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Mar 19, 2006 06:26 AM

cooking time for corned beef

  • j

Everything I've read says that corned beef should be simmered for 2-3 hrs, and as I recall that works fine. But, my sister-in-law just cooked one that she says was not tender at 2 1/2 hrs, so she cooked it for much longer, and it was still tough.

Is there a "window of tenderness" right around 2-3 hrs? Or maybe she was boiling instead of simmering? What's the difference between simmering and braising, anyway?

I am especially interested because I've corned a whole brisket and I'm looking forward to cooking it today. It's been successful before but I don't remember details.

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  1. John--I've had the same experience as your sis--cooked stovetop in a covered pot at a bare simmer, yet tough and chewy, and a bit dry. So I decided to braise--oven roast in some liquid in a covered pot. The difference to me is that the oven heat is even and controllable. I set the oven temp for 250 and let er go.

    From advice I gleaned in the 70's from Adele Davis' excellent treatise on cooking "Let's Cook It Right", braising tougher cuts of meat at a low temp allows the connective tissues, (cartilage, sinews and fibers bundling muscle groups) to break down into gelatinous softness while allowing the muscle fibers themselves to tenderize slowly. Meat juices are retained within the fibers, not squeezed out as when using higher heats. So tough cuts of beef like shoulder clods or briskets become wonderfully-flavored tender roasts that carve and eat like a dream. Because the heat is managed by oven temp selection, you can set the oven for the desired end temp yet not overcook meats like poultry that have higher internal finish heats (180). For rare beef and for pork (140), use a good meat thermometer to monitor the internal temp to arrive at your desired finish temp. I slow roast all the time. It takes getting used to the longer cook time, so I mostly do it on weekends nowdays, then finish using the meats in other dishes weekdays: casseroles, enchiladas, omelettes, etc., or I freeze leftovers for later inspiration.

    Getting back to the corned beef (I've got one brining in the fridge now) the slower oven heat will keep the meat juicy and allow the fibers to slowly break down while you control the liquid temp. Stovetop, it is always a constant battle with the flame or element adjustment to keep the liquid just barely simmering, without going to a boil (boiling=toughness). I think crockpots are favored by some for corned beef and other meats because of their even heat control.

    Sorry if I've been wordy, but I hope this helps. Can't you just taste that corned beef hash already?

    3 Replies
    1. re: toodie jane

      I agree with the oven idea...makes for much smoother and even heat. But what about the cabbage, carrots, taters, etc...? when to put them in?

      1. re: northOFboston

        I'd put them in about 15-20 min from "end"--which is when?!
        just have to test the meat for tenderness; another 20 minutes won't hurt it when it gets to where you want it. Also depends on the size of your veggies--I don't like huge chunks, so they cook fairly fast. Carrots take the longest so I split them down the middle instead of in coins.

        1. re: northOFboston

          We used this method Friday and it came out great! The follow-up post gave directions for adding the veggies.


      2. I think I'm married to the stovetop method, at least this time around. Even with my electric stove I have good results getting an even and constant temperature in the pot. For this cut I would shoot for a bare simmer, just a little bubble or two every several seconds.

        I just came across a note in an old cookbook of mine that suggests around four hours for a 5 1/2 lb brisket, which was probably a flat cut. So, maybe 4-5 hrs for a whole, 8-lbs-or-so brisket? Why would the conventional wisdom of 2-3 hrs be so far off, do most people "simmer" at a gently rolling boil or something?

        1. About four hours.

          1. I usually just cook till a fork pierces through easily, and of course this will vary greatly with the size of the brisket, so I don't think you can just say 3 hours or 4 hours. And you just have to keep testing periodically, rather than rely on the clock. I don't cook the veggies till I've removed the meat (which happily waits, covered by foil to stay warm), because they have more room and I can see what I'm doing. But I think the quality of the meat may be an issue. I cooked a corned beef tonite (a belated St. Patrick's Day attempt). The supermarket had sold out of Boar's Head, my usual brand, so I picked up a Reddi-something or other and cooked per the usual top of the stove style. It was stringy, rubbery, highly salted and just plain foul. I could tell as soon as I started to slice it that it was bad--the texture just seemed wrong, and it was a somewhat alarmingly bright pink. Never had this problem with Boars Head (or with another brand I've occasionally bought--something with an "F"?). I never understand how poor products like this manage to stay on the market, or why a store would carry multiple brands of an item like corned beef when one is obviously superior, especially when the price difference is not that great. I mean, who would willingly buy poor quality to save a couple of bucks?

            1 Reply
            1. re: MommaJ

              I've gotten around that problem by getting a brisket and brining it at home. Five days and a bigass ziploc baggie get the job done better than any store-bought. Next year I might go for six or seven days to get it saltier but maybe not. You don't need to weight it down with bricks or any of that bs either. The recipe is easy to find using google or searching this site. This year I used a whole brisket from a fancy butcher but I've used flat-cuts before and that works fine too. The difference is huge compared to store-bought, a subtler flavor and especially a vastly superior texture.

              I think that the reason that poor quality dominates the market for corned beef is that it's amateur night. Most people who cook corned beef do it once a year and it may be as close as they get to real cooking all year, like a Thanksgiving turkey, so they don't know what's good.

              I used a thin bamboo skewer instead of a fork and a whole 8-lb brisket took four hours or maybe four and a half.

              And yes it's a good idea to park the meat while you cook the veggies. Next time I think I will cook each vegetable separately to make sure they are all perfect -- dumping the onions in with the potatoes with the carrots with the turnips with the parsnips just doesn't let you focus on perfection for each vegetable, and cooking them in that broth is really an opportunity to achieve perfection.