St. Patrick’s Day may be a month away, but you have your eyes on the prize: a glorious, corned beef that you’ll serve with cabbage the day-of, then transform the leftovers in to Reubens until you tire of them (we could never). But instead of relying on the vacuum-sealed lump of beef you buy at the grocery, what if this year, you made your own? Here’s how to make corned beef that’s a billion times more delicious than anything store-bought (and surprisingly easy to pull off).
How to Make Corned Beef for St. Patrick’s Day (It’s Easier Than You Think)
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Wait, What Is Corned Beef Again?
Glad you asked. Corned beef is a cut of beef—most often brisket—that’s been cured, or preserved, with salt. It’s usually seasoned with sugar and other spices (like coriander, mustard seeds, bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns)—you can think of it like pickling or brining. Despite the name, it has nothing to do with corn on the cob (more likely, it refers to the course “corns” of rock salt traditionally used to cure the beef). The result is a meat that’s extremely tender and easy to slice, and that before the rise of refrigeration, would keep for a long time.
Why Is Corned Beef Popular on St. Patrick’s Day?
While a popular dish on March 17, corned beef isn’t traditional Irish fare. In 19th-century Ireland, corned beef was a luxury, while pork products like ham were more affordable. But when Irish people immigrated to America, they found that beef was readily available, so it replaced the traditional bacon and cabbage dish.
How to Make Corned Beef at Home
Making corned beef sounds intimidating, but if you’ve dabbled in homemade pickling, you can totally handle the process. Here are a few tips before you start.
Use a Flat Cut of Brisket
When buying brisket from a butcher, you’ll find you have two options: the point cut and the flat cut. The point has heavier fat marbling and is popular for fall-apart slow roasts and barbecue. The flat is leaner and makes neater slices after it’s cooked, so it’s ideal for corned beef.
Stock Up on Pink Curing Salt
Also known as Prague powder number one or simply curing salt, this key ingredient is a mix of sodium chloride (aka table salt) and sodium nitrite, and it preserves the meat (making it safe to eat) while lending a signature reddish hue and tangy flavor. It’s easy to purchase online; just don’t confuse it with Himalayan pink salt—curing salt should never be sprinkled on food for seasoning and is considered harmful if consumed directly.
Once you get the beef brisket in the brine, you’ll soak it for at least five days and up to an entire week, so when making corned beef from scratch, plan ahead. You’ll also want to secure a large, resealable plastic bag (we like the 2-gallon size) to store the brining brisket, and clear enough space in your refrigerator so it has a place to chill.
Brine the Meat
Along with pink curing salt and sugar, now’s your chance to flavor the corned beef to your own tastes. Store-bought parcels will typically include a pre-mixed blend of spices, but you can create your own with any combination of allspice berries, bay leaves, cloves, coriander, juniper berries, mustard seeds and peppercorns, plus any other spices your heart desires.
How to Brine a Brisket for Corned Beef
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon pink curing salt
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon juniper berries
2 bay leaves
One 3-pound flat-cut beef brisket
- In a large stockpot, combine 2 cups of water with the kosher salt, sugar, curing salt and all the spices. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cooking until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat and immediately add 4 cups of ice water, stirring until the ice is dissolved and the brine is cool to the touch.
- Place the brisket in a 2-gallon plastic bag and pour the brine mixture on top, then press the air out and seal the bag. Place the bag inside a large container to contain any accidental leaks and keep the brisket submerged. Transfer to the refrigerator to brine for 5 to 7 days.
- Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse under cool water before cooking with your preferred method.
How to Cook Corned Beef
Once your brisket is sufficiently brined, you have a choice to make: How should you cook it? Luckily, this part is easy, and there are a few methods you can follow.
Using the Instant Pot:
To cook corned beef in the Instant Pot, place the brined, rinsed beef brisket in the pot of the Instant Pot along with a quartered onion, a chopped carrot and a chopped stalk of celery. Cover with water by 1 inch. Set the Instant Pot to cook on High Pressure for 1 hour, 30 minutes. Release the pressure using a Quick Release before transferring the corned beef to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes. Slice against the grain and serve.
Using the Slow Cooker:
To cook corned beef in the slow cooker, place the brined, rinsed beef brisket in the pot of the slow cooker along with a quartered onion, a chopped carrot and a chopped stalk of celery. Cover with water by 1 inch. Set the slow cooker to cook on Low for 9 hours. Transfer the corned beef to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes. Slice against the grain and serve.
Using the Stove:
To cook corned beef on the stove, place the brined, rinsed beef brisket in a large Dutch oven along with a quartered onion, a chopped carrot and a chopped stalk of celery. Cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to a simmer, cover and cook until fork tender, about 3 hours.
Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City restaurants. She used to sling sugary desserts in a pastry kitchen, but now she’s an avid home cook and fanatic baker.