low view of a corned beef and cabbage dinner image by David Smith from Fotolia.com

Subtly spiced and slightly salty corned beef, served with boiled potatoes and cabbage, is usually connected with St. Patrick’s Day in the United States. Irish-Americans started this holiday tradition in the 19th century. But corned beef is also the star of a Reuben sandwich and breakfast hash, no matter the date. The secret to tender slices of meat is to cut it against the grain.

Cutting Against the Grain

Corned beef is made from the brisket cut of a cow. Long muscle fibers run through the cut from end to end and form the grain. If you cut with the grain, or parallel to the fibers, you’ll get long, stringy, tough pieces of meat.

It’s usually easy to see which way the grain runs – it looks like lines running across the meat. If “eyeballing” it doesn’t work for you, hold the brisket by its ends and pull. You should be able to see the fibers separate slightly.

For tender slices of corned beef, place your knife perpendicular to the grain. If you’re unsure that you’re doing it right, cut a test slice. If it’s stringy, you’re cutting with the grain. Turn your knife 90 degrees and cut another slice. When cooked, it should be fork tender with short fibers.

Perfect Corned Beef Recipe

Braising, low and slow, is the secret to perfectly tender and flavorful corned beef. It’s worth investing in a cast iron Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid if you frequently cook corned beef at home.

Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the corned beef from the packaging and put it in the Dutch oven. There may be a packet of corning spices included with the corned beef. It’s not necessary to use it when you’re cooking with this method. Add enough water, beef stock or beer to the Dutch oven to almost cover the corned beef. Cook vegetables like peeled and quartered potatoes, sliced carrots and quartered cabbage on the stovetop to accompany the meat.

Put the cover on the pot, place it in the oven and cook for three hours. Test the meat after three hours – it should be fork tender. If it isn’t, return it to the oven for another hour. Remove the meat from the Dutch oven and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Slice against the grain.

Use the same process for slow cooker corned beef. Cook for four hours on high or eight hours on low. Add potatoes and cabbage if desired and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour.

Leftover Corned Beef Recipes

  • Reuben Sandwich: Butter one side of two pieces of rye bread. Layer on sliced corned beef, rinsed and drained sauerkraut, and sliced Swiss cheese on the unbuttered side of one piece of bread. Top with Thousand Island dressing and the other slice of bread, butter-side out. Cook in a lightly buttered pan, turning once, until the bread is toasty and brown.
  • Corned Beef Hash: Peel and dice potatoes. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet, add the potatoes, and cook until the potatoes are brown and crispy. Add diced corned beef and cook until the beef is warm.
  • Split Pea Soup: Rinse dry split peas and add them to a pot of water or vegetable stock with shredded carrots and chopped onion. Cook for about 40 minutes or until the peas are tender. Add diced corned beef for the last five minutes to warm it through.
  • Corned Beef Dip: Mix equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream. Add minced onion, parsley, salt, horseradish and finely diced corned beef. Serve with bagel chips.

Corning Beef at Home

In a large pot, combine enough water to almost fill the pot, a pound of kosher salt, 1/3 cup sugar, one 4 ounce package of Insta Cure (available online), finely chopped garlic and a tablespoon of pickling spice. Bring to a boil, stir and cool to room temperature.

Place an uncured beef brisket in a large oven bag. Pour the brine over and seal tightly. Put the bag in the refrigerator for at least three days, turning once or twice a day to distribute the brine evenly over the beef. Rinse the beef and cook.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan

Native New Yorker Meg Jernigan stayed in Washington, D.C. after attending the George Washington University, and worked in the tourism industry with the National Park Service for many years. She’s a dedicated foodie with an extensive cookbook collection and years of experience in the kitchen. Jernigan’s recipes have been published online and in magazines like Southern Living.