St. Patrick's Day Tailgate: CHFF's own super-easy homemade corned beef

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 11, 2013

Cold, Hard Football Facts tailgate pro Kerry J. Byrne shows you how to cure corned beef at home.

Yes, we know: corned-beef is not an Irish tradition. It's an Irish-American tradition. So be it. When you grow up Irish-American corned beef is a part of every St. Patrick's Day, not to mention quite a few other meals during the year. (The Mother Troll still makes corned ribs each year, too.)

When you grow up Irish-American in Boston, it's an especially big deal. Sure, the city is still heavily Irish. But March 17 is also Evacuation Day in Boston, marking the day the British fled the city in 1776 after George Washington and the Minutemen laid siege to them in the city for almost an entire year.

When March 17 falls on a weekday (it's Sunday this year), schools and government close down in Boston and basically everybody uses it as an excuse to play hooky and fill the bars by lunch. How convenient of the Brits to flee Boston on St. Patrick's Day!

You can buy corned beef in the store, of course. But it's SUPER easy to corn your own beefs at home. And it will be better than the corned beef you get in the store, which is corned in big stainless steel tanks in some food factory.

It literally takes minutes of work to do it at home (as you'll see in this video) and then a couple days just waiting for the meat to cure. Presto. Homemade corned beef! It tastes better, too. Mat Schaffer, my pal and the former restaurant critic for The Boston Herald, once said this homemade corned beef was the best he ever had. And that guy knows his food better than anybody.

There are two kinds of corned beef: red corned beef and grey corned beef. Red corned beef simply has a preservative in it that helps the meat retain its color and fight botulism (sodium nitrite, or pink salt, often sold for homemade cooks as Instacure No. 1).

Grey corned beef is often called Yankee corned beef and that is how you usually find it in New England. It does not include Instacure, so the meat loses it's color. Don't worry. It's perfectly safe.

Personally, I like red corned beef. The wife likes grey corned beef. We make grey corned beef.

It's real easy to do. Buy a big slab of brisket. Then mix together the brine (salt, sugar, water). And then add the pickling spices. Takes minutes. A few days later, you'll have corned beef. (After you've made your own corned beefs, you can also follow our tips for cooking it here.)  

Here's how it's done: 10-pound slab of fresh beef brisket

For the brine:

1 gallon water

2 cups kosher salt

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon garlic powder

5 garlic cloves

2 teaspoons Instacure No. 1 (pink salt), optional (use for red corned beef; omit for grey corned beef)  

For the pickling spices:

2 Tablespoons whole peppercorns

2 Tablespoons whole mustard seed

1 Tablespoon whole coriander

1 teaspoon whole Juniper

1 teaspoon whole all-spice

1 teaspoon whole clove

1 stick cinnamon

10 bay leaves  

Cut the 10-pound slab of brisket into two to four pieces. Pour gallon of cold water into ceramic crock or other non-reactive, food-grade container. Stir in salt, brown sugar, garlic powder, garlic cloves and optional Instacure No. 1 until all is dissolved. Add garlic cloves.  

Mix together spices in a bowl. Take at least half of the spices and lightly crush. You can do this easily by putting the spices in a Ziploc bag and lightly crushing with a rolling pin. Add the crushed spices, along with the half that's not crushed, into the brine. Break up the stick of cinnamon and break up the bay leaves and add those. Finally, add the meat so that it's submerged.  

Put something heavy on top of the meat to keep it submerged (a plate will do the trick). Cover crock and place in refrigerator or cool dry place for 4 days. Remove meat and cook as you would any other corned beef. Unused corned beef can be frozen for a year.

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