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I’ll be honest with you: The last time I made corned beef and cabbage for my husband’s Midwest family, it was actually inedible. I’m talking so dry and rubbery you could barely even cut it with a steak knife! But it was a lesson learned; every food blog you read doesn’t always turn out Pinterest-worthy in the end.
Last year, we decided to remove any room for user error and ordered takeout from a local Irish pub to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. But this year, with my husband’s family returning for St. Patrick’s Day again in just a few days, I’m determined to redeem myself from the 2020 flop (perhaps we should just write that year off!?)
Anyhow, in my quest to figure out how to make the perfect corned beef, I consulted the experts who quite frankly know their beef: Chef Alex Reitz, Culinary Director at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and chef and Registered Dietitian Abbie Gellman, Culinary Consultant and cookbook author. Grab your notebook and a pen and stay with me, because you’re going to want to remember what they have to say!
What is the perfect cut of brisket to make corned beef?
According to Chef Reitz, choosing the cut of brisket that you prefer the most is a great starting point in making the best corned beef for your palate. “While I’m more of a point person myself because the extra fat really helps in the cooking process, the flat is a great option as well and tends to be leaner.”
However, if you’re not a beef expert and are a bit more health-conscious, choosing the flat cut is what most dietitians (myself included!) recommend. Chef Gellman adds that the flat cut of brisket is also a larger, more rectangular shape and easier to slice once cooked.
The bottom line is to choose brisket, flat or point! Or, if you have the space, Chef Reitz recommends purchasing the whole brisket and experimenting to see which you prefer, then note it for future holidays.
Pre-seasoned or self-seasoned: Which should you choose?
For those who need to save some time and purchase a pre-seasoned corned beef, Chef Gellman recommends giving pre-brined beef a “water bath” before preparing it for cooking.
“Given the salt content is traditionally very high in pre-brined packaging, you may need to soak the brisket in two changes of water in a large pot before cooking”, shares Gellman. Essentially, you’d soak the brisket for one hour in a large pot with cool water, then dump the water and repeat one more time to decrease the sodium before cooking. Note: Be sure to place the beef in the pot back into the refrigerator while doing so to maintain proper food safety procedures in place.
Now, for those who are ready to tackle their own self-brine, both Chef Reitz and Chef Gellman agree the longer you can let it cure, the better! Both chefs recommend around 3 to 5 days when curing the beef in a self-seasoned brine, which is right on par with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendation of storing fresh meat no longer than 5 days in the refrigerator. Chef Gellman adds that regardless of whether you choose to brine it for 3 or 5 days, you should be flipping the brisket daily.
What’s the best brine to cure your meat?
Chef Gellman notes that corned beef is traditionally brined or cured using pickling spices, sugar, kosher salt, and pink curing salt. While both Chef’s like to encourage consumers to experiment to see which pickling spices you like the best, most traditional blends often include mustard seeds, cloves, peppercorns, allspice, and juniper berries. The only “must use” according to Chef Gellman is the pink curing salt, which is a preservative made from table salt (sodium chloride) and sodium nitrate.
Now, you can traditionally find all the spices and seasonings at your local market, and some may even have pre-made packets to purchase with corned beef pickling spices! I recommend purchasing at your local Sprouts or Whole Foods (if available) as you can traditionally buy from jars the amounts you need rather than spending a fortune on the larger containers.
What’s the best way to cook your corned beef?
Pressure cooker fans, get ready to take out your favorite appliance because your holiday menu just got easier to make! According to Chef Reitz, “With pressure cookers being so popular I recommend trying it in there if you have one. It takes less time and you can cook the rest of the vegetables at the same time, saving on some clean up. I cook mine on high pressure for 65 to 75 minutes and it turns out great every time.”
For those without an Instant Pot or similar appliance, you can still cook a perfectly tender corned beef. You’ll just need about 2 to 3 hours, an oven, and a large pot (like a Dutch oven). Plan ahead and steam the vegetables or throw them in your slow cooker so your sides are ready to go when your corned beef is done!
Regardless of how you cook the beef, both chefs recommend cutting against the grain. This ensures slices are nice and tender, perfect for your entire crew to enjoy.
What to pair your corned beef with
While you can’t go wrong with the traditional potatoes and cabbage combo, the dietitian in me loves to add more fiber and high antioxidant fruits and veggies in the mix too. Since glazed carrots often are paired with corned beef, I recently tried out these Roasted Carrots with a POM Miso Glaze, and even my Midwest husband who grew up on meat and potatoes enjoyed this fun twist. Plus, using POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice was a nice, subtle way to add polyphenols into the meal and naturally flavor the glaze without adding any preservatives.
Now, you don’t have to just stop at carrots. Root vegetables of all kinds are a perfect pairing with your corned beef! Chef Reitz agrees, noting that making a root vegetable hash using turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas in your oven or air fryer is a great serving suggestion. Cut into ¼-inch pieces and cook at 400 degrees F until fork tender, then enjoy with your beef.
What to do with leftovers
While you can certainly enjoy a sandwich with the fruits of your labor, Chef Reitz recommends thinking outside the bun and inside the bowl! He adds, “Leftover corned beef is perfect in a soup. It’s a quick way to use up those leftover vegetables and beef and is perfect for those cold days ahead. I always serve mine with toasted rye bread chips and garnish it with diced pickles.”
Now that you’ve learned how to master the perfect St. Patrick’s Day corned beef, you can take the very same cuts of brisket and turn them into versatile meals all year round. Here’s some inspiration to get you started: