Curing corned beef is similar to brining a chicken, since most methods involve soaking a beef brisket in a solution of water, salt, sugar and pickling spices for an extended time. Most recipes also call for sodium nitrate, also known as pink curing salt. Using sodium nitrate ensures that home-cured corned beef will have the bright pink color of most store-bought corned beef.
Every method of curing corned beef begins with enough water to cover the brisket, usually about a gallon, along with salt and sugar. Boil the water, and dissolve the salt and sugar, as well as the sodium nitrate. The pickling spices should be boiled along with this mixture. While many stores sell pre-mixed pickling spices, it is also possible to make a custom spice mix from scratch by toasting and grinding a spice mixture. This method gives chefs more flexibility when it comes to the taste of the corned beef.
Once the sugar and salt has been dissolved, remove the water from the heat, and allow it to cool to room temperature. The brine should then be refrigerated for several hours until it is cold. Once the brine has cooled, submerge the beef, and allow it to soak for about five days before cooking.