St. Patrick's Day is here, and in addition to shamrocks and green beverages, this special day also means eating one of my family's favorite meals: corned beef and cabbage. Throw in some carrots and potatoes, and you have a memorable family meal.

Corned beef and cabbage is very easy to prepare, and one way to make the meal extra special is to brine the brisket yourself. It's easier than you think, and one of the big advantages is that you know what you're feeding your family. Brining your own corned beef is a healthier and more wholesome alternative.

When you prepare the brisket yourself, you can avoid the synthetic chemical preservatives that go into making processed meats. These include sodium nitrate and nitrite, which protect against spoilage and maintain the red color of the meat during brining and cooking, but might also contribute to heart disease and cancer. If you brine the brisket yourself, preservatives aren't necessary. Besides, do you really want all those chemicals in your food just so it looks a certain way?

Another advantage of making your own brisket is that you can choose the cut of meat. Corned beef is often made with the fattier end of the brisket, but if you choose the flat end, you'll get a leaner cut. Round is the leanest and healthiest, but not quite as flavorful. 

For our family, a 4-5 pound cut is plenty. A good rule of thumb is to use about one pound per person, and err to the side of extra because sandwiches and corned beef hash are also family favorites. 

Ingredients for the Brine 

  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 4 T sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 t whole peppercorns
  • 1 t mustard seeds
  • 1 bottle of your favorite stout (optional)

Ingredients for Cooking the Meat

  • 1 beef brisket (one pound per person)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced or crushed
  • 2 medium onions, cut in big pieces
  • 5-6 carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
  • 4-5 potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks (halves or thirds)
  • 1 head of cabbage, cut into quarters

Method

Add all brine ingredients in a pan and heat until dissolved. Let cool to room temp. Submerge meat in brine so it is completely covered; use a large plastic bag if necessary and place meat and bag in a secondary container. Place corned beef in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, but no more than four days.

After brining, remove meat and discard brine. Rinse meat with cold water and place in a large pot. Add cold water until the meat is at least 90% submerged. Add garlic and onions and boiling spices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least two hours. I've gone as long as four hours, as it's hard to overcook a brisket.

One hour before serving, add carrots, potatoes, and cabbage to the liquid. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender, for about 30-40 minutes.

If there is no room for the vegetables, you can remove the meat and place it in a sealed container. Cook the vegetables, remove, and then place the meat back in the cooking liquid for at least 10 minutes to warm it up before serving.

Slice the meat against the grain and serve with vegetables and your favorite beverage. Enjoy, and make sure to remind everyone at the table that you made the brisket from scratch.