is a fairly smooth paste-like substance that comes out of weirdly-shaped cans. Irish Americans also invented the tradition of having hot sliced corned beef with cabbage and potatoes on St. Patrick's Day.

Home Made Corned Beef  Recipe

Making corned beef is a two-stage process. First of all you pickle (or 'brine') the meat, then you cook it. If you like you can then compress it into a loaf shape, but this step isn't strictly necessary. So, overall, it takes a few days, but the actual work time involved is minimal.

Make the pickling spice mix

If you have shop-bought pickling spice, you can skip this step. Otherwise, roast the peppercorns, coriander seeds and mustard seeds in a small frying pan or skillet (no oil required) over medium heat for a minute or two, until they release some of their aroma. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Crush them with the sides of a chef's knife. Break the cinnamon stick into small pieces, and tear the bay leaves into small pieces. Put them in a jar with the other powdered spices and shake well.

Brine the beef

Add the salt and sugar to the water, along with 1 tbsp of pickling spice and the garlic cloves, crushed and coarsely chopped. Add 1 tsp of celery salt or sodium nitrate (see below). Heat the brine until all the sugar and salt have dissolved, then chill it.

Sodium nitrate

Now, with any pickling / curing process that takes place over a few days, there's the possibility of botulism bugs multiplying in the meat (they breathe anaerobically, the little sods), so it's a good idea to have something in the brine / cure that will kill them. That something is sodium nitrate. Some people think this substance causes cancer, but the only 'scientific' study to claim that has been proven to be seriously flawed (i.e. wrong). 

Sodium nitrate is sold under several brand names such as Prague Powder #1 and InstaCure. These mixes usually contain pink dye to distinguish them from normal salt. If you don't want to use either of these, you can substitue Celery Salt. It may surprise you that celery contains more sodium nitrate than pretty much anything else. But it does the job, although your meat will turn out a greyish brown rather than pink.

Brine the meat

If your meat came tied with string, keep it on. Do not remove the fat - it's an essential part of corned beef. Place the meat into the brine and put a plate on top to keep the meat submerged. Refrigerate for 2-3 days or longer - a week or more will work.

Cook the meat

When the brining is done, remove the meat and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Place in a fresh pan, along with any bones you have (if you don't have any bones, you could add a split pig's trotter) - bones will release gelatine during cooking which will help your corned beef loaf stick together. Add enough fresh water to come halfway up the meat. Add some juniper berries. Bring to the boil, reduce to simmer, covered, and cook for 3½ hours, topping up the liquid level occasionally if needed. If you have a pressure cooker, 1 hour's cooking will do. 

To serve

Slice the corned beef for sandwiches, or serve with a salad. Pickles and mustard go well with corned beef. You can also use it for a delicious corned beef hash. Or if you're doing the Irish-American St. Patrick's Day supper thing, steam thick slices of the corned beef and serve with cabbage, potatoes, and possibly some onion gravy.

Optional - Make a Corned Beef loaf

When the meat is cooked, remove it from the liquid and scrape off any bits of spice that may be stuck to it. Take a suitably sized bread tin and pack the meat into it. If you don't have enough meat to fill it to the top, you can pad out the rest of the space by lining it with foil and filling the gap with uncooked beans or lentils. Place weights on top of the meat and refrigerate the whole lot for about 4 hours or overnight.

The video above is from the Keef Cooks YouTube channel. Click here to see the video recipe of Home Made Corned Beef on YouTube.


Ingredients & Info

 1 kilo beef (brisket or skirt)
 2 litres water
 3 cloves garlic
 1 tsp celery salt or sodium nitrate
 1 tbsp pickling spice
 200 grams sea salt (kosher salt)
 100 grams sugar
 1 tbsp juniper berries


If you cannot get pickling spice, you can make up your own mixture - 1 tsp each of whole black peppercorns, coriander seeds, black mustard seeds, allspice berries and cloves, half a teaspoon of ground ginger and red chilli flakes, 1 stick of cinnamon and 4 bay leaves.

US Customary/Imperial

Makes about 1.5 kilos (3.5 pounds)
Prep time: 15 minutes.
Curing / setting time: 30 hours.
Cooking time: 4 hours.
Total time: 34 hours 15 minutes.