The deal with “corning”
Corning is another word for curing, or adding salt (the corns) to meat. As with any kind of brining or curing the art of corning corned beef can be broken down into two parts: the seasoning and the cooking. The seasoning consists of salt and nitrites (yes nitrites are safe and used on cooked food, as opposed to nitrate which is used for longer, dry cures) along with several other spices.
But first it should be known that while corned beef attributed to the Irish, they actually ate very little beef, due to its prohibitive cost. Most of the beef raised in Ireland went to the English and French. It wasn’t until the Irish immigrated to the United States, where beef prices were cheaper, that they started to eat corned beef, alongside their Jewish neighbors who were eating a similar product — pastrami.
Feel free to add any spices you like, based on your own taste, ginger, clove, garlic, onion, allspice, coriander, bay leaf, black pepper, mustard, mace. Whatever you’d like… Salt, or the corn! That’s the constant. Read below for tips on making your own corned beef at home from our Director of Butchery Education, Bryan Mayer.
Buying beef for homemade corned beef
First, start with meat from a fully pastured animal from a local butcher you know and trust. Ask for a rather fatty, four to five pound piece of brisket. The second cut (or the deckle) is fattier, while the first cut (the flat) is leaner. When you buy a pastured, or grass fed, animal your corned beef will have a ton more flavor.
Secondly, you’re going to want a heavily worked muscle. Those muscles will most likely come from the shoulder, although they could come from the round. The will be full of connective tissue, comprised mostly of collagen. That collagen is going to need a bit of time to be converted into gelatin. Brisket is perfect for this since it has the right amount of fat and connective tissue. Keep in mind you could go with something learner, like a bottom round (preserving the fat cap on the outside) but my guess is you’ll want all that fat for flavor and to help the cut self-baste as it slowly renders while it cooks.
Take the time to do it right
You can certainly corn your beef for less time, but keep in mind that the shorter the corning time the the less flavor will be developed and the less time the salt and nitrite have time to break down those connective tissues and also bind the meat. That’s what gives corned beef it’s distinctive flavor, color, and also why it’s both tender and dense — salt!
One shortcut is to dry brine instead of wet brining since liquid not only slows the process, it also dilutes the taste of the meat.
Season with nitrite, and spices, vacuum seal, or wrap in saran wrap and place in your fridge for about 7 days. This should be enough time for science to do it’s thing. You can weigh your beef down to make sure that the spices stay in contact with the meat, and you’ll want to flip it every day.
Top tips or tricks for making great corned beef
There are a couple of tricks to getting perfectly cooked corned beef. If you Use a slow cooker. You can set the temp to about 175°F which will cook the meat slowly enough without losing too much liquid inside the muscle. It’ll take a bit longer, but you’ll get a more tender, easily sliceable corned beef. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can try it with your oven or stovetop.
If you’re using the stovetop, bring a large pot of water to a boil and, using a thermometer, make sure it’s 180 – 190°F. Once your water reaches your desired temp and cook for roughly 8-10 hours. If you can’t do it stove top, then use your oven, where the lowest setting will probably hover around 200°. It will be fully cooked although and sliceable if cooked at a lower temperature.
After I cook my corned beef, I store it overnight in the liquid and then use the reserved liquid to cook my veggies in.
Corned Beef (adapted from Alton Brown)
- 1 four- to five-pound brisket with fat on
- 1 cup kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons saltpeter
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 8 whole cloves
- 8 allspice berries
- 12 whole juniper berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
Simmer two quarts of water and spices over high heat until salt and sugar have fully dissolved. Allow the brine to cure until it reaches 41°F.
Place the brisket in the brine and allow it to fully submerge. A great way to keep the brine on the entire brisket is to use a tea towel, soaked in the brine, and lay it over any exposed part. Place the the pot in your fridge up to 10 days.
After ten days, remove the brisket from the pot and give it a quick rinse. Place it in a pot and add your standard mirepoix of onion, carrots and celery. Add enough water to cover half of the brisket. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for roughly three hours. It’s done when it’s tender!