Think corned beef brisket and you may envision a mountainous deli sandwich on rye bread with a dill pickle spear lying alongside. Or maybe you see a platter of steaming corned beef and tangy cabbage. Either way, you don’t have to hit a New York City deli or a Dublin pub to get good corned beef brisket. Making corned beef brisket is a straightforward process that starts with brining. Once brined, the traditional way to cook corned beef brisket is boiling, but it can also be cooked in the oven, a slow cooker or even the microwave without boiling.
Corned beef brisket gets its name from the pre-refrigeration-era practice of preserving meat by rubbing it in salt pellets that were roughly the size of kernels of corn. Nowadays, a beef brisket is “corned” by soaking the brisket in salty water typically spiked with sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, pickling spices, cinnamon and even juniper berries. Once assembled, the brine is boiled then cooled before it is poured over the brisket. The brined brisket is refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for between 24 hours and 10 days. The longer it’s brined, the more pickled the meat.
After it’s brined, brisket has to be cooked. A brined, or “corned,” beef brisket can be cooked in the oven, boiled on the stove top, prepared in a slow-cooker or quickly zapped in a microwave. Corned beef is typically made of less-tender cuts of beef like the brisket, so whichever cooking method you choose, you’ll need to add enough water to cover it. In the oven, set the temperature at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook the brisket fat-side up in a covered pot for one hour per pound of meat. If you opt for boiling, bring the water to a boil, turn it down to a simmer and cook for one hour per pound of brisket. Slow-cooker cooking can take as long as 12 hours, while a microwave can get the job done in 20 to 30 minutes per pound.
On the Side
Corned beef and cabbage is a bit of a misnomer, because several root vegetables are traditionally included in the iconic dish. Carrots, potatoes and onions can go into the oven or slow-cooker at the same time as the brisket or as late as during the last hour of cooking. Add them to the stove-top pot or microwave during the last 30 minutes of cooking time. Cabbage is typically cut into wedges and placed in the cooking pot during the final three hours of cooking in an oven or slow-cooker, or for the last half-hour if brisket is boiled or cooked in a microwave.
Serving, Storage and Safety
Regardless of the cooking method, corned beef brisket should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that it is thoroughly cooked. Checking for the meat to become “fork tender” is one way to test for doneness, but using a meat thermometer in the center of the brisket is recommended. Allow the brisket to rest for 20 minutes before it’s sliced, or cook the brisket ahead of time and slice it cold before reheating or serving on sandwiches. Refrigerate cooked brisket within two hours, and store it refrigerated for as long as four days or frozen for two to three months.