Preserved Home: Homemade corned beef, flavored to your liking


Homemade corned beef ready to cook. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey Macklem)

Laura Woolfrey Macklem

Growing up, my mother faithfully made corned beef and cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day. During the rest of the year, she often made cabbage, ham and potatoes. Maybe it’s because she’s nearly half Irish and that food tradition was passed down. Mom finding a four-leaf clover would have been easier than getting me to eat boiled cabbage, but I do have an affinity for corned beef.

Preserved Home by Laura Woolfrey MacklemLike most traditional meals surrounding American holidays, corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day has a backstory. Traditionally, cattle were used for milk and doing field work in Ireland instead of meat. Beef, cured with salt ash, was used sparingly for celebrations and royalty only. Pork was the affordable meat in Ireland, but when Irish immigrants came to America, they found pork to be too expensive and beef was the affordable option.

According to The Smithsonian, “instead of their beloved bacon, the Irish began eating beef. And, the beef they could afford just happened to be corned beef.”

Homemade corned beef, properly cut. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey Macklem)
Homemade corned beef, properly cut. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey Macklem)

Today, corned beef is not inexpensive unless you find a deal on brisket and make your own. Not only is homemade corned beef frugal, but you can cater the brine to match your tastes, and the quality is superior to anything I’ve found in the grocery store. Also, it’s fun to make.

There are different ways to use your corned beef. You can chill for deli slices, can it, and of course eat hot. After cooking, I chill and slice thinly for sandwiches. Because I’m doing 6 pounds at a time, I vacuum seal and freeze into portions.

So what is corning?

According to the USDA, “Corning is a form of curing; it has nothing to do with corn. The name comes from Anglo-Saxon times before refrigeration. In those days, the meat was dry-cured in coarse corns of salt. Pellets of salt, some the size of kernels of corn, were rubbed into the beef to keep it from spoiling and to preserve it.”

Today, for curing, we use pink curing salt and aromatics. Do not confuse pink curing salt, which inhibits bacteria growth in the curing process, with pink Himalayan salt. Add more or less garlic, and alter the spices to your liking.

With nine days of brining and three hours of simmering, it seems counterintuitive to follow the instructions for corning beef. I was afraid of a salty, mushy product. But after all this work, a flavorful, tender delicacy once reserved for royalty awaits you at the end of the rainbow.

Homemade Corned Beef

1 gallon of water
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup pickling spices
6 minced cloves of garlic
4 teaspoons of pink curing salt (not pink Himalayan salt)
Place a 4-6 pound brisket

Homemade corned beef ready to enjoy. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey Macklem)
Homemade corned beef ready to enjoy. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey Macklem)

Combine all the ingredients except for the brisket. Heat on medium until all the ingredients have been dissolved. Allow the mixture to return to room temperature. Place brisket in a large container and pour mixture over the beef. Make sure the meat is completely covered by the liquid. Cover and store in the refrigerator for nine days.

After nine days, take the beef out of the brine and rinse with cold water. Place beef, onions, carrots and celery in a stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then down to a simmer. Cook for three hours or until fork tender.

When done, either eat the corned beef hot, or cool completely. To use for sandwiches, place the meat in the refrigerator after it’s been cooled. After meat has chilled for several hours, cut against the grain into thin slices, or desired thickness.

For more recipes, tips and details, visit Laura Woolfrey Macklem’s Preserved Home blog at

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A Reuben sandwich made with homemade corned beef. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey Macklem)
A Reuben sandwich made with homemade corned beef. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey Macklem)

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