When you think of what to make on St. Patrick’s Day, chances are corned beef is one of the first things that pops into your mind. We have the time and temperature tips to be sure your corned beef is as flavor-packed, tender, and juicy as it can be. So don your greenest apparel and grab a ChefAlarm® as your lucky charm for this tasty dish!
Worth the Wait: This project requires a minimum of nine days, and there isn’t enough time to corn your own brisket before St. Paddy’s Day, but keep reading because the cooking method applies to store-bought corned beef. Or start corning a brisket now to smoke later for homemade pastrami!
History of Corned Beef and Cabbage:
Corned beef is Irish…kind of. It’s an iconic meal that was developed out of necessity by early Irish immigrants. Before emigrating to the United States, a typical meal for an Irish family would have been cured pork with potatoes. After traveling to the U.S. in the 1800s, cash-strapped Irish immigrants found that pork and potatoes were far too expensive.
With beef more widely available and affordable than pork, the Irish cured beef brisket and boiled it with cabbage rather than potatoes to create hearty meals. Corned beef and cabbage may not have originated in Ireland, but it’s authentically Irish-American. A great dish to celebrate Irish heritage!
Beef brisket is one tough piece of meat. This cut is from the pectoral muscle and is heavily worked from bearing much of the animal’s weight. Protein fibers of weight-bearing muscles are very tough and are held together with a web of connective tissue (primarily comprised of collagen).
The cut’s tough texture and connective tissue require it to be cooked slowly and held at a higher temperature to adequately break down the collagen, transforming into gelatin (an irreversible process). Once gelatin is formed, it can absorb six to ten times its weight in moisture. Gelatin is essential in arriving at the desired moist and silky texture so commonly associated with tough cuts like brisket and pork shoulder.
Why Time and Temperature Matter:
For food safety, the meat’s internal temperature only needs to reach 145°F (63°C), but collagen doesn’t begin to dissolve until 160-180°F (71-82°C). Heat applied to the protein needs to be low and slow to keep it tender, but the tender protein won’t matter unless the connective tissue has rendered down to perform its silky magic. For optimal collagen breakdown and gelatin development, the internal temperature needs to stay in the range of 160-180°F (71-82°C) for hours.
Corned Beef Recipe From Start to Finish
- 1 brisket flat
- 3/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon pink curing salt (prague powder #1)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon allspice berries
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 6 bay leaves, roughly torn
- 1 pound carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and roughly diced
- 1 whole head white or green cabbage, cut into 6-8 wedges
Corning is a method of curing meat with salt. Preserving meat by way of salt-curing (the chemical reactions inhibit bacterial growth) has been in practice for centuries. We mainly cure meat now for the flavor and texture qualities it gives meat.
To properly cure this brisket, prague powder #1 (pink curing salt) is an essential ingredient. The sodium nitrite slowly decomposes into nitric oxide, which reacts with myoglobin in the meat to create the pink color of the brisket. This reaction is also what gives cured meat its slightly tangy flavor.
Why Pink? Curing salt is pink to distinguish it from table salt. The chemical reaction during curing is what turns the meat pink, not added pink coloring.
- Combine salt, curing salt, and brown sugar and rub evenly over the surface of the brisket.
- Combine peppercorns, mustard, coriander, allspice, cloves, ginger, and bay leaves and evenly coat the brisket with the spices, pressing them in. Place brisket into a zipper-lock bag, squeezing out as much air as possible, and seal.
- Lay sealed brisket on a sheet pan and refrigerate for 7-10 days. Flip the brisket over once a day to evenly cure the meat. We refrigerated our brisket for 10 days to be sure it was fully cured.
Traditional corned beef is slowly boiled until the meat is completely tender. Sous vide is also a great cooking method for this recipe, and Kenji has complete instructions in his Corned Beef recipe if you would like to give it a try.
- Preheat oven to 225°F (107°C). You can set the oven temperature higher to speed up the cooking time, but a low and slow cook will yield the best results.
- Remove the brisket from the bag, rinse off spice rub completely, and pat dry.
- Place brisket in a cast-iron Dutch oven, and insert ChefAlarm probe into the thickest part of the meat (before boiling is the easiest time to place the probe). Set the high alarm to 203°F (95°C).
- Fill the Dutch oven with water to completely immerse the brisket, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Place the lid on the Dutch oven, slightly ajar, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 203°F (95°C)
- 203°F (95°C) is the typical pull temperature we use for brisket because by that point the meat’s connective tissue has had ample time in a higher temperature range for it to dissolve into gelatin.
- How long your corned beef takes to cook depends on its size and how accurately your oven’s temperature is maintained. Our corned beef’s total cooking time was eight hours.
- Once your ChefAlarm’s high alarm sounds, spot-check the corned beef in multiple areas with an instant-read thermometer like a ThermoPop® or Thermapen® to ensure 203°F (95°C) is the lowest temperature in the meat.
- Replace the probe if a lower temperature is found, and continue cooking until it reaches 203°F (95°C).
➤ Thermal Tip: Heat transfers more efficiently through water than air, and the internal temperature of the brisket will rise quickly since it has direct contact with water.
Give it a Rest:
Resting the meat serves a few purposes.
- Time allows the protein fibers to relax after being removed from the heat source.
- Connective tissue dissolution is maximized.
- Gelatin is given ample time to optimize its moisture absorption.
- Place Brisket in an airtight container with all its juices and refrigerate overnight and up to 3 days.
- Remove brisket from its juices and slice cold. When the brisket is cold, the gelatin is quite solid and the fat is firm, making it easy to cut cleanly. Transfer slices to a large skillet, add a couple of ladles full of the juices, and gently warm over low heat.
- Add prepared vegetables to a large pot (the same Dutch oven used to cook the corned beef will work great) and cover with the remaining brisket cooking liquid.
- Add water if necessary to cover the vegetables. No additional seasoning is needed for the vegetables because the corned beef’s cooking liquid is tremendously flavorful.
- Cover and simmer over low to medium heat until the vegetables are tender—about 45 minutes.
- Serve cooked vegetables with warmed slices of corned beef.
This curing and cooking process takes a long time, but the active cooking time is very minimal. Proper time and temperature control really is the key to perfectly cooked cuts of tough meat like beef brisket, and the only way to know what’s going on inside the meat is to keep track of the internal temperature. ChefAlarm‘s high and low alarms make keeping the corned beef in the best temperature zone for gelatin formation foolproof. If you haven’t cooked brisket before, this application is a fun one to try. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!