For USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, the approach of spring usually means that St. Patrick’s Day dinner preparations across the country will spark many questions about the safe handling, storage and preparation of corned beef and all the trimmings.
What is “corning”? Corning is a form of curing; it has nothing to do with corn. The name comes from Anglo-Saxon times before refrigeration. In those days, the meat was dry-cured in coarse “corns” of salt. Pellets of salt, some the size of kernels of corn, were rubbed into the beef to keep it from spoiling and to preserve it.
Today, brining — the use of salt water — has replaced the dry salt cure, but the name “corned beef” is still used, rather than “brined” or “pickled” beef. Commonly used spices that give corned beef its distinctive flavor are peppercorns and bay leaf. Of course, these spices may vary regionally.
Uncooked corned beef in a pouch with pickling juices which has a “sell-by” date or no date may be stored for five to seven days in the refrigerator (40°F or lower) unopened. Products with a “use-by” date can be stored unopened in the refrigerator until that date.
Drained and well wrapped, an uncooked corned beef brisket may be frozen for one month for best quality. It’s recommended to drain the brine because salt encourages rancidity and texture changes. The flavor and texture will diminish with prolonged freezing, but the product is still safe.
Any corned beef left over from a meal should be refrigerated promptly — within two hours of cooking.
Use cooked-ahead or leftover corned beef within three to four days or freeze for 2 to three months.
Reheat leftovers to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. Place brisket fat-side up in the oven at 350°F or no lower than 325 °F. Barely cover the meat with water — by about one inch — and keep the container covered. Allow about one hour per pound.
If using an oven cooking bag: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Add one tablespoon of flour to the bag plus 1/2 cup water. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for closing the bag. For a 2–3-pound corned beef brisket, cook for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. For a 3–5-pound corned beef brisket, cook for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
To cook on a stovetop: Place brisket fat-side up in a large pot and cover it with water. Bring the water to a boil; then reduce the heat and simmer, allowing about one hour per pound. Vegetables may be added during the last 20 to 30 minutes of cooking. Cook vegetables to desired tenderness.
In a slow cooker: If using root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, put them in the bottom of slow cooker. Place brisket on top of vegetables (if using) or in bottom of cooker. Add about 1-1/2 cups of water or enough to cover meat. Cover and cook on high setting for the first hour of cooking. Then cook for 10 to 12 hours on the low setting or 5 to 6 hours on high.