How To Cure & Preserve Your Own Corned Beef

I have always loved corned beef so back when we were raising cattle I decided to try my hand at making our own for St. Patrick’s Day and some quick meals in the winter months.

One thing to remember when it comes to corned beef is that it is essentially pickled beef.

The “corning” process turns tough cuts into something that is much more tender and tastier. Corned beef sandwich meats or corned beef roasts are made of these cheaper cuts despite the sometimes high cost.

I am going to show you how you can take a beef roast and make your own high quality corned beef that can be adjusted and seasoned to meet your tastes.

Your version may be lower in sodium than what is found in the store so those of you that used to enjoy corned beef but have stopped due to sodium restrictions, may be able to enjoy it once again. If you get it a bit too salty you can do a cold water soak for a few minutes and get some of it out.

Pink Salt Cured Vs. My Recipe

The corned beef recipe I have given contains no nitrates or nitrites so if you have been advised to avoid these then you are going to be able to enjoy this corned beef recipe that has all the flavor without the preservatives and you can control the sodium you are consuming in each serving.

If you do like a traditional cure then you can corn your beef using #2 Cure Salts just like you would use with bacon or other cured meats. The rule of thumb is to make sure to use 4 teaspoons per 5 lbs of meat. You can do the rest of the brining process the same way.

Using this type of curing salt will give you the pink cured color that corned beef has when bought at the store. The corned beef I do with just regular salts has a different color pattern that may surprise those used to the commercially produced version.

My corned beef recipe is a bit different than some. A good traditionally seasoned version can be found on Alton Brown’s site. Corned beef offers a lot of flavor options so you can have some fun discovering what you like best.

There is also celery powder which is what is used to preserve natural hot dogs and sausages like Coleman Organic and similar. If you think you are avoiding nitrates and nitrites this way then you are mistaken.

Celery powder is a natural source of these preservatives. While some may consider not as bad for your health you still need to be aware that you are not consuming any at all.

What You Need

  • Stainless Steel Pot With Lid or Several if doing a big batch.
  • Non Iodized Salt
  • Assorted Spices
  • Vinegar
  • Beef Roasts

My roasts were in two packages and had a combined weight of 6.71 lbs. This is grass fed beef from the farm at the work college I attended. They do an excellent job raising good meats. I used this because it was what I had in the freezer at the time.

Ingredients I Used In The Brine

  • Sriracha
  • Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Black Mustard Seed
  • Himalayan Salt
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Frontier Pizza Seasoning
  • Whatever Spices You Want

Basic Brine = 2-2 ½ cups salt to a gallon of water.

You can taste the brine as you add ingredients. The only ingredient that is not negotiable is the salt.

Brine Volume

I tend to make a gallon of brine at a time. In this case I made enough that I could easily have brined more meat than I did.

You can cut the volume and salt in half if just doing a small cut. So 1 to 1 and ½ cups for half gallon of brine.

  1. Combine 1 gallon water with salt and spices and bring to a boil. Stop and allow to cool with a lid on. After awhile you can put it in the fridge to make it go faster.

  1. Place beef in your stainless steel pot. You may be able to avoid dirtying a pot by using a large pot for the brine to begin with and leaving space for your meat.

  1. Pour brine over beef and set in your refridgerator. Always keep it covered.
I use a stainless steel milking pail with lid. These are very handy to have. Now that we don’t milk a cow I utilize them for a lot of meat and canning projects.
  1. After 5 days slice off a piece and cook in frying pan and see if you like the flavor and tenderness. If you like it then it is done, if not then leave for up to 3 weeks. I stopped mine at 2 weeks. Again the cure time is dependent on the size of your cuts as well. It takes brine a lot longer to reach the center of a big cut.

Tip On Tenderness: The tougher the cut the longer you should brine your meat. Salt and vinegar helps tenderize the meat so a longer soaking time will increase palatability.

  1. Take out cuts slowly and try to drain off excess brine. Set on cutting board and allow to rest. This beef is not ready to eat and still needs cooked before consumption. I like to add some cracked black pepper to the top of my corned beef roast.
Taking the cuts out to drain. You could definitely just refreeze them whole but I like to cut them up into more reasonable portion sizes for quick and easy meals later on.

Cooking and Freezing Or Freeze and Cook Later

You can vacuum seal and freeze a whole cut or cut into slices for easy prep later. The choice of cooking before freezing or after is up to you.

You may want to cook some and slice it up for sandwich meats or cook, slice, and freeze for something you can just unthaw and eat. 

Tips For Cooking 

Corned beef does do better with a longer cooking time for maximum tenderness even if you let it brine a long time. The corning or brining process helps with tenderness and flavor but it is not a 100% solution for a super tough cut of meat.

Putting your corned beef in a Crock Pot or a stew pot with lid like a Dutch Oven and adding a little water to aid in moisture and cooking is what I like to do. You can add potatoes or other vegetables to the same pot roast it all together like you would a beef stew.

If you are in a real hurry just add a bag of frozen vegetables the last hour or so of cooking time. The veggies help absorb excess salt if you went a little overboard with your cure. This is not a dish that you will want to add a lot of extra seasoning too, especially any spice blend that has additional salt.

Use leftovers for Reubens

Some of you might have read our article on fermentation and some may have even started making some great kraut.

If you are someone that enjoys Reuben sandwiches then you are going to love the homemade version you can put together yourself with leftover corned beef and you own kraut! If you want to take it all the way you can even bake your own Rye bread and make your sauce!

Check out “13 Reasons To Frement Your Own Food” for what you need to know to get started with kraut making today!

Cutting into portions for our household. If we have leftovers we can use them for sandwich meats. If you portion out for your family size you can always just throw an extra pack out if you have guests.

Corned beef has a lot of salt even when done to be a bit less salty so once cooked it can last a few weeks in the fridge.

Easy Fix For A St Patricks Day Gathering Or Just Because

Since corned beef is something good that can be done well ahead of time it is great for pulling out and fixing with homemade sauerkraut and some potatoes on a winter evening or if you want to have some friends over for a special treat on St. Patrick’s Day.

I am confident that once you make corned beef yourself you will never want to just pay whatever they are asking at the grocery store. You can do a lot better!

Corned beef slices peppered and vacuum sealed for freshness.
A corned beef roast for 2. Ideal quick fix on the woodstove on a cold winter day with taters and kraut.

Saving Money On Cuts

Since corned beef can be made from inexpensive cuts you can really come out cheap by catching sales and buying in bulk. I advise not buying meat that is about to expire at the grocery store for best results in curing.

A lot of the beef at the grocery store has already been frozen once so if you can, go ahead and get it in a brine as soon as you can. You can freeze it again and then brine later but if you do that I don’t recommend freezing again just because excessive freezing and unfreezing is not the best for quality.

Canning

You can absolutely can corned beef if you want! If you like the corned beef hash from a can you can do the same thing. You just need to follow the directions for canning red meats which are listed below.

  1. Pack corned beef in jars, shred before putting in jars if desired but since you are pressure canning, the beef will be amazingly tender after canning.
  2. Add liquid but leave a one inch head space for safe canning. I would just use water but if you want you could make a broth using veggie broth powder or whatever your taste preference.
  3. Below 1,000 ft elevation process with 10 lbs pressure. Above 1,000 you need to use 15 lbs pressure.

Pints should be processed for 75 minutes at full pressure and 90 minutes if you use quarts. Personally I recommend canning meats in smaller jars for survival situations because then you don’t have to worry about spoilage happening so fast.

If you have a family quarts may be okay. In my experience a pint jar holds a pound of meat or maybe a little more while a quart holds 2-2 ½ lbs.

For more detailed information on canning meat at home be sure to check out my previous article “How To Can Meat Products”.

Have any of you made corned beef before? Do you have good recipes that use corned beef as a main ingredient? Please share with us!


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  1. Good Morning 🙂

    Thank you for the article, just the way I like ’em…easy to understand and follow.

    One (1) question, how much approx. of each spice do you add to your base brine. You provided the list of ingredients with no measurements to use as a guideline.

    Many thanks, like your articles. Marti

    1. Sorry it took me so long to respond. This one slipped through until now. I actually just throw in a pinch of this and a pinch of that and taste the brine before adding the meat. The salt content is the thing that you have to make sure you have enough of. I know this might not be the most helpful response but tastes are so different that I just encourage people to experiment and find what they like. For good measure I would add a tablespoon of each dry spice per gallon of brine then taste it before adding the meat. You can always add a bit more. The taste is going to be a lot milder in the meat so you want some intensity.

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