Corned beef, salty and spicy, gets its name from the large grains of salt, called corns, that used to be used for curing. The combination of curing and slow, moist cooking changes a tough cut of muscle into a tender and juicy treat. Cooked or uncooked, corned beef keeps in the freezer for one to three months.
Freezing Corned Beef
Frozen food keeps indefinitely, but the quality of the food begins to deteriorate after the recommended length of time. Defrost frozen corned beef in the refrigerator, not the countertop.
- Whole, uncooked: Remove the corned beef from its packaging and drain the brine. If it’s frozen in the brine, the texture may change, and the salt in the brine encourages rancidity. Wrap the meat in freezer paper, aluminum foil or a zip-top freezer bag and freeze for one month. Store unfrozen corned beef in the fridge for five to seven days.
- Whole, cooked: Refrigerate or freeze corned beef within two hours of cooking. Wrap securely in freezer paper, foil or a freezer bag, label the bag with the date, and freeze for up to three months. Refrigerate cooked corned beef for three or four days.
- Sliced deli meat: Wrap securely and freeze for up to three months.
Corned beef shelf life increases with freezing.
The Best Corned Beef Recipe
One of the beauties of cooking corned beef is how simple it is. It doesn’t require a lot of preparation, but it does take time.
Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the corned beef from the packaging and place it in a cast iron Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. There’s no need to rinse it or use the package of pickling spices that’s usually included in the package with it. Pour in enough water, beer or beef stock to almost cover the meat.
Cover, place in the oven and cook for three hours. After three hours, check the internal temperature with a probe thermometer. The temperature should be 145 F, and the meat should be fork tender. Return the beef to the oven for another hour and check the temperature again if it needs more cooking.
Remove the corned beef from the Dutch oven and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Once it’s rested, slice it against the grain.
Slow Cooker Corned Beef
Make a traditional St. Patrick’s Day corned beef dinner by spreading peeled and quartered potatoes and peeled and sliced carrots on the bottom of a slow cooker. Place the beef on top of the vegetables and add enough water, beef stock or beer to almost cover the meat.
Put the lid on the slower cooker and cook on high for five to six hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 F. For corned beef and cabbage, add quartered cabbage for the last three hours of cooking.
Let the meat rest for 10 minutes; then slice against the grain.
Homemade Corned Beef
Crush equal parts allspice berries, mustard seeds, cloves, peppercorns, coriander seeds and crushed bay leaf in a spice grinder. Don’t process it into a powder.
Unless you’re a spice junkie, it’s easier to simply buy a jar or two of pickling spices at the market than to buy individual jars of spices.
Bring a gallon of water to a boil, add 2 cups of salt and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Add the pickling spices, and about 2 tablespoons of pink curing salt (optional). Remove the brine from the heat and chill quickly by adding ice. Pink curing salt contains the nitrates that give corned beef its pink color.
Put uncured beef brisket in a heavy plastic bag; pour the chilled brine over it and refrigerate for about a week. Turn the bag once or twice a day.
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.