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I am picking up a full packers cut brisket tomorrow, weighing in at about 15 lbs. I am going to be making my very first pastrami. For the Corning brine, all recipes I find call for:

  • 1 gallon/4 liters water
  • 1.5 cup/350g salt
  • 1 cup/225g sugar
  • 42g/8tsp pink salt
  • spices

This assumes a 5lb brisket. I am planning a 7 day soak. I will very likely need more brine given the size of the brisket. Can it be safely doubled? Tripled? I am asking largely because of the amount of sodium nitrite in the solution, and it's potential dangers at higher amounts.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_nitrite puts the LD50 at around 71mg/kg. If tripled to 126g, pink salt (containing 6% sodium nitrite) would have 7.56g total. That sounds incredibly high.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  • My immediate thought is that the "potential dangers" that you mention are more to do with concentration than with total volume. If you're tripling the amount of water, you should be able to scale everything else up as well with no ill effects. Are you sure you want to try such a large volume for your first go-around, though? That's a lot of waste if things don't turn out. – logophobe Jun 12 '14 at 17:59
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    Even setting aside the fact that concentration is what matters, your intuitive reason for being concerned here seems a little weird; sure, after tripling you're a bit above the LD50 for a 100kg person. But even before tripling, you were above the LD50 for a decent-sized child (35kg), and the original recipe wasn't unsafe to feed to children. If you drank it all, sure, but you're not doing that. – Cascabel Jun 13 '14 at 0:32
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You should be fine scaling this recipe up, as long as you are sure to scale all components equally.

The USDA regulations for commercial brining and curing give a maximum of 200ppm (parts per million) sodium nitrite in the finished product. They also stipulate a minimum of 120ppm ingoing nitrite for adequate preserving properties in refrigerated products.

Let's use the metric weights for your formula to calculate its concentration by itself:

Weight of single batch: 4000g(water)+350g+225g+42g = 4617g

Weight of sodium nitrite: 42g*6.25% = 2.625g

Concentration of brine = 2.625/4617 = 568.6ppm

Now, that may sound like a lot, until you realize that commercial brining solutions often use concentrations of around 2000ppm. For example, federal standards also say that 2 lbs. of sodium nitrite can be used per 100 gallons of water, effectively a solution of about 2400ppm, assuming it is injected into the meat at a rate of 10% per original meat weight. (That's only nitrite and water; once salt is added to the mix, the concentration would come down to around 2000ppm or somewhat less.)

How is this in compliance with the USDA? Because very little of the solution is generally absorbed by the meat. Even when directly injected into corned beef, usually the meat only gains about 10% by weight, which means those concentrations effectively drop to 1/10th in the actual finished product.

For a relatively short cure of a large piece of meat (as in your case): if you wanted to be in compliance with USDA preservation standards, you'd need to weigh the meat before brining, weigh after, calculate the weight gain, and then calculate how much solution was absorbed to determine whether the nitrite falls into the 120-200ppm range. My guess is that your brine wouldn't even hit the low range of 120ppm in the meat unless you injected it. (With longer curing or smaller pieces, more nitrite could circulate in the meat, so we'd have to do a different sort of calculation then, which would assume that the solution was coming closer to equilibrium with the meat; but that won't happen in 7 days.) Nevertheless, even lower concentrations of nitrites will add significant preservation qualities, even if they don't hit commercial levels.

In terms of toxicity, you also need to factor in the chemical reactions which happen in the meat (and produce that pink color). Some nitrite will be converted into nitric acid and bind to other components of the meat, effectively rendering it harmless. So even if you calculate the amount of nitrite solution that was absorbed by the meat, it may not given an accurate representation of how much is actually left in the meat once various chemical processes occur. (And by the way, the lowest published toxic dose for humans is 14mg/kg and the lowest fatal dose is probably somewhere around 25mg/kg. You'd probably need to eat your entire 15 lb. brisket cured at the maximum commercial brining level in one sitting to get near that amount.)

Finally, in terms of efficiency, I doubt you should need 3 gallons of brine for a single 15 lb. brisket. The Culinary Institute of America's Garde Manger book has a recipe for corned beef involving 3 gallons of water (and 198 grams of pink salt, for what it's worth, higher than your concentration). But it's for 4 briskets of 10-12 lb. each, and they even do an injection of 10% of the meat's weight before submerging.

Thus, I doubt you'd actually need to increase the recipe that much in an appropriately sized container (maybe 1.5-2 gallons at most?). Also, if the brisket is oddly shaped and doesn't fit well, I might consider cutting it into 2 or 3 pieces that will fit better and require less brine. That will also increase surface area and absorption, probably approximating the results of the recipe you found for the 5 lb. brisket.

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If the entire brine recipe is tripled including the liquid, the concentration of each element will remain the same . It is like making 3 batches and mixing them together.

I rely heavily on Cooks Illustrated and the Harold McGee books for this.

Here is the Cooks Illustrated pdf on the Basics of Brining. I have relied on this for several years and have not gone wrong with it yet.

http://www.dipee.info/pdf/OnlineResearch/2.pdf

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    And what does it have to say on this topic? As written, this isn't an answer to the question. – Aaronut Jul 11 '14 at 17:44
  • Matthew's original question concerned increased nitrite concentration. If the entire brine recipe is tripled including the liquid, the concentration of each element will remain the same . It is like making 3 batches and mixing them together. – piquet Jul 12 '14 at 2:47
  • @piquet please don't add link-only answers, these are subject to link rot, and besides, we specialize in very concrete questions, so indicating a reference work is not really an answer. If your source has information which can be applied to answer the question directly, please write it up (or cite, if appropriate) and edit your answer to include it. I assume that your comment here was meant to do this, so I will include it now for you. But that short sentence doesn't seem to create a good, cohesive post together with the rest of the answer, so you might consider editing it into better shape. – rumtscho Jul 12 '14 at 11:40
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LD50 refers to the body weight of the organism:

"Lethal dose (LD50) is the amount of an ingested substance that kills 50 percent of a test sample. It is expressed in mg/kg, or milligrams of substance per kilogram of body weight."

whs.rocklinusd.org/documents/Science/Lethal_Dose_Table.pdf

To use your 71mg/kg number, a 100kg person would have a 50% chance of dying (LD50) if ingesting 7,100 mg of the substance.

I am finding LD50 of Sodium Nitrite to be 180 or 175 mg/kg so that's even higher, a 100 kg person has a 50% chance of dying by ingesting 18 grammes of Sodium Nitrite (Equivalent to 288g of Instacure 1)

MSDS for Sodium nitrite - ScienceLab www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9927272

Of course these figures refer to rats, but that's how its done.

Disclaimer: Not a Doctor, do your own calculations.

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    This is useful to know. Can you extrapolate this information to talk about the impact of brining meat in this solution? – Erica Dec 7 '18 at 2:12
  • Well, if you tripled the whole recipe you'd have 126 g of pink salt which according to the numbers I'm finding you'd have to eat all 15 lbs of beef and drink the 3 gallons of brine at once to get to half the LD50 dose. Given the numbers in the answer this would be ingesting 20 % the bodyweight of the individual. You can use an online brine calculator to see if the numbers sanity-check. Concentration of brine and its relation to nitrite ppm remaining in the meat seems to attract a lot of discussion and opinion, and varies by the brining method, but the question was about LD50. – spl Dec 8 '18 at 10:29
  • That should be in your answer; please edit it in, thanks. – Jan Doggen Dec 10 '18 at 7:21

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