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The Ultimate Corned Beef Recipe

Corned Beef Thumbnail image

Nothing screams St. Patrick’s Day like the delicious aroma of a slow-simmered corned brisket. Why would you want to eat generic corned beef when it is so simple to do it yourself? Today, we will walk you through the process from butchering to feasting. When we’re finished here, you’ll know how to make the ultimate corned beef brisket.

The History of Corned Beef

Corned beef and cabbage is the go-to meal in many American households when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around. So, it may come as a bit of a surprise that corned beef is not something you will find in Ireland. The history of corned beef takes many strange turns, but it originated in England in the 17th century. The English described the ideal size of salt crystals used to preserve beef. The ideal size was about the same as a kernel of corn. 

To make a long story short, beef was too expensive to be used for meat in Ireland. Cows were considered sacred and were used for dairy products and field work by the Irish. Ireland benefited from a low tax rate on high-quality salt and began exporting corned beef to France, England, and the American Colonies. American beef production and the Great Famine ended Ireland’s grip on global corned beef by the early 1800’s.

What we know today as Irish Corned Beef is one of the most American things you will find. Irish immigrants to the States were able to make more money than under the British rule in Ireland, and could afford to buy beef. The beef the Irish immigrants were able to buy was the brisket, cut by Jewish butchers as a kosher meat. It was Jewish immigrants that first used the brisket, slowly simmering the tough meat with cabbage and potatoes to create the aromatic, tender meal we know today. 

Cutting the Brisket

Brisket is the breast or lower chest of a cow. When you butcher your carcass, you will want to separate the brisket by using a boning knife. We really like the six inch Victorinox Boning Knife. Trust us, it’s awesome. 

Another product you might want to pick up is this disposable cutting board. You can use it on your picnic table, on your counter, or wherever. It is tough enough to handle cutting up meat, and when you are finished, you can throw it out. No worrying about cross-contamination. 

You’ll want to remove the entire brisket. Once you have the meat on your counter, find the seam that separates the flat from the point. The point is a much fattier piece of meat, so you will usually use the flat for your corned beef. This is also the cut you most often find in stores. It’s considered to be a better looking cut than the point.

While the flat is leaner, it will still have a significant amount of fat on the meat. You’ll want to remove almost all of the fat. When cooked, the excess fat can give “off” flavors that are sometimes unappealing. Once the fat is removed, you will be able to see the grain of the meat. 

Making the Brine

Brining your brisket gets the flavors worked in real well. Remember that brisket is a tough cut of meat. Brining will help to soften the cut. 

Here are the ingredients that you’ll need:

  • 1 gallon of water in a roasting pan
  • 1 lb of sea salt (we used more salt since this is an overnight brine)
  • 1 oz of celery powder (sea salt and celery powder are the corned beef curing agents)
  • 2 tbsp mustard seed
  • 2 tbsp black peppercorn (can be ground, but we leave it whole)
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp allspice (can be ground, but we leave it whole)
  • 2 crushed cinnamon sticks
  • 8 -10 bay leaves

Start your brine with a gallon of filtered water in a good size roasting pan. Add one pound of sea salt and one ounce of celery powder. The sea salt and the celery powder will work in harmony to cure the beef. Whisk to dissolve. This allows a natural cure without using chemicals. 

Next, you will add the flavoring elements. Add two tablespoons of mustard seed, two tablespoons of peppercorn, a tablespoon of powdered ginger, two tablespoons of Allspice, two crushed cinnamon sticks, and eight to ten bay leaves. Whisk to combine. 

We have found that using whole peppercorns and Allspice berries provides an excellent seasoning. Some people don’t care for eating the berries, so leaving them whole makes it easy to remove them when the brisket is finished. 

We use a meat injector to distribute the flavorful ingredients evenly and reduce curing time. You will see the brine coming through the grain when you have enough brine injected. Once your brisket is injected, you can lower it into the brining solution. You want to make sure the brisket is fully submerged and stays that way. You can use a food-safe container, like a plate or a bowl to help keep the meat from floating. 

Lots of people like to cure for several days. With this brining solution, your brisket will only need to cure overnight. 

The Next Day

The brisket will have cured overnight. You’ll see the meat has changed color somewhat and become a little grey. This is perfectly normal, and when you cook your brisket, it will get that perfect, bright red color we all associate with corned beef. 

Use a cheesecloth to strain the brine and the flavorings, making sure to catch the brine in a container. With the flavorings in the cheesecloth, tie them up to make a spice bouquet. 

After washing your roasting pan, make a 50/50 mixture of fresh water and the brine you saved. This will dilute the salt content, but keep the great flavors. Toss the spice bouquet in, too. 

Preparing the Vegetables

We prefer to use red potatoes for our corned beef, but feel free to use whatever potatoes you want. Cut them up, but remember to keep the pieces fairly large or they will cook down to nothing. 

Today, we are going to use both red and green cabbage. Cut the base off, removing some of the core, then cut the cabbage into thick slices. When it cooks, the cabbage will fall apart. If you cut it too small, it might just vanish. 

We use baby carrots, but regular carrots will work just as well. Just cut them up into smaller pieces. We’re also going to add some fresh dill. This will give us a beautiful platter of veggies all ready for the feast. You can set them to the side for now.

Smoking the Brisket

Our Traeger Grill is one of our treasures around the house. These things are amazing. We used these signature blend pellets for the corned beef. This blend gives off a mouthwatering aroma you can’t believe. 

You’ll want the smoker at about 185 degrees when you put the brisket on. Place the brisket on the top rack and put the roasting pan of brine and water you mixed up earlier directly underneath. This will help to raise the temperature of the brine and will also serve to capture any of the delicious juices that escape from the meat. 

Smoke your brisket for about two hours. If you are using a temperature probe, make sure it’s in the thickest part of the meat. After two hours, you can remove the brisket from the top rack and put it right into the warmed up brine. Put the lid on your roasting pan and place it back in the smoker. Crank the temperature up to 350 degrees. 

It will take about two or three hours for the internal temperature of your brisket to reach 200 degrees. At this point, the brisket will have that classic beautiful color and the aroma will be amazing. Don’t be surprised to find your neighbors suddenly showing up.

Cooking the Veggies

With the brisket in the brine, add in the dill, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. We like to toss a couple chunks of butter on top. Cover the pan and place it back in the smoker for about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. You can raise the temperature about halfway through. We went up to 450 degrees just to speed things up a little. 

After about 45 minutes, the potatoes are nice and tender and the fibers of the brisket are just starting to loosen up. That tells you the beef is cooked to perfection. 

Slicing and Serving Corned Beef

With the brisket removed from the brine, you’ll want to pay attention to the direction of the grain in the meat. Cut against the grain. Cutting against the grain helps to make the meat tender. If you cut with the grain, your brisket will be stringy and tough to eat.

Strain the veggies out of the brine and put them on a platter with your sliced meat. You can even kick up your flavors with one of our top-notch Bearded Butcher Seasonings. It’s time for the Feast of Kings! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Final Notes

We love our Traeger. Seriously, it is amazing. If you don’t have a smoker and you have thought about buying one, just do it. If you can’t get a smoker, you can make this corned beef in your oven or on your gas grill. You won’t get the amazing smoke flavor, but you will still be able to make the ultimate corned beef. 

If you want a visual breakdown of the entire process, you can watch our YouTube video for cooking the ultimate corned beef video below and subscribe to our channel for more tips.

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