Ingredients for corned beef typically include beef brisket, coarse salt, fresh garlic, white vinegar and sugar. Corned beef is flavored with a variety of pickling spices as well, which can include allspice, black peppercorn, cinnamon, whole mustard seed and red pepper flakes.
Corned beef is unique in that its both brined and gently pickled for five to seven days before its cooked. Brining in salt and hot water, as well as adding vinegar, helps tenderize the meat and infuse flavor. After several days of soaking in the brine, the dense brisket softens, allowing the pickling spices into the fibers of the meat.
Corned beef's pickling spices combine sweet, savory and hot elements. For instance, a common pickling spice blend combines 1 tablespoon each of allspice, whole black peppercorns, whole cloves, coriander seeds, whole mustard seeds and red pepper flakes; four to six cloves of fresh garlic; four to six bay leaves; and ground ginger and cinnamon to taste. Pickling spices can be altered to taste, as well.
After brining and pickling, the brisket is boiled in either the brine it soaked in or in fresh, salted water for three to four hours. When sliced, a well-made corned beef has a distinctive sheen that proves both pickling and brining have infused the meat.