Stop Making These 14 Mistakes With Your Corned Beef And Cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage
Corned beef and cabbage - Boblin/Getty Images

Every St. Patrick's Day, chefs and home cooks enjoy partaking in the festivities by making a batch of corned beef and cabbage. While this tradition is perceived as something quintessentially Irish, the origins of this dish are less Irish than you may think. This dish is as American as apple pie. It is the product of Irish immigrants who came to the United States during the 1800s. After the Potato Famine, many Irish citizens migrated to New York, where they had trouble locating classic back bacon. These resourceful migrants adapted by adopting the salted beef brisket brought to America by Jewish immigrants as their own. The rest, as they say, is corned beef history.

Though recipes for classic corned beef and cabbage are ubiquitous, there are some basic rules of thumb to follow with any iteration of this dish to guarantee flavorful and tender meat. That is where I come in. As a professional chef with almost 18 years of experience, I have cooked my fair share of corned beef and cabbage. I know firsthand that beef brisket can be potentially challenging to cook under any circumstance. I wanted to take the guesswork out of making this festive feast regardless of which recipe you use. These tips and tricks are tried and true, and they will ensure that the star of your next St. Patrick's Day feast is a triumph and not a tragedy.

Read more: French Cooking Tricks You Need In Your Life

Mistake: Choosing A Lean Cut Of Brisket

Raw beef brisket
Raw beef brisket - Ilia Nesolenyi/Shutterstock

The cut of meat used for corned beef is brisket. This cut is sourced from the bottom front portion of the cow, the area equivalent to our pectoral muscles. This muscle gets more exercise than others, making it rife with connective tissue and collagen and lacking in the delicate intramuscular fat that gives the filet mignon such a juicy texture. Because of this, brisket is an inexpensive cut of meat that requires a lot of extra effort to coax out the maximum flavor and tenderness.

The brisket has two distinct segments separated by a dense fat layer: the flat and the point. The flat, or first cut, is the bigger of the two. It has a more uniform thickness, is less fatty, and tends to be the cut most often used for Jewish recipes. The point, second, or deckle cut is more diminutive, fattier, and unevenly shaped, making cooking more challenging. This cut is most commonly used for barbecue. Corned beef can be made from either or both segments.

When choosing pre-packaged corned beef, look for one with marbling. This will provide added flavor and yield a more tender result. If you purchase meat to corn yourself -- by curing it at home -- you can opt for either segment of the brisket and ask your butcher to leave some fat still attached. Brisket trimmed of all fat will become flavorless and tough.

Mistake: Skimping On The Serving Size

Plate of corned beef
Plate of corned beef - Fotek/Getty Images

If you are entertaining a crowd, figuring out how much meat you need per person can be challenging. The last thing you want is to run out or not have enough for seconds or leftovers. This is particularly true with corned beef, which tends to shrink significantly during the cooking process depending upon the cooking method employed. A good rule of thumb is to purchase enough meat to serve ¾ of a pound to 1 pound per person.

An average whole brisket weighs approximately 10 to 16 pounds, with the flat portion measuring 6 to 10 pounds and the point section a more petite 5 to 6 pounds. This means a whole brisket could feed approximately 10 to 21 people. The flat segment would feed 6 to 13 people, and the point piece would suffice for 5 to 8 individuals. As with Thanksgiving turkey, you are better off aiming high and having too much, rather than not having enough. Leftovers can be repurposed for everything from sandwiches to egg dishes to a corned beef lasagna made with rye bread.

Mistake: Not Corning It Yourself

Ingredients for corned beef
Ingredients for corned beef - Robert F. Leahy/Shutterstock

No maize is involved in corning. The term is an old word which means to cure meat in a salt brine. This preservation system was invented before refrigeration, involving salt pellets roughly the size of a kernel of corn. Though modern-day corning no longer utilizes this kind of salt, the term persists.

Pre-packaged corned beef is readily available, convenient, and affordable, making it highly desirable. That said, you have little control over the cut of meat used or the seasoning. This can be problematic, particularly for those wanting to manage the amount of sodium added to corned beef. Corning your own may take a fair amount of time, up to seven days, and ample refrigeration space, but it is well worth it. The overall flavor is far superior to the pre-packaged stuff.

The flat cut is recommended for ease of carving, but for more flavor, the point cut can be used. The corning process involves creating a brine using seasonings, brown sugar, kosher salt, and pink curing salt #1. Pink curing salt is a preservative made from sodium chloride and sodium nitrate. It is what will infuse your brisket with the bright pink hue and piquant flavor that is quintessential of corned beef. Once the brine has been boiled and cooled, the meat is submerged and sealed in a bag. It is left to rest in the refrigerator for five to seven days, and the bag is rotated every two days to ensure even curing.

Mistake: Not Rinsing The Meat Well

Person rinsing beef in sink
Person rinsing beef in sink - Elenaleonova/Getty Images

Since the corning process involves soaking meat in a salty brine for an extended period, it absorbs quite a bit of salinity, making it inedible if cooked straight from the package or refrigerator. Whether you purchased a pre-brined corned beef or did the process yourself, you will want to rinse the corned beef thoroughly before cooking it. Better yet, soak the meat in clean, fresh water for 15 to 30 minutes after rinsing it to help eliminate residual salinity.

If you have concerns about bathing your corned beef, thinking this will remove all of the flavor imparted by the seasonings, sugar, and salt in the brine, you need not worry. The brisket has already absorbed all that flavor deep into the muscle fibers of the meat, giving it a robust taste even when the excess salt is eliminated. Once the corned beef has been rinsed and soaked, you can move on to drying and searing it.

Mistake: Failing To Sear The Meat Before Cooking

Searing beef brisket
Searing beef brisket - Ari N/Shutterstock

Though most recipes for corned beef do not involve searing it before cooking, and it is not a requirement, there are many reasons why this is a good idea. The process of searing meat before it is cooked helps to jumpstart what is known as the Maillard reaction. This process, discovered by French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, is the chemical reaction during which amino acids and sugars on the surface of food are transformed by heat, resulting in a golden brown color and rich, savory flavor.

This reaction generally occurs at temperatures ranging from 285 to 330 degrees Fahrenheit. It also requires a lack of moisture on the meat's surface. Since most corned beef recipes involve cooking the meat at a low temperature in plenty of liquid, this is not conducive to the commencement of the Maillard reaction, inhibiting the development of those rich flavors.

Pre-searing the meat before further cooking it using any method is helpful. It is especially recommended when you plan on slow-cooking, braising, or putting it in a sous vide unit. Before doing so, ensure the meat is patted dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Sear the corned beef in a cast iron, stainless, or carbon steel pan over medium-high heat in an oil with a high smoke point, like peanut or avocado, on all sides before cooking the meat using whatever method you choose.

Mistake: Not Using Enough Liquid

Pot of boiling water
Pot of boiling water - KrimKate/Shutterstock

The key to getting perfectly juicy, melt-in-your-mouth corned beef is to cover it in plenty of water. This method for cooking may seem banal, but there is a reason why water is the most common go-to liquid of choice. Even when rinsed and soaked, the salty brine used to corn a brisket can leave quite a bit of residual salinity within the meat. Water can draw out this remaining salt, flavoring the liquid and vegetables in the pot while keeping the meat flavorful.

Using stock or broth to flavor your corned beef may be tempting, but be cautious. Most stocks and broths are loaded with sodium, which can render the corned beef inedible. If you want to use stock or broth, always choose an unsalted one. This will add a modicum of flavor without all that excess salinity.

You will want to check it periodically to ensure plenty of liquid remains in the cooking vessel, regardless of the cooking method you employ for your corned beef. As it cooks, the liquid will evaporate. Allowing the meat to run dry will result in corned beef resembling the sole of a shoe; chewy and not juicy.

Mistake: Skipping The Beer

Glass of stout beer
Glass of stout beer - vzwer/Shutterstock

Water may be the primary cooking liquid used in any corned beef recipe, but other liquids can make their way into the dish. One such liquid that should not be skipped is beer. While some believe that the primary reason to add beer to any meat-based dish is to help tenderize the protein, this is not entirely the case. The acid and enzymes (like tannins) within beer can help break up the proteins within the muscle fibers somewhat, rendering more juicy beef.

That said, the main reason to add beer to your corned beef is flavor. The hops and malt that go into making beer are remarkably effective and give any stew an even more robust savory flavor and impart a hint of bitterness that accentuates those sweet, salty, sour, and umami notes. If you are concerned about adding alcohol to your corned beef, most of the alcohol will burn off during the cooking process, but not all of it. And most beer hovers around 5% ABV, which is on the lower end of the spectrum.

When choosing the ideal beer for your meat, opt for a dark beer like a porter or stout. These have the earthiness and intensity of flavor to permeate the meat. Whatever you do, never use an IPA in cooking corned beef. Their intense, bitter flavor profile will overwhelm the meat and give the vegetables an unpleasant taste.

Mistake: Not Seasoning The Cooking Liquid

Seasoning blend
Seasoning blend - xpixel/Shutterstock

If you have ever purchased pre-packed corned beef, it often comes with a small seasoning packet to be added to the cooking liquid. This is a good idea in theory. Unfortunately, many of these packets have added salt in them. The brine in which corned beef is prepared already has plenty of salt, so you do not want to add more to the cooking liquid. Additionally, these packets are so small they hardly contain enough seasoning to make any notable difference in the flavor of your meat. For this reason, I always recommend creating your seasoning blend.

Key elements used in the corning process -- which can and should be added to the cooking liquid -- include ground mustard, pepper, coriander, allspice, cardamom, celery seeds, cloves, red pepper flakes, ginger, and a couple of bay leaves. Additionally, it's necessary to incorporate aromatics into the liquid, like onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Lastly, a hint of brown sugar can offset any residual salt absorbed by the brisket.

Mistake: Not Giving The Meat Enough Time To Cook

Kitchen timer
Kitchen timer - Inna Vlasova/Shutterstock

As noted, brisket comes from a part of the cow that gets a lot of exercise. These cuts benefit from a rich, savory, beefy flavor but are also very challenging to prepare. Because they contain abundant fat and connective tissues made up of collagen, they are not ideal for quick cooking methods, like stir-frying.

More tender cuts, like the filet mignon, can be cooked quickly because their proteins respond readily to heat, shortening and pushing moisture to the surface of the meat. With these denser cuts, the fat and collagen within the connective tissue are less reactive to heat, requiring more coaxing to yield, release, and liquefy.

A corned beef cooked for too short a duration will remain tough, chewy, and inedible. As such, it is never advisable to hurry this process along. You cannot force a brisket to cook faster than is scientifically possible for the connective tissues to break down. This is not the dish to make for a quick weeknight meal. It requires patience and time.

Mistake: Cooking It At The Wrong Temperature

Meat thermometer
Meat thermometer - Nils Z/Shutterstock

Corned beef requires low-and-slow cooking to yield the best results. It may seem tempting to crank up the heat on your corned beef to speed the cooking process, but this can result in a desiccated hunk of meat. The higher temperature will result in moisture loss, regardless of how much liquid you have added to the pot.

The ideal temperature for cooking corned beef -- regardless of which cooking method is employed -- is around 180 degrees. This allows the collagen in the connective tissue to slowly break down without dehydrating the meat. The result is a luscious corned beef that is easy to slice. A good rule of thumb to follow when determining the proper cooking temperature of your corned beef is to monitor the cooking liquid. It should be simmering but must not come to a full rolling boil. If you are still unsure, use a thermometer to gauge the temperature of your cooking liquid.

Mistake: Skipping The Resting Time

Cooked beef brisket
Cooked beef brisket - gkrphoto/Shutterstock

Now that you have spent days brining your corned beef and hours cooking it delicately at the proper temperature, you may be tempted to dive right into that pot of meat the moment it is done, but don't. Allowing your corned beef time to rest before carving is necessary, just as with a steak or Thanksgiving turkey. There is a good reason for this. As meat cooks and the muscle fibers inside begin to contract, moisture is pushed to the exterior of the brisket. Allowing the meat to rest, at room temperature off the heat, allows those muscles to relax and the juices to meander back to the center of the cooked corned beef.

As for how long to give corned beef to rest, the recommendations vary from as little as 5 to 15 minutes to longer. I have found that the happy place is around 20 minutes. You can always cover the corned beef loosely with aluminum foil as it rests if you are concerned about the meat cooling off too much. That said, you will be surprised at how warm the center of the corned beef will remain even after that amount of time.

Mistake: Cutting The Meat The Wrong Way

Sliced corned beef
Sliced corned beef - Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

When you thought you were free to finally dig into your corned beef after resting it for the proper amount of time, you are not off the hook yet. You can still make a fatal error that will make or break your St. Patrick's Day festivities. All those precautions you took to retain moisture during cooking and resting will be for naught if you fail to carve your corned beef against the grain, and you may end up with a toothsome cut of meat.

Cutting meat against the grain involves identifying the direction in which the muscle fibers of the brisket run and slicing perpendicular to them. These rubber band-like muscle fibers get severed and shortened when cut against the grain. This results in a more pleasant dining experience that requires far less chewing.

When it comes to corned beef, identifying the grain is easy, though if you are unsure, you can always cut a small chunk off one end to make sure. Remember that the grain on the flat portion runs in a different direction from that in the point section. If you are cooking a whole brisket, you will want to keep this in mind and adjust your slicing accordingly for each part. I recommend separating the two sections to make carving the meat against the grain easier and more foolproof.

Mistake: Forgetting About The Cabbage And Vegetables

Grilled cabbage
Grilled cabbage - Oksana Shyriaieva/Getty Images

Don't let the cabbage or other vegetables you plan to add to your meal be an afterthought now that you have cooked the perfect corned beef. These veggies can make or break the whole meal, depending on how you prepare them. While adding the cabbage and other vegetables to the cooking vessel you are using for your corned beef guarantees delicious flavor, it is easy for them to become over or undercooked. Timing is everything. You will want to add root vegetables just as the meat gets tender, about 30 minutes before serving. The cabbage will only need about 10 to 15 minutes to cook through.

While potatoes and cabbage are classic in corned beef, you can swap these out with other vegetables if you want to change things up. Sweet potatoes, celery root, or parsnips are great alternatives to potatoes. When swapping out cabbage, you can use different vegetables from the same family, like Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, or bok choy.

Lastly, consider cooking the vegetables in different ways, such as roasted, pan-seared, grilled, or fried, for more flavor and a contrasting texture. Potatoes are delicious when roasted, and grilled cabbage develops a rich, nutty flavor that can accentuate the umami-forward corned beef.

Mistake: Not Considering Alternative Cooking Methods

Sous vide corned beef
Sous vide corned beef - Chatham172/Shutterstock

While the traditional method for preparing corned beef involves simmering it for hours on the stovetop, this is by no means the only way to prepare a delicious iteration of this dish. It can be cooked low-and-slow in a crockpot, instant pot, and the oven. You can also use a pressure cooker to expedite things if you are familiar with cooking with one, keeping in mind that this method takes a lot of experience to execute safely and effectively. The grill or smoker offers a distinct flavor, and an air fryer can cut the cooking time down and yield a crisp exterior crust.

Another distinct method that requires special equipment is cooking the corned beef sous vide or under vacuum. An immersion circulator can retain a constant temperature, yielding perfectly moist corned beef that is evenly cooked throughout and has dissolved the maximum amount of collagen from the connective tissue. This equals dynamite flavor and texture.

There are many clever twists on corned beef and cabbage you can try if you like the idea of corned beef and cabbage, but are looking for something just a bit different, ranging from corned beef pizza to corned beef egg rolls to corned beef quesadillas. There is no reason not to celebrate, even if you do not have the time to prepare corned beef from scratch.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.