I was going through the list of things I need for making corned beef brisket and was surprised to discover one odd ingredient:

salt peter,

the form of potassium nitrate, KNO3, that occurs naturally, used in the manufacture of fireworks, fluxes, and gunpowder.

I checked the recipe twice and thought I read it right. Salt peter has been used for the longest time to cure meats.  It gives the meat its distinct red color. But, seriously, I wouldn’t add chemicals in my food just to make it look pretty. After all, the use of salt peter has already been discontinued ever since modern nitrates have been developed. This is actually a great example that demonstrates why I am a huge fan of making food from scratch at home: you know exactly what goes in your food.

Corning is a technique for preserving or curing meat by soaking it in brine for long periods of time.

“Curing, no matter which method, involves several processes, the most significant of which is denaturing of the proteins. This happens when salt is introduced to the meats proteins. Proteins are coils and the salt causes the proteins in the muscle fibers to unwind and absorb the extra water trapped inside. Water inside your meat spells trouble because bacteria love water so eliminating it by salting and drying allows for longer storage.” – Chef’s Corner

So what good stuff goes in to the corning solution?


Corned Beef


Corning the Beef Brisket, adapted from Alton Brown’s Good Eats

1 (4- to 5-lb) beef brisket, trimmed
2 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
8 whole allspice berries
12 whole juniper berries
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 pounds ice (optional)

Place the water into a large stockpot along with salt, sugar, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. The aromatic fragrance of the spices is simply amazing.

Remove from the heat and add the ice.  Stir until the ice has melted.  Ice is added to cool down the solution but you can totally skip this and just refrigerate the brine until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F.

Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine.  Seal and lay flat inside a container, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 10 days.   Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine. If you don’t have a huge zip top bag, brine the brisket in a large tupperware container and make sure to flip the brisket each day to make sure that all of the brisket comes in contact with the brine.


Cooking the Beef Brisket

1 small onion, quartered
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped

After at least 10 days, remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well under cool water.  Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender.

Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

There are so many wonderful things you can do with corned beef. On the top of my list is a tasty Reuben sandwich: thin slices of corned beef with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing on lightly toasted rye bread.  And a personal favorite is crusty corned beef hash with eggs.