How to brine beef brisket

Updated March 23, 2017

In medieval times, beef briskets were dry-cured by packing them with salt and spices. The grains of salt were large -- about the size of a kernel of corn. The method became known as "corning," and the product is known as "corned beef." Today, wet cures, or brines, are usually used to make corned beef. Wow your friends by making your own corned beef.

Locate a curing agent. They can be found online. One of the more common commercially available curing agents is Prague powder No. 1. Other common brands are Instacure and Morton's TenderQuick. Most of them are simply salt mixed with sodium nitrate and nitrites. Because nitrites can be toxic in relatively small amounts, and the concentration of these chemicals may vary according to the product used, use them according to the directions on the package. Cookbook author David Rosengarten notes that corned beef will turn out OK if you want to omit the nitrates and rely on salt for the cure. Use 14.2gr. of cream of tartar to create the pink tint of cured corned beef if you want to omit Prague powder.

Bring water to a boil. Add herbs and spices, salt, curing agent and sugar. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved.

Place brisket in crock or pail. Weigh the beef down with a plate. Pour liquid over the brisket. Cover and refrigerate. A brisket that is less than 3 inches thick will cure in 12 to 14 days. Thicker pieces may take as long as 20 days. You will know it is done when you can cut all the way through the beef and see the pink colour of cured meats. (This isn't the natural pink colour of uncooked, uncured beef. It's a brighter pink, almost a pastel colour.) That's a sign that the cure has penetrated the entire slab.

Rinse before cooking -- corned beef can be broiled, boiled or baked. Serve with cabbage and potatoes to make a St. Patrick's Day treat. Smoke the brisket to make pastrami.


Only use a stone or wooden crock. Metal crocks will corrode.


Salt, nitrate and nitrites inhibit bacteria growth in meat as it cures. The nitrites and nitrates help the salt penetrate the meat. Many recipes for corned beef call for the addition of sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate. Excessive consumption of nitrites can be lethal. Many sources advise the use of a commercially available curing agent, such as Prague powder or Morton's TenderQuick, because many home cooks will find it difficult to measure the very small amounts of nitrites that are safe. These products have nitrites mixed in safe amounts. For those who want to avoid nitrates in their food, some companies make natural curing compounds from vegetables like beets and celery. According to the American Meat Science Association, these curing agents produce a product that looks and tastes like traditionally-cured meats.

Things You'll Need

  • 4.54kg. brisket, thinnest possible cut
  • 2 qts. water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups salt
  • Curing agent, amount as directed on package
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp dill seeds
  • 5 bay leaves
  • Wooden pail or stone crock, with cover
  • Heavy object capable of keeping beef submerged in brine.
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About the Author

Philadelphia-based freelancer Pat Kelley has been writing since 2002, most recently for Scripps Texas Newspapers. He has won numerous awards for reporting. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science.