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Scott Rea’s Corned Beef.

Smokin Monkey

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From a safety perspective I would not recommend that you follow this recipe

Firstly he claims that he is using Saltpetre (which is 100% Potassium Nitrate) and then goes on to describe it a "Nitrite". It is also being stored in a bottle that does not clearly say what it is.

The amount of Saltpeter he uses (2 oz (57 g) when added to 5 pints (2.84 Kg) of water would give a Nitrate concentration of 20 g per Kg (or 20,000 Ppm - mg/Kg). Even when you take into account the weight of the meat (say, 2 Kg) then the brine at equilibrium will still be nearly 12,000 mg/Kg

He places the curing salt into the water before he brings it to the boil which will result in the cure decomposing before it has a chance to cure the meat. The amount of decomposition is unknown but it is likely to be anything from 0-50%. At least this will help to reduce the excess of cure he added - but is still unlikely to bring it down to "safe" levels.

When making a curing brine you must always add the curing salts only when the brine has cooled completely.

A possible saving grace of his process is the 2 hours of boiling after it has been cured. This will have reduced the Nitrate levels further - but again, by an unknown amount.

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I suggest that the recipe be adapted as follows:

  • In place of Saltpeter, you are better to use a standard Cure #1 (6.25% Sodium Nitrite).
    For this recipe (2.8 Litres of water with a 2 Kg beef joint) use 9 grams of Cure #1 - which will give you 150 mg/Kg Nitrite
  • Bring the brine water to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt a then then let it cool right down to room temperature (or below) before adding the curing salts.
  • Reduce the salt levels considerably. The levels he is using will give you 9% salt - though he uses a lot of sugar to try to balance this. Corned beef is often made on the salty side but 9% is rather excessive. I would reduce the salt and sugar by half to 170 g of each

Regarding the smoking. This would be best carried out immediately after the curing process. Remove from the brine and rinse before cold smoke for 24 hours. Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 3-4 days before boiling.

Once cooked you would need to treat the brisket as a ready-to-eat food and it would need to be kept refrigerated. You could smoke it at 8 C (or less) for up to 4 hours but it is unlikely that the smoke flavour will have penetrated very far into the meat.

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Saltpetre/ nitrates / nitrites have had bad press for quite a number of years but are getting now very bad press indeed. Not only in the general press but in professional medical publications. I for one am going to make every effort to avoid foods that contain these agents. Surely there are ways of avoiding their use? I gather one of the main uses of these agents is to enhance colour in addition to preservative measures.

What is the opinion of all of you.

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Yes they enhance both colour and flavour. It is the Nitrites that give bacon its "bacony" flavour. As a preservative the Nitrites have two main functions - It inhibits the production of toxins by Botulinum spores (and the growth of some other bacteria) and also prevents the fats in the meat from becoming rancid.

Nitrates and Nitrites in the diet should be kept to a minimum, but many fresh vegetables (especially leafy ones) contain much higher levels of Nitrates/Nitrites gram for gram than cured bacon. Things need to be looked at in perspective.

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