Nov 15, 2023

Corned beef: What to buy, should you rinse it and how do you cook it

On St. Patrick's Day plenty of us in metro Detroit get a wee bit Irish. And that includes chowing down on corned beef.

There will be sandwiches made with mounds of thinly sliced corned beef and plates heaped with corned beef served with cabbage and other vegetables.

March 17 is most likely the only time of year many home cooks serve corned beef. With that in mind, we've put together a refresher course on this unusual variety of beef.

Beef brisket is the cut used to make corned beef. A primal cut, it's a large piece from the breast or lower chest of beef cattle. Brisket is a tough cut with connective tissue throughout, and a whole brisket typically weighs 10 pounds or more. When it's cooked whole, it's usually served as a roast or barbecued brisket. Otherwise, it's cut into flat and point cuts. Many cooks are confused about which of these to buy, though they're actually quite similar.

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First off, it has nothing to do with corn. The term "corned" comes from the English and it refers to small particles. "Corn" refers to the larger-grained rock salt, which is used to cure the beef.

The flat cut has a more even, rectangular shape. This cut is less fatty. The point cut has more fat and more connective tissue.

The brisket is cured for hours in a brine of water, salt, spices and preservatives and can also be injected with the brine. Some producers of corned beef add their own blends of spices. Some stores sell lower-sodium versions.

Keep in mind that depending on the cut, corned beef will shrink by as much as one-third during cooking. A 3-pound brisket should feed four to six people if served with vegetables.

It's a good idea to do so. Don't worry that you will be rinsing away flavor. Rinsing the corned beef means it will be less salty. Also, keep the seasoning packet if one came with it. the packet is a pickling spice blend made up mostly of peppercorns, bay leaves, and mustard seeds.

Braise/oven method: A corned beef braise is best. Remove the brisket from the package, rinse if you like and pat dry. Place it in a baking dish with a small amount of water or beer. Brush the top with some Dijon or a grainy-style mustard if you like. Sprinkle the top with the spice packet if one is provided. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees, about 2½ to 3 hours or until tender. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes more.

Stovetop: Rinse the brisket, place in a stockpot (or any large pot) and add water to cover. You can also add some beer. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 2½ to 3 hours or until meat is fork-tender.

Slow cooker: Corned beef cooks well in a slow cooker or Instant Pot. In a slow cooker, add the brisket, enough water to cover it and the spices from the spice packet or your own spices. Cook on low for 9 to 11 hours or high about 4½ hours. For cooking in an Instant Pot, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

It's important to always slice the corned beef against the grain. This can be a little tricky because the grain can run different ways on the same cut. For dinner portions, slice brisket into quarter-inch-thick slices. For sandwiches, slice as thin as possible when the meat is cold. Reheat as needed.

Metro Detroit is known for several kinds of corned beef, including Grobbel's, United Meat & Deli's Sy Ginsberg brand and Wigley's.

Not in the most traditional sense. It's actually an American dish that originated with Irish immigrants more than a century ago. At that time, corned beef was an affordable cut of meat, and cabbage was cheap, too. A traditional Irish boiled dinner typically includes cabbage cooked with bacon, not corned beef. The bacon is not the kind we're used to seeing on breakfast tables, either. The Irish variety comes from the back of the pig, rather than the belly.

If you've a hankering for corned beef this St. Patrick's Day, here are some of our favorite recipes from the Free Press test kitchen archives.

Contact Susan Selasky: 313-222-6872 or [email protected]. Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.

Serves: 4 to 6 / Preparation time: 15 minutes / Total time: 4-6 hours (in a slow cooker)


2 bottles (11.7 ounces each) Guinness beer (or other stout beer)

¼ cup dark or light brown sugar

3½- to 4-pound uncooked brisket for corned beef, rinsed well and patted dry

1 tablespoon pickling spice or packet from corned beef

1 small onion, peeled, cut in half

1 head garlic, halved


1 small head savoy cabbage

2 tablespoons canola oil

5 carrots, peeled, cut into ¾-inch chunks

1 pound of red-skinned potatoes, cut into ¾-inch chunks

1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter

2 tablespoons freshly minced fresh parsley

In a slow cooker, whisk together the beer and brown sugar. Add the brisket, it should be completely covered by the beer. Add the pickling spice, onion and the garlic. Cover and set on high. Slow-cook for 4 to 6 hours or until the corned beef is tender. Remove the brisket to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Discard the onion and garlic. Remove 2 cups of the cooking liquid and set aside. Strain the remaining liquid.

Cut the cabbage into 8 wedges. Use toothpicks to hold wedges together. In a separate large, deep skillet, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cabbage wedges and cook until browned, about 5 minutes on each side. Add carrots and potatoes.

Pour in the reserved cooking liquid, bring to a simmer and cover. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10-15 minutes. Use tongs or a large spoon to carefully remove the cabbage and reserve. Continue cooking the carrots and potato another 5-10 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the cooked vegetables to a plate. To the remaining cooking liquid in the skillet, whisk in the butter.

Slice the corned beef against the grain and serve with the cabbage and vegetables. Pour a bit of the sauce over the corned beef just before serving. Garnish with parsley.

Adapted from several recipes.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Serves: 6 / Prep time: 20 minutes / Total time: 3 hours (not active time)


3 to 5 pounds corned beef brisket, fat trimmed off and rinsed

Spice packet that comes with the corned beef

4 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed

1 can (15.5 ounces) reduced-sodium beef broth

2 cups water


6-8 small red potatoes quartered

3 medium carrots peeled and sliced into 2-inch pieces

1 cabbage about 2 pounds, cut into large wedges


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup water

½ cup spicy brown mustard


¼ cup honey or agave

¼ cup spicy brown mustard

Set the rack in the Instant Pot. Place corned beef brisket, contents of the spice packet, garlic cloves, broth and water in the Instant Pot. Close lid. Make sure the vent is set to sealing.

Set timer for 90 minutes on high. (It will take about 15 to 20 minutes for the pressure to build, then the timer will start.) Once done, allow for a 15-minute natural pressure release before releasing remaining pressure and removing the lid from the Instant Pot.

While the pressure is natural releasing, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add water and brown sugar. Heat over medium-high heat and let thicken for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the mustard and reduce heat to low, simmer about 5 minutes. This is enough glaze for a 5-pound brisket, you will not use it all for a 3-pound brisket.

Preheat the broiler on low.

Leaving the liquids in the Instant Pot, remove corned beef to a baking sheet. Brush some of the glaze on top of the corned beef and broil, 6 inches from the heat source for 30 minutes, brushing with more glaze every 10 minutes. Watch carefully because the glaze can burn.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables and make the honey mustard sauce.

Put cabbage, potatoes and carrots in the Instant Pot and cook them on high for 3 minutes, then do a quick release.

Place corned beef on a tray and slice across the grain. Arrange the vegetables around the corned beef. Serve with the mustard sauce.

Adapted from several recipes. Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Serves: 6 / Prep time: 20 minutes / Total time: 3 hours (not active time)

3 to 5 pounds corned beef brisket, fat trimmed off and rinsed

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon lower sodium seasoning blend such as Morton's Nature Seasons Seasoning Blend

Seasoning packet included in the package

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Have ready three sheets of foil to wrap the corned beef in. Place the corned beef on the foil. Sprinkle with the garlic and onion powder and all-purpose seasoning. Sprinkle the contents of the seasoning packet over the corned beef.

Wrap in foil and place on a sided baking sheet. Bake for three hours or until the corned beef is tender.

Remove from oven, keep wrapped in the foil for 30 minutes. Remove from foil and slice, against the grain. Serve as desired.

Adapted from several recipes.

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