Home Cured Corned Beef, Nitrate Free

St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t seem complete without corned beef and cabbage.  It’s a meal my whole family loves.  The only problem is finding nitrate free corned beef.  It’s not in the stores here so if I really wanted it, I would need to either order it online or make it myself.

Why do we avoid nitrates/nitrites?  Nitrates have been used for a very long time.  It was known as salt peter.  And actually nitrates are naturally occurring in many foods we eat.  Have you ever noticed on a package of “nitrate/nitrite free” bacon that celery juice is listed as an ingredient?  Well, guess what celery juice is high in?  Yup, sodium nitrate.  So, I’m a little torn on whether sodium nitrate is actually bad for us, naturally occurring or not.

Do nitrates cause cancer?  Apparently no.  The question was raised but fairly quickly debunked.

“Several decades ago, some researchers raised the possibility that nitrites could be linked to cancer in laboratory rats. This suggestion received a lot of media attention. What received less media attention, however, was when it turned out that they were wrong. Indeed, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Cancer Society and the National Research Council all agree that there’s no cancer risk from consuming sodium nitrite.”

Sodium Nitrate has been linked to hyperactivity in children.  I have 4 very active boys and if there is even the slightly possibility that something will cause hyperactivity, my kids are usually sensitive to it.  I don’t need any extra hyperactivity.  So, yes, they’ll get it in foods that are naturally high in it but if I can avoid adding more to their diet, I will.  That’s where I stand.

Since we are not using sodium nitrate, we won’t keep this meat at room temp for long.  We’ll leave it out for only 8 hours.  We also won’t keep it in the fridge for longer than 10 days.  If you need to keep it longer, plan on freezing it.

You can add about two cups of celery juice in place of some of the water to preserve the color.  As I explained earlier, celery juice contains naturally occuring nitrates.  Since my children do react to nitrates, I prefer not to use celery juice (though I’m not completely opposed to it).  If you use celery juice, you can leave it at room temp longer.  From 1-3 days, though you can transfer it to the fridge at any point for further curing if you don’t feel comfortable leaving it out that long.  For a great recipe using celery juice and whey, see the Nourished Kitchen’s recipe for Corned Beef

You’ll notice another ingredient on your bacon “lactic acid”.  That’s what whey is full of!  And ours is full of beneficial bacteria as well (though since we’ll be cooking this meat, that doesn’t really matter).  Lactic acid is the byproduct of the bacteria eating lactose.

Corned Beef

  • 3 lb beef brisket (or other tough cut of meat)
  • 1.5 oz bottle of pickling spices (opti0nal at this point)
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 cup of whey (optional)
  • 1 tbsp rapadura (or sweetener of choice)
  • filtered water to cover
  1. Rinse meat.  You can either leave your brisket whole or cut into 3″ chunks.  I cut mine into chunks so the brine gets more into the beef (I shred it up anyway when it’s cooked).
  2. Heat about 2 cups of water, salt and sugar  just until salt and sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and let return to room temperature.
  3. Place meat in a 1/2 gallon jar (either with an airtight lid or an airlock).  Add pickling spices.
  4. Add whey to the salt brine and pour over the meat.  Add more water as needed to bring the level to within a couple inches from the top.  Twist and tap the jar to get all the air bubbles out.  Use a utensil as needed to poke the meat and get all the bubbles out.
  5. Weight the meat down.  *It’s important to keep the meat below the surface of the brine*.  Use a lid with a sterilized rock or glass to weigh down the lid.
  6. Let set at room temperature for about 8 hrs.  Move to the fridge to continue curing for about a week.   The meat will be brown since we are not using sodium nitrate.  If you are not using whey, be sure to move the meat to the fridge at 8 hrs.  If at any point you are not comfortable leaving the meat at room temperature, feel free to move the jar to the fridge.  It will continue to cure at the colder temperature.

Once the meat is cured, use as you would in any recipe asking for corned beef.  It will need to be cooked. Check back next week for a recipe to use the corned beef (make sure you have some cabbage and potatoes on hand).

What’s your opinion on sodium nitrate?  Yes or no?

Let me know in the comments!

Part of Fight Back Friday, Freaky Friday, Friday Food Flicks, Make Your Own Monday

Home Cured Corned Beef, nitrate free on Punk Domestics

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17 comments to Home Cured Corned Beef, Nitrate Free

  • Shreela

    Nitrates and/or nitrites in sausage or deli meats have triggered my IBS for over 10 years. I tolerate celery though, so maybe it’s only the nitrites that trigger my IBS?

    • Melanie

      I think people would probably tolerate celery juice because it’s in it’s natural form. When we separate chemicals out of their perfect package, that’s when we seem to get problems. That’s awesome that you can tolerate it!

  • informative! Thanks for the info on nitrates. MSG is naturally occuring too, I read, and the manufactured stuff is just too concentrated for health.
    I thought this was the year I was going to make my own corned beef for St Paddy’s. Maybe I still will and just eat it for a later meal. We love a boiled dinner with strong mustard.

  • Lissi

    I found out the nitrate/nitrite thing a few weeks ago, and now don’t stress about it, as I found out that when they add celery salts/juice, the product then actually contains around 50 times the nitrates that the normal products have in them! I’m a big believer in choosing my evils, and since starting the GAPS diet to heal food allergies, and my sons autism, bacon has been lovely for us to add to our diet. 😀

  • Amy

    I just love all your recipes! I just started the brussels sprouts (from the freezer) but forgot and left them whole. Hopefully they will still be okay. In answer to nitrate/nitrite. A definite no for me. I have an SPD (and possibly ADD) kiddo that I try to keep off of all that stuff, food coloring, preservatives etc.

    • Melanie

      I think they would be fine. You might just want to let them ferment a little longer.
      For my kids it’s not worth the risk to me 🙂

  • […] used a recipe I found via Punk Domestics, which I chose because it was nitrate and nitrite free. I know there is controversy over whether or not added nitrates/nitrites are actually bad for you, […]

  • Shalonne

    I’m fine with using nitrate/nitrite. Unfortunately, the only curing salt I’ve found to use has red dye in it which I’m not fine with and I wonder if that’s what causes all the issues that the curing salt was being blamed for…

  • […] I’m also looking into a nitrite free recipe because I want to experiment a little, but the recipe I like needs whey and I have no way to get whey by tomorrow so we shall […]

  • […] I am using the Michael Ruhlman Recipe and this Nitrite-free recipe from Pickle Me Too. […]

  • Rene

    Until recently, preserved meats were guaranteed to give me migraines-I assumed it was from the nitrites, but I don’t remember reacting to celery. In general I avoid preserved meats–a three day migraine is not to be trifled with–but the ‘vegetable cured’ meat doesn’t seem to bother me. Perhaps the juice has more differences to the curing salt than they think.

  • […] Of course, I don’t want to feed all that artificially colored food to my family, but I do still want to preserve the tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. We did this the first two years we were married by simply eating naturally green foods and wearing green. I made green eggs by blending eggs with spinach before scrambling them and we had green smoothies. Other great ideas for making meal time holiday centered is to incorporate traditional Irish fare such as shepherd’s pie or corned beef and cabbage. […]

  • G’Day! Picklemetoo,
    Speaking of which, Hi awesome blogpost!
    Nice One!

  • Tracy C

    This looks amazing! can’t wait to try it.
    I have a question about sterilization. All the How To’s I have found are really for jam and chutneys and they put the hot product in the hot jars… but if I want to sterilize my jars for sauerkraut and beet kvass, cold stuff, do I just follow the same procedure and leave the jars sitting around in the un-sterile air to cool before using?
    I made a couple of successful batches of beet kvass but the next one went moldy on top and I think that may be from bad bacteria getting in and would like to sterilize the jars for this reason.
    Any tips welcome!
    Thanks in advance!

  • Nathan

    Sodium nitrate is a must! It comes out so much better with it, plus you won’t get that signature color without it. Don’t eat it all of the time but for a special St. Patties Day treat, absolutely.

  • Chessie

    Is the whey actually optional? You would not have any starter without it, is that correct?

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