Brisket Brine for Corned Beef

A bowl of corned beef and cabbage.

Use this easy brisket brine to make homemade corned beef. It’s easy and mostly hands-off. You only need a large receptacle to hold the meat, corned beef brine, and room in the fridge to let the brine do its magic.

A pot of boiled corned beef with cabbage, potatoes and carrots.

I’ve made countless corned beef and cabbage dinners — and they always started with a cryovaced package of meat floating in a bright pink brine. Then I started to wonder… where did it come from? What process does it go through to achieve that bright pink color and distinctive flavor?

I’ll tell you. The beef is BRINED in a simple but potent mix of sugar, salt, and pickling spices—simple. I regularly make this pork chop brine, and we love brined smoked turkey for Thanksgiving. So, making a homemade brisket brine is a no-brainer.

Before embarking on the brisket brine recipe, I consulted Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s guide on Charcuterie, The Craft of Salting, Smoking & Curing, to follow food-safety guidelines (an essential aspect of dealing with raw meat).

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Why you’ll love this recipe:

  • Making corned beef is easy to do.
  • It’s a safe and mostly hands-off process.
  • This brisket brine is every bit as tasty as the store-bought.
  • Makes the best St. Patty’s Day boiled dinner (recipe given).
  • Your friends will think you’re a culinary wizard… because you are.


A package of prague powder for curing the meat.
  • Prague Powder or Instacure—This pink curing salt is necessary to give the meat its distinctive color and for food safety to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Kosher Salt – (I used Morton’s Kosher salt — another brand is Diamond Crystal, but it is less salty by volume. Therefore, if you use Diamond Crystal you’ll need about ⅓ cup more than what is called for in this recipe.
  • Granulated Sugar – to balance the flavors of the brine and season the beef brisket.
  • Garlic – I use freshly chopped garlic for the best flavor.
  • Pickling Spice—You can make your own pickling spice blend or buy a jar in the spice section of the store. It adds flavor to the brisket.

Step-by-step instructions:

Ingredients for the brisket brine.
  1. In a large stockpot combine the sugar, kosher salt, pickling spice and Instacure (a.k.a. Prague powder).
Assembling the brisket brine.

2. Simmer on the stove until the salt, sugar and Instacure are dissolved. Cool the mixture to room temperature and refrigerate for several hours or until it’s cold. The brisket brine needs to be chilled because you don’t want to add raw meat to hot liquid otherwise it can begin to cook.

A beef brisket in a baking pan.

3. If the brisket has a thick fat cap, trim away some of it before brining. Cover the brisket with the chilled corned beef brine and refrigerate for five days, turning the meat daily to ensure it brines evenly.

Removing the brined beef brisket from the receptacle.

4. Remove the meat from the brine and rinse well under cold water. Discard the brining solution.

Making corned beef in a Dutch oven.

5. Place the brisket in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven and cover with cool water. Bring the pot to a boil.

A sachet of pickling spices.

6. While you’re heating the water and brisket, assemble the pickling spice in cheesecloth so that it can’t escape from the pouch and tie it with a piece of kitchen twine. Add the pickling spice to the brined beef and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 3 hours or until the meat is tender.

Adding vegetables to the corned beef.

7. For corned beef and cabbage boiled dinner, add the vegetables (cabbage, carrots, and potatoes) to the pot at the 2-hour and 15-minute point. Continue to simmer for 45 minutes longer with the lid on the pot. The meat should be fork tender.



  • The most difficult thing about the brisket brine is finding a receptacle large enough to hold a gallon of the brining solution, a five-pound brisket and space for it in the refrigerator. You can use a large stock pot or go to a restaurant supply house for a food-safe storage container (preferably one with a lid). This plastic container with lid holds 12 quarts {affiliate link}.
  • If you’re making corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day, I recommend bundling the pickling spice blend in cheesecloth tied tightly with kitchen string to simmer so you’re not filtering out pickling spice when enjoying your boiled dinner. Removing a single spice sachet is much easier than straining the hot braising liquid.
  • When carving the meat, slice it against the grain. This will ensure your brisket is tender and easy to chew. The photo below shows the longer strands stacked upon one another on the right side of the image, while the left looks like small nodules.
Resting a cooked beef brisket on the cutting board.

Make your slices perpendicular or crosswise against the long shreds of beef — that’s cutting against the grain. (See photo below).

Slicing the meat across the grain.


  • Make your own pickling spice mixture by combining two tablespoons whole mustard seeds, one tablespoon whole allspice berries, two teaspoons whole coriander seed, one teaspoon red pepper flakes, one teaspoon fennel seed, one teaspoon black peppercorns, two bay leaves (crumbled), two whole cinnamon sticks, seed, and six whole cloves.
  • A traditional St. Patrick’s boiled dinner recipe simmers the meat with cabbage and potatoes, but you can also cook the brined beef brisket in the oven, slow cooker, or Instant Pot. After the meat has brined for five days, rinse it and pat dry, then make the corned beef using the method you prefer.
  • Add fresh herbs like thyme or parsley for color and a pop of freshness.
  • Try this glazed corned beef recipe made with horseradish, brown sugar and Dijon mustard.
  • Use your smoker to make a smoked version. Hey Grill Hey smokes hers for 3 hours before slicing and serving.
Carving corned beef brisket.


What is curing salt?

Instacure or Prague powder is a curing salt mixture of 93.75% table salt and 6.25% sodium nitrite.

How does curing salt work?

Curing salt acts as a preservative. Through osmosis, it not only pulls water out of the meat’s cells but also kills some types of bacteria. Sodium nitrite in the curing salt prevents the growth of bacteria.

What are other names for curing salt?

Curing salt is sometimes called Instacure, Prague powder, pink salt, tinted curing mixture (TCM) or tint cure.

Why is curing salt pink?

The pink coloring is added so that it won’t be confused with table salt, but that color also gives corned beef its distinctive hue.

A bowl of corned beef with vegetables.

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Brining a beef brisket for corned beef.
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4.67 from 12 votes

Brisket Brine for Corned Beef

This easy brisket brine is a simple recipe that makes the best corned beef. You’ll be amazed at how this brining solution transforms a brisket. It’s perfect for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Main Course
Cuisine Irish
Keyword brisket, corned beef, st. patrick’s day
Dietary Restrictions Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours 20 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 40 minutes
Servings 8



  • 2 cups Morton’s kosher salt
  • 1 gallon water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spices Use store-bought or a homemade recipe (given in the Variations above).
  • 4 teaspoons pink curing salt (prague powder)
  • 3 cloves garlic minced


  • 5 pounds beef brisket
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spice
  • water


  • ½ pound small red potatoes
  • 1 head cabbage cut into eighths, vertically through the core
  • 1 large onion peeled and sliced vertically, root to tip in ½” strips
  • 3 large carrots Peeled and cut into 2″ pieces



  • In a large pot, combine all the ingredients for the brine and simmer until the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Cool to room temperature and refrigerate several hours until cold.


  • Place the brisket in a pot or receptacle large enough to hold both the brine and the meat. (I purchased an industrial restaurant container with a 12 quart capacity — and it filled it about half way up). Pour the chilled brine over the meat and refrigerate for 5 days.  If the meat isn’t completely submerged in the brine, place a plate on top of it to push it into the liquid. Flip the meat every day or so.


  • Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well under cold running water.  Discard the brining solution.
  • Place the brisket in a large, heavy pot or dutch oven and cover with cool water.  
  • Place the pickling spice in the center of the cheesecloth, bring the ends together in a bundle and secure it tightly with the kitchen string.  Add the pickling spice to the pot.  Bring the pot just to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover with the lid slightly askew.  Cook for 3 hours or until beef is very tender.
  • Remove the pickling spice bundle from the pot and discard.  Transfer the corned beef to a cutting board and slice thinly to serve.


  • Proceed with cooking the meat as described above, but scale back the simmer to 2 hours and 15 minutes — then add the vegetables to the pot and continue the simmer with the lid tightly secured for an additional 45 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender.
  • Remove the pickling spice bundle.  Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and slice thinly.  Arrange a few slices of meat in a shallow bowl, adding potatoes, carrots and a wedge of cabbage.  Spoon the liquid over the the dish to serve.


YouTube video


Note: Nutrition information includes all of the brine (salt and sugar), which doesn’t get eaten. The brisket soaks in the brine solution, then rinsed off, so the sodium and other nutritional values are off in the recipe card. The brine will only add nominal counts to a standard beef brisket. 
I don’t have a way of adjusting the values for more accurate reporting.


Calories: 563.9kcal | Carbohydrates: 30.41g | Protein: 61.44g | Fat: 21.44g | Saturated Fat: 7.49g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.79g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9.86g | Cholesterol: 175.77mg | Sodium: 28588.5mg | Potassium: 1413.17mg | Fiber: 5.07g | Sugar: 18.56g | Vitamin A: 4640.51IU | Vitamin C: 48.48mg | Calcium: 129.34mg | Iron: 6.78mg

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  1. 5 stars
    My son gets migraines, and nitrates are one of his major triggers. For those of you who are sensitive to nitrates, this can be done without the curing salt, just replace it with regular salt. Warning, if you do, you don’t want to let it sit for too long, and you need to make sure it is thoroughly cooked, since it won’t have nitrates as a preservative. Also, it won’t have that pretty pink color, it’ll be more greyish brown. But it WILL be delicious.

  2. 5 stars
    I did a trial run of this recipe with a 2lb chuck roast and homemade picking spice. It’s impossible to find pickling spice at our local groceries this time of year, but my homemade one was pretty good. I used regular salt (with much deliberation on whether I should) but I used about 1/3 of the proportion as kosher. I brined it for 2 days. The beef was awesome, true to color, texture, and flavor, and I’m making my real St.Patrick’s day corned beef with a bone-in 2.5lb roast. Fingers crossed it’s just as good or better than the first attempt!

    1. That sounds amazing Selena! Good luck and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  3. Mark Leonardi says:

    I have an 11lb brisket. How should I adjust the brine recipe. Thanks.

    1. You can double or even triple the brine, but the bigger concern is finding a receptacle large enough to hold the 11 pound brisket and keep it refrigerated. As long as the brisket is submerged in the brine, that’s fine. You may need to cut your brisket in half depending on whether or not it fits in your receptacle.

  4. Howard Green says:

    5 stars
    I used this recipe for brine and spices directions. Started with a 3.7 lb. beef “arm roast” (pretty lousy cut of meat) Carefully boned it and removed all fat to a net weight of 2 lbs. Tied the pieces tightly into a 2″ thick flat piece. Reduced brine contents to match the weight difference between the recipe and my 2 lbs. except pickling salt reduced per instructions found on Amazing Used homemade pickling spices per the same source. Cured 4 days in fridge. Cooked 1 hour in pressure cooker but like a dummy forgot the spice packet. Disaster? Heck NO. The meat was WONDERFUL! I doubt that we’ll ever buy corned beef again. Plan to try it with a rump roast next.

    1. That is fantastic! So glad it turned out well for you! I think brining your own is a game-changer!

  5. 5 stars
    Just finished cooking this, and had to leave a comment. Purchased a large 6 lb brisket on sale-and decided to try this recipe. Already had the curing salt, since I had planned to this a while ago. I usually bake it in the oven, even though the recipe calls for boiling. After 6 1/2 hours, it was done-but still salty. Put them (had to cut in half) in a large pot, and simmered for another hour. Took a lot of the saltiness away, but it’s now just falling apart. That’s fine-less “chewing”. Tender, great flavor. We now have enough to eat, along with another couple of pounds to put in the freezer, for the next time the cravings hit!

    1. I envy you having more in the freezer — it didn’t last that long in our house — of course, you had a bigger brisket!

  6. 5 stars
    I love corned beef. This is such a great recipe. Perfect to feed a crowd, and great to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day. Seriously I would eat this all year long. Great sandwiches with leftovers too.

    1. I haven’t even gotten to the sandwiches… yet…

  7. 5 stars
    I love how easy it is to turn brisket into corned beef!! And I didn’t know curing salt wasn’t just salt!!! As a scientist I should know this!
    Your finished dish looks sensational, I just want to grab a slice of that beef!!!
    Honestly you are making me hungry and it is almost midnight here!!!

    1. Glad you like it, Claire! It’s really a simple process — just takes time — and a large receptacle for the beef and brine.

  8. 5 stars
    This post was a wealth of information Lisa! I learned so much – pink salt = prague powder being chief of them! And the amount of time and love that goes into making corned beef. No wonder people are so possessive of their versions!

    1. Yes Pink Salt = Prague Powder — that one’s important.

  9. 5 stars
    That looks perfect and I love the addition of veggies with it. It would make a great weeknight meal and transition into yummm leftovers 🙂

  10. 5 stars
    This is awesome. I absolutely love corned beef, but am always disappointed that it seems I can get it this time of year. Silly me, I never considered making it from scratch! And this looks so easy! I’m def going to try this!