Corned Beef

plate of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, parsnip, and heavily-buttered soda bread

I’ve made corned beef a few times using the brine-in-fridge method, which turned out ok. I resisted the idea of adding nitrites, or “pink salt” (not to be confused with Himalayan pink salt, which is just colored salt) for a while, until I decided I wanted to try fermenting at room temperature in a vacuum bag. While you can make corned beef without nitrites, it won’t have that appetizing pink color and it is ultimately less safe, especially at room temperature.

Nitrites perform a very important role in meat curing, mainly the prevention of botulism. In the home environment, taking any step necessary to prevent botulism is worth it in my book.

The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns had just started to roll out here when I found a brisket on sale and decided to “corn” it. I could not find the so-called “pink salt” at the store, but I came across a bag of Morton’s Tender Quick. It’s a generally available curing rub consisting mostly of salt and sugar with just enough nitrite in it to suit my needs.

If you’re using pink salt, it must be carefully dosed into your curing rub, but if you use Tender Quick you simply replace the salt you would be using in the cure.

Pickling Ingredients

  • 3-4 lbs beef brisket
  • 70 g Tender Quick (4.5% by weight of meat)
  • 20 g brown sugar (1.3% by weight of meat)
  • 2 g MSG, optional
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 2 tsp dried chili flakes
  • 2 bay leaves, torn up
  • 1 Tbsp peppercorns
  • 2 tsp mustard seed
  • 2 tsp coriander seed
  • 1 tsp caraway seed
  • 1 tsp allspice berries
  • 1 tsp juniper berries
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 Tbsp sauerkraut brine (or other active ferment)

Pickling Instructions

  1. Mix Tender Quick, brown sugar, and whole spices together and rub onto the brisket as best you can.
  2. Place in a vacuum bag, dump in any remaining pickling spice, and add the splash of sauerkraut brine or other source of good microbes. Vacuum seal and place in a cool, dark place (like a basement) in a suitably-sized pan or tray.
  3. Leave at room temperature for 3-4 days, flipping over once per day. If you didn’t use nitrites, this should be done in the fridge for at least 10 days.

Cooking ingredients

  • Corned beef brisket, rinsed to remove excess spices
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 1 tsp caraway seed
  • 1 tsp allspice berries
  • 1 tsp juniper berries
  • 12 oz beer (use a good stout!)


  • 1 lb red potatoes, quartered
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 parsnip, chopped
  • 1/2 cabbage, chopped into 8 wedges

Let’s Cook!

  1. Preheat oven to 200-225°F. The temperature depends on how fast it needs to be done: 200°F for 10 hours, or 225°F for 8 hours. You can go higher for shorter but the end result will be much less tender.
  2. Rinse corned beef to remove spices and pat dry.
  3. Set a dutch oven over medium-high heat with a small splash of oil. When hot, add the brisket fat-side-down for a few minutes to get a little color on it.
  4. Add the beer and enough water to barely cover the beef and bring up to a simmer. Add the whole spices in a spice pouch or cheese cloth. Once simmering, set int he preheated oven with the lid slightly open. Cook (bake?) for 8-10 hours, according to the oven temp, flipping the brisket halfway through.
  5. When brisket is done and you’re ready to cook the vegetables, remove beef to a cutting board, reserve a few ladles of broth, and throw the chopped vegetables into the pot. bring up to a simmer.
  6. Slice the beef and arrange it in a pan that fits well over the top of the pot of veggies. Add the reserved broth, place on top of the dutch oven, and simmer for 35-40 minutes (just long enough to make some quick soda bread!).

This recipe is based on a fantastic write up by Kenji Lopez-Alt on Serious Eats. The only thing that this recipe provides is the Tender Quick substitute and percent-by-weight measurements of the salt and sugar for easy scaling.