Whether for St. Patrick's Day or just a chilly winter night, corned beef is a classic and comforting dinner that's easy to make with several cooking methods.

By Vanessa Greaves

Corned beef roast, corned beef and cabbage, corned beef sandwiches, corned beef hash. All these classic dishes start with a tough cut of beef called a brisket. Here are four very easy cooking methods to transform that gnarly slab of meat into fork-tender meals, along with recipes, videos, and prep tips.

Corned Beef and Cabbage | Photo by Meredith

What is Corned Beef? What is Corned Beef Made of?

Corned beef is made of the cow's brisket, a cut of meat from the heavily exercised front limbs of the animal that is consequently tough and chewy. However, when been soaked in a seasoned brine of water, curing salt, and spices, or cooked low and slow with moist heat, the connective tissue in this muscle-bound cut breaks down, turning this tough cut of meat all juicy and succulent.

Corned beef can refer to either the cut of beef that you cook at home, or the canned salt-cured beef product.

Corned Beef Q&A

Why does corned beef come in a plastic bag?

Corned beef is a beef brisket that's been soaked in a seasoned brine of water, curing salt, and spices. The soaking or curing process typically takes several days. When you buy a package of corned beef at the store, the beef is already soaking in the brine and is ready to cook. Some recipes tell you to rinse off the brine before cooking, some don't. A spice packet sometimes accompanies the meat, to be added to your recipe as you choose. A corned beef seasoning packet including peppercorns, bay leaves, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, cloves, nutmeg and mustard seed sometimes accompanies the meat.

What cut of beef is the brisket?

Brisket is the relatively tough cut of meat from the animal's front limbs. As a tough cut, it benefits from low, slow cooking with moist heat, which breaks down the connective tissue.

What does corn have to do with corned beef?

Not much, actually. The name comes from the large, corn kernel-sized grains of salt the meat was packed in to preserve it before modern refrigeration was invented.

What is corned beef hash?

Corned Beef Hash is mostly a leftover dish. Chopped corned beef, either canned or homemade, cooked potatoes or frozen hash browns, onions and spices are pan-fried and often served with poached or fried eggs.

What is the difference between corned beef and pastrami?

While both corned beef and pastrami are made of brisket, pastrami comes from the highly fatty navel end of the brisket. Both corned beef and pastrami are cured in a salt brine but corned beef is boiled afterwards whereas pastrami is smoked.

The two meats are also served differently: corned beef is added to hot dishes such as Corned Beef and Cabbage, or, as a deli meat, an ingredient in the classic Reuben sandwich with sauerkraut. The traditional Pastrami on rye sandwich is seasoned with spicy brown mustard.

At what temperature is corned beef done?

When using raw brisket, cook it to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F measured with a food thermometer.

This video for Corned Beef and Cabbage shows you what to look for when you're buying corned beef, plus how to cook and slice it.

More: One Simple Trick to Make Your Corned Beef Better

What Is the Best Way to Cook Corned Beef?

Here are four ways to cook corned beef.

1. Boiled Corned Beef

Corned Beef and Cabbage I | Photo by Jenbc27

Place the brined corned beef in a large pot or Dutch oven along with the liquid and spices that accompanied it in the package. Pour in enough water to cover the beef, then bring the water to a boil on the stovetop. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover the pot. A three-pound corned beef could take three hours or more to become perfectly tender. Check the meat occasionally, adding more water if necessary. The beef is ready when it pulls apart easily. For a one-pot feast, you can add shredded cabbage and chunks of potatoes and carrots to the pot during the last half hour of cooking. Watch the video for Corned Beef and Cabbage I to learn more.

More: Turn Corned Beef into Showstopping 5-Star Recipes

2. Oven-Braised Corned Beef

Braised Corned Beef Brisket | Photo by KGora

Use a large roasting pan or Dutch oven, with or without a rack, depending on the recipe you use. It could take about one hour or more per pound to cook, depending on the thickness of the roast. Since corned beef needs to cook with moist heat, you'll cover the pan or wrap the roast with aluminum foil to prevent it from drying out. Be sure to check the liquid as it cooks, replenishing it if needed. You can add vegetables during the last hour of cooking. This video for Braised Corned Beef Brisket shows you how it's done.

More: The Gourmet Mustards Your Corned Beef Craves

3. Slow-Cooked Corned Beef

Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage | Photo by Allrecipes

Popping everything into the slow cooker is the easiest, most convenient way to cook corned beef. If you're cooking carrots and potatoes with the meat, consider adding them about halfway through. A four-pound roast will take four to five hours on HIGH, or eight to nine hours on LOW. Cabbage doesn't take much time to cook, and can be added in the last hour. For more, watch the video for Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage.

4. Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker Corned Beef

Pressure Cooker Corned Beef | Photo by Barbara Wilson Stender

Fork-tender brisket in a fraction of the time. That's the beauty of using your pressure cooker or Instant Pot multi-cooker to make corned beef.

DIY Corned Beef Brine

If you'd like to prepare your own corned beef from a fresh brisket, allow about a week for the brisket to soak in the brine.

One Last Question

Do the Irish really eat corned beef for St. Patrick's Day?

Sorry to bust that myth, but corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day is more of an American tradition than an Irish one. The cabbage and corned beef combination goes back to Irish immigrants to the United States who added corned beef instead of bacon to cabbage. Here's what they really eat in Ireland on St. Paddy's Day (definitely NOT St. Patty's Day, BTW).

More: Explore our entire collection of corned beef recipes.