This month's Charcutepalooza challenge called for brining beef brisket to make corned beef, and that makes me very happy. You see, I happen to have some experience in the Corned Beef Department, and I'm going to show you how simple it is to do it yourself.
All the beef brisket really needs is 5-10 minutes of your time prepping in the kitchen, a few days in the brine, and a few hours in a crock pot. That's it. I swear. Even the last step - slicing the corned beef for sandwiches - is effortless. A 3rd-grader could do it with a plastic knife.
Joking aside, a child could manage this entire process except for the boiling of the brine liquid. An adult should be present to oversee the brine-making process since a stove is involved.
C'mon kids...let's make meat!
In the past when I have made corned beef at home, I usually do larger pieces, about 8 to 10 pounds each. This time I opted to do 2 fairly small pieces of brisket. In fact, one piece was just a 1.8 pound slice of a whole brisket which made this project even easier.
All you need to brine beef brisket are 5 ingredients, plus water.
Starting at the top, and going clock-wise:
- Pink Salt*. No, not Himalayan Pink Salt, but salt containing 6% sodium nitrite. The pink color prevents a person from mistaking it for something else, like table salt. That would be bad.
- Pickling spice blend. The one I used for this project happens to be a wonderful pre-mixed blend from a place in Olympia called "Buck's Fifth Avenue". I could make my pickling spice blend from scratch, but I am trying to keep it simple this time. I want you to try this, and the easier I make it, the better my chances are that you will.
- Oh, and garlic cloves, pictured amongst the pickling spice. You need those.
- Kosher salt. It's important that you don't use regular old table salt with its added anti-caking agents.
- Brown sugar. You could use white sugar, or honey. Just add a lil' somethin' sweet please.
*Note: The "pink salt" also known as Speedcure, is optional. To create delicious corned beef from brisket, you really only need the last 3 ingredients, and they should be easy enough to find at a grocery store.
NOTE: These step-by step instructions are for a 5 pound beef brisket. Adjust the ingredient amounts according to the size of the brisket(s) you'll be brining.
Mix your ingredients together in a large stockpot:
- 4 tablespoons of pickling spice (bought or home-made), divided
- 1-1/2 cups kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 gallon of water
- If using optional Pink Salt, add 4 teaspoons
- Also optional, one or two fresh garlic cloves
Mix 3 tablespoons pickling spice, sugar & salt in water and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar & salt have dissolved.
Turn the heat off and let the brine cool completely.
Put brisket in a crock, bowl, bucket or 2 gallon Zip-Loc bag, depending on the size of your brisket, and pour your cooled brine over it.
This small chunk fits nicely in a zip bag. Be sure it's submerged in the brine at all times!
If you have a bigger piece of meat, place it in a large crock, bowl or bucket. It's very important that the meat is submerged in brine at all times, so if it's in a bucket, you might want to hold it down with a plate or saucer, then put a "weight" on top to hold the plate or saucer in place.I like to use a baggie full of brine for my weight. You'll see what I mean in a second...
4 pound brisket in a gallon-size Pyrex beaker
Don't just fill a baggie with tap water. If the bag should leak, you want it to leak the same briny solution you are using for the meat. Plain water will dilute the brine, which would potentially compromise your project.
Baggie full o' brine
Let your brisket sit in the brine for 5-14 days. You need to check it daily to make sure it's submerged in brine. It's also a good idea to flip the brisket over to keep spices & garlic evenly distributed.
On the 5th day, I decided my small piece was brined adequately. I took it out of the zippered bag, and put it in a crock pot, then I covered the meat with fresh cold water and add reserved tablespoon of pickling spices.
Raw brisket, after brining but before cooking.
For a piece of brisket this size, I cooked it on the High setting for 3 hours. I tested it with a fork to be sure it was tender, and boy, was it ever! So far I have only spent a few minutes making this lovely piece of corned beef. Time spent in the fridge brining and in the crock pot cooking required practically nothing from me.
3 hours later: fork-tender Corned Beef. Our house smelled like Carnegie Deli!
So grab your tongs, pull it out of the cooking liquid, and move the corned beef to a cutting board. It's good to have your sandwich ingredients assembled in advance, of course.
For my sandwiches I used pickled cabbage, dilly zucchini slices, and Russian dressing on rye bread with melted Swiss cheese, of course.
This is the smaller 1.8# piece of brisket. As you can see, it is very moist & tender.
I wish I could convey to you how incredibly delicious home-made corned beef sandwiches are. Once you try this at home and realize how simple it is you will NEVER buy that awful over-salted preservative-filled commercially-produced corned beef again.
The biggest compliment I get when I serve this to guests? When someone says "I didn't think I liked corned beef until now!"
Give it a try. I promise you won't be sorry.
It's so simple to do at home that I think you'll be tempted to make it all year 'round. At least, that's what I'm hoping you'll do.