Using Celery Juice to Make Corned Beef

Yup! No nitrates* - celery juice and spices of your choice! And it's super simple.

A cut of beef on a wooden cutting board with peppercorns.

Editor's note

Home-cured Corned Beef: It's Easier Than You Might Think!

What IS corned beef anyway??

Corned beef was a cut of meat like brisket that had been salt-cured. The term “corned” comes from the usage of large grained rock salt, called “corns” used in the salting process. It was not cooked before eaten as it was a "cured" meat.

We are most familiar with the brisket packet we get in the store and simmer on the stove with the little packet of spices that "they" provide. But! Did you know that corned beef was traditionally brined to be preserved and not even cooked before it was eaten?

Curing meat with salt and brine, much like culturing vegetables like sauerkraut or kimchi, was born out of practicality before the days of refrigeration. Folks needed a way to preserve meat & vegetables to have food to eat til the next harvest.

Traditionally, cooks would use saltpeter (a nitrate) to "cure" their meat.  Saltpeter also tends to (preserve) the meat’s pinkish color - otherwise, when we cook it without it,  it turns slightly gray. (Stay tuned - we've got a nifty trick for that!)

The nitrate substance was also used to prevent contamination by pathogens. While one can certainly use the nitrates specifically for preparing home-cured meats (there are plenty of recipes online), I am using celery juice and whey.

For the celery juice I use pieces of celery in a food processor with water to make the juice. Salt Peter can be substituted. It gives the corned beef a red color and acts as a preservative if eaten brined, not cooked, which traditionally it is not. Nowadays, it is cooked, which is not even a question for most people, but traditionally, it is just "cured" and eaten raw. It would be absolutely nutritious if done correctly and with the best ingredients. Many of us are limited in acquiring natural foods and are told we must cook foods. This depletes many of the nutrients. You owe it to yourself to know more about traditional food preparations that maximize nutrients and then do the best you can with what you have and make it with Love.

Corn beef and brine

You are using WHAT??

Where the heck do I get celery juice and (real) whey?

These two questions would stump my Mom if she were reading the recipe. Please don't let this stop you!

Celery Juice

Take some celery stalks and pieces, place them in the food processor (or chop them up fine), and add enough liquid to make a couple of cups.  If you just chop it, let it set in the fridge for a day or two prior.

Celery juice is a natural substance that creates some nitrate when added to a bacterial liquid. It's less processed and also adds celery's good properties, so I love using it. Again, using a small amount of whey is fine when braising/cooking the beef.


This is another ingredient that would be so common for preservation that our ancestors would laugh at us today for not knowing what natural whey is.  Fresh whey provides the "preservation bacteria" called lactobacilli that keeps the liquid acidic, so no form of other bacteria is welcome.  When corned beef was eaten "cured," this made a big difference.  (We can substitute salt or an acid like cider vinegar.)  Think Little Miss Muffet, not the powder you buy in health food stores.  Whey is the liquid that separates natural milk into curds and whey. Unfortunately, you can NOT use commercial milk that separates - "by pasteurizing," the molecule is changed, so it's rancid by the time it separates.

Natural milk is fresh from the farm. What most of you will need to do if you want natural whey is to make your own yogurt or milk kefir and strain the liquids from the solids (or get commercial yogurt ). This liquid whey is still probiotic because of the process used to make the yogurt or kefir - a culture that needs to be added back into the pasteurized milk.  Use the liquid for the corned beef and the solid for "yogurt cheese."  Since we are cooking this beef, preservation is not such an issue. In fact, you could also use a bit of tomato sauce or paste for a bit of acid to tender it.

Our cookbook Common Roots, which you can purchase digitally or in hard copy, provides a good introduction to traditional foods made easy, a bit of Adirondack History, and Mindful Cooking/Living Tips.

*Use the best quality food you can, but no worries. If you make food with Love and use less processed packaged food, it's sure to beat all the rest!

Home-cured Corned Beef

Clock Icon
Prep Time
3-5 Days
Clock Icon
Cook Time
3 Hours
Fork and Knife
8 People


  • 3 lb beef brisket or other, preferably local grass-fed

For the Brine

  • 2.5 cups natural whey or sauerkraut brine
  • 2 cups celery juice  
  • 1/2 cup unrefined sea salt
  • 1 cup beer (optional)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 beet juice (optional)–this gives the beef the expected pink color. Using nitrates will keep the meat pink, but using celery will not. You could also use natural food coloring made from beets. It is fine without it, but it will be a grey color
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pickling spices - choose for your taste (suggestions below)
  • About 2 cups water (if needed)

Spices to Choose From (Approximate Amounts)

  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces
  • 2 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon whole cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries
  • 4 cloves
  • Celery seed
  • Vegetable pieces


The Curing Process

  1. Use a glass or non-reactive container just a little bigger than your beef.
  2. Unwrap your beef and place into this container. It is helpful if it has a lid.
  3. Mix the whey, celery juice, salt, and spices and pour over the beef.  If it is not covered, add more water or turn it over a few times daily.
  4. Use your judgment; you are doing fine. You may cure it in the refrigerator for about three to five days or upwards of ten days, or you can try the method outlined by Sally Fallon in her Nourishing Traditions cookbook, which encourages curing corned beef at room temperature for two days or so.

Cooking The Cured Beef

  1. Place all in a roasting pan of about the same size as your brining pan, if not the same pan.
  2. I also add some onion or other vegetable pieces that I might otherwise add to the compost pile for awesome flavors.
  3. I braise my beef slowly in the oven for about 3 hours at 250 degrees; this will vary depending on the size, whether you have a commercial cut or grass-fed (longer for grass-fed), and what kind of cut. I just keep checking as to when it is fork tender.