If you’re looking for a straightforward brining project with spectacular results, then have a go at making your own salt beef. It takes a week for the beef to brine, so it makes an ideal weekend activity, ready for you to enjoy the following weekend. And, seeing as you’ll need to be a little patient while the brining process does its thing, why not use the time to conjure up a couple of jars of homemade dill pickles?

What do I need to make salt beef?

To make the salt beef, you’ll need an airtight container and a zip-lock freezer bag large enough to store the beef brisket flat while it brines for a week. For the dill pickles, you’ll need two 500ml jars (such as Kilner jars) – one jar of pickles is enough to serve with the salt beef bagels, the other you get to keep as a storecupboard treat.

Salt beef recipe


  • 1.5kg beef brisket, unrolled
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 sticks celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, skins on, lightly bashed
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • a few leaves sage
  • 2 bay leaves


  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 juniper berries
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
  • 20g soft light brown sugar
  • 45g salt beef curing salt, (see notes below)


  • 8 bagels
  • english or american mustard, (depending on how hot you like it)
  • dill pickles


  • STEP 1

    Put the brisket in a large, shallow bowl or dish. To make the curing mixture, use a pestle and mortar to crush the garlic, cloves, star anise, juniper berries, peppercorns, bay and thyme leaves until roughly ground. Stir through the sugar, followed by the cure mix, ensuring it has been accurately measured in proportion to the weight of the meat – follow pack instructions for guidance. Coat the brisket with the brining mixture, thoroughly rubbing it into the meat and any surrounding fat.

  • STEP 2

    Put the brisket and any left-over brining mixture into a large freezer bag, zip it closed (squeezing out as much air as possible), then put into an airtight container and find a spot in the fridge. Leave to brine for 1 week, turning the brisket daily to allow the meat to cure evenly. You should notice some liquid in the bag after a day or two – this is a sign that the brining process is working.

  • STEP 3

    The night before serving, remove the brisket from the freezer bag, wipe off any brine mixture and put it in a large pan. Fill the pan with cold water, put on a lid and leave the brisket to soak overnight.

  • STEP 4

    The next day, drain the water from the pot and refill with enough fresh water to cover the brisket by about 5cm. Throw in the chopped onions, carrots and celery, as well as the garlic, thyme, sage and bay leaves. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and gently simmer the brisket for 2-21/2 hours (depending on the thickness). This breaks down the collagen in the meat, turning it into gelatin, resulting in the succulent, juicy texture you want for great salt beef. Cook for another hour if you prefer the salt beef to be almost falling apart when you bite into it.

  • STEP 5

    Take the pan off the heat and nestle a sheet of baking paper on top of the water to keep the beef submerged and stop it drying out. Leave the salt beef to cool for 30 minutes, then lift out onto a chopping board (use the left-over broth as the base for a soup, if you like). Slice the salt beef thickly and load straight into bagels while still warm, along with as much mustard and as many dill pickles as you can handle. Any left-over salt beef will keep for a week in the fridge – wrap in foil and reheat in the oven at 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 for 15 minutes or until piping hot.

Which curing salt should I use for brining?

The best way to guarantee that the salt beef will come out with that beautiful purple-pink colour is to use sodium nitrite – without it the salt beef will still taste good but, looks-wise, would end up a rather less appetising shade of grey-brown.

Traditionally, homemade salt beef was brined in a solution loaded with aromatics, salt and a little saltpetre (potassium nitrate), which did the same job, but these days several specialist websites offer pre-made curing salt mixtures (a combination of sodium chloride, otherwise known as table salt, and sodium nitrite) specifically for making salt beef.

The curing salt we used was from and is meant for dry brining, but and also offer similar mixtures for wet brining. Both techniques produce great results but we find dry brining is less messy, takes up less room in the fridge and you don’t have to figure out the brine’s specific salt to water ratio.

Get experimenting with other spices to brine your beef

Feel free to try out different aromatics when brining the beef – some recipes include the likes of allspice, mustard seeds, ginger and even dried chillies. And when you boil the brisket, you could always chuck in some other veggies you might have sitting around, such as potatoes or cabbage – anything you add will make a subtle difference to the final flavour of the meat. As well as stuffing it into bagels, you can serve thick slices with potato salad or boil some extra root vegetables in the cooking liquor to eat alongside it.


Comments, questions and tips

Rate this recipe

What is your star rating out of 5?

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Overall rating