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Corned Beef Novice...why so tough?

I made corned beef tonight, and it was completely inedible! This sparked debate in the house about following package directions. I did not follow directions, which called for simmering the beef in water for 60min per pound. As this was a 2.5 pound piece, the directions would have me simmer for 2hr 30min.

OK. I work outside the home, so I put the beef in a slow cooker (on low) at 8:30 in the morning, and took it out at 5pm. It cooked MUCH longer than the package directions suggested, but I figured that it would just get really, really tender with the extra time in the cooker. Obviously wrong. This corned beef was throw-it-out-tough. Throw it out we did.

What happened to my corned beef? (I need help, because I bought extra packages, as they were 'buy one, get one' at the store)

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  1. Wow, I don't have an answer for you, but I cooked a corned beef last night by simmering 3 hours, and it came out perfectly tender- cutting it with a fork tender!

    I would think a slow cooker would turn it into pudding practically... Who would have thought it would make it tough?

    1. Some slow cookers don't get to a high enough temperature to break down the connective tissue(250 degrees or higher) so the meat won't ever get tender. another thing to keep in mind is that the brisket needs to be sliced thin across the grain as it is a very fobrous cut and the fibers need to be cut. It should not be that tough if cooked right though.

      2 Replies
      1. re: chazzerking

        This thing was actually hard to chew - no matter how it was sliced! Was this perhaps a bad piece of beef?

        1. re: TokyoLane

          No, it wasn't cooked properly, as others here have pointed out. :)

          I usually make corned beef on the weekends, in a huge stock pot that I've filled with all sorts of additional flavours and spices, then I keep poking it to see when it's tender.

          Then I transfer it (carefully) to a board to rest, and slather it with a mustard concoction and toss it in the oven for just about 20 mins to make the mustard and fat crust up. Then I let it rest for 15 mins and slice it across the grain...oooo sooo good. :)

      2. More, in this case longer, is not always better. The long cook time in the CP is the obvious culprit. I suggest you cook your other Corned Beef Briskets per instructions on the week-end...Maybe cook on Saturday for Sunday dinner etc. Also as someone mentioned, you must sliced it across the grain of the meat. Thin is a plus!

        Good Luck and Enjoy!

        6 Replies
        1. re: Uncle Bob

          I disagree with Uncle Bob. I often make corned beef in a slow cooker--have done so for over 20 years-- and it turns out tender and tasty every time. I just throw in a can of beer and spices of choice (garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns, sometimes some hot pepper flakes) and let it do its thing. New potatoes and cabbage (the latter thrown in during the last hour of cooking) are great, easy sides that cook right in the pot.

          I don't have an answer for you, except that maybe you did get a bad piece of beef. But I wouldn't give up on this method of cooking corned beef.

          1. re: laurie

            Wonder if the beer might make a difference? Whenever I try cooking hot dogs or brats in beer, I noticed that the skin always splits- never does this in water. Does beer have some kind of tenderizing property?

            1. re: laurie

              Sadly, all crockpots are not created equal anymore...The biggest complaint about the new models is they cook to Hot! (See Jayt90's post below.) They will even boil. Boiled (not slowly simmered) beef will be tough. I have two older models that work fine. Although I don't use them anymore...I don't care for the flavor that comes out of a crockpot. I much prefer a dutch oven simmer on the stove. Then again, the CP may not have come up to temperature. Who knows? I'm glad you have success in yours however...

              Bon Appetit!!!

            2. re: Uncle Bob

              I'm guessing too long and too hot.
              The current models of slow cookers will heat up to a fast simmer in an hour or two, and yours went much longer. Several writers recommend a slow oven (270F) for two to three hours (see Ruhlman, or McGee, or Molly.)
              My deli friends say thick slices are fine, once you get it tender. Thin slices are for commercial roasts.

              1. re: jayt90

                I would guess not hot enough. According to the OP, the cooker was on 'low', which may only reach 170F or so (depending on the cooker, of course)...and that's not hot enough to break down the connective tissues. I think chazzerking had it right (way above).

                1. re: ricepad

                  My Rival comes to a boil on 'hold'.

                  Each crock pot should be tested with a thermometer.

            3. The brisket of beef (from which the corned or pickled) beef is made is notoriously tough. It is comprised of long, strong fibers that are held together by tissue that breaks down its adhesion. The fibers themselves remain cohesive.
              Thinly sliced across the grain (fibers) will yield small solids that don't require great maceration by the teeth. The fibers or grain remain solid unless the piece of meat is cooked long enough to break down the conective tissues (Collagen). Even long cooked corned beef breaks down into long (tough) fibers that remain solid, even when the individual fibers detach from each other. It can take 12 hours or more on a true barbeque to render an uncorned beef brisket truly tender

              1 Reply
              1. re: Phood

                I smoked a corned beef (as an experiment) this last summer that took around 9 hours to come out wonderfully tender, though really salty. I used it in recipes without adding any salt, and it was really good. :) It wasn't a huge cut, though. :)

              2. I love St. Patty 's Day and I've been doing corned beef in the oven for the past 15 years. I never really cared for the boiled version, braise/bake it for the day. I've never been disappointed and its tender, tasty. Overnight, marinate it first using a brown sugar, yellow mustard, garlic goop, and slather it all around add a half cup of water, and bake it with a bag of pickling spices, garlic, celery, and onion, cover with foil, then let it go at 325- 3.5hours (5lbs). After about 2.5 hours, add baby red potatoes, carrots, cabbage and more onion cover and continue. Slice across the grain, its wonderful! Serve with horseradish and favorite mustards.

                8 Replies
                1. re: chef chicklet

                  Like other cuts of meat, all cuts/brands of corned beef are not created equal. The point cut is generally the cheapest (and equates to the lowest quality or least tender). I prefer either the flat cut or eye round. If you can find Levonian (based in Troy, NY but distributed throughout the Northeast and maybe beyond).

                  Got Guiness ?

                  1. re: TonyO

                    Good point. Yes I buy the flat cut. And its more expensive, but still slow long cook for a good corned beef. And what do you do with the Guiness?

                    Which now I'm wondering, has anyone done a corned beef in the crockpot???

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      I do my corned beef brisket in the crock pot with Guinness. I will note that I have an older model, from the 1970's, crock pot.

                      GUINNESS CORNED BEEF BRISKET

                      4 lb. corned beef brisket
                      1 c. brown sugar
                      1 (12 fl. oz.) bottle of Guinness Stout

                      Rinse the beef completely, removing all spices, and pat dry. Place beef in a crock pot. Sprinkle brown sugar on top of beef and spread around. Pour Guinness Stout around beef and a little on top of the beef to wet the sugar.

                      Cook on Low 12 hours. Turn beef over and Cook on High 1 more hour. Remove beef from crock pot to cool. I let it rest 15 minutes.

                      I like to serve Colcannon with this recipe.

                      COLCANNON

                      2 1/2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cubed
                      4 slices bacon
                      1/2 sm. head cabbage, chopped OR 16 oz. package cole slaw mix
                      1 large onion, chopped
                      1/2 c. milk
                      salt and pepper, to taste (start with 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper)
                      4 Tblsp. butter

                      Place potatoes in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender.

                      Slice bacon into 1/4-inch slices and place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Scoop bacon out of the pan with a slotted spoon leaving the drippings in the pan. In the reserved drippings, saute the cabbage and onion until soft and translucent.

                      Drain the cooked potatoes, mash with milk, butter and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the bacon, cabbage, and onions, then transfer the mixture to a large serving bowl. Serve immediately.

                      NOTE: I've used both the 1/2 head of cabbage and the cole slaw mix. I prefer the cole slaw mix. Much easier to stir with the smaller cabbage pieces and I really liked the little bit of color the carrot gives the potatoes.

                      1. re: happyhomemaker

                        Hey! That looks pretty darn good, I'm going to try that. (not my St. Patty's day meal that would cause a big problem..) I think this sounds really good, I like the idea of the Colcannon too, thanks for the recipe!

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          You're very welcome. Enjoy.

                          My son was home from college this weekend and asked for St. Pat's dinner a week early. In fact, we just finished up dinner and he's back on the road to school. I used my mom's newer crock pot and it did cook faster. I changed things up a bit this year and bought two 4 lb. Broyle's corned beef briskets, I didn't rinse off the spices. I added everything in the bag with the corned beef to the crock pot. I then poured 2 bottles of Killian's Red beer and 1 bottle of Guinness Stout over the meat. I'm sure any beer would work. I cooked it on Low overnight for 10 1/2 hours. I took the meat out and let it sit for 15 min. before slicing. I cut up 1 small head of cabbage into wedges, a large bag of carrots, and cut up 2 onions into wedges and placed it all in the cooking liquid. I cooked the vegetables on High for 4 hours or until tender. I then sliced the meat and put it in the refrigerator until dinner. 30 minutes before dinner, I spooned several ladles of the juice over the meat and put it into a 300* oven for 35 minutes. It was equally as good as the recipe above, just not sweet. I still made the Colcannon.

                        2. re: happyhomemaker

                          no big deal, but I use some ham instead of the bacon. I could eat colcannon by the quart.

                          1. re: chrisinroch

                            Thanks for the tip. I'll have to try ham instead of bacon next time. That sounds very good.

                    2. re: chef chicklet

                      I don't like it boiled either. I bake it at 350 covered for 2.5-3 hrs. And, flat is best, if available.

                      Also true it the fact that every once in a while I get a not so great one that isn't as tender or too fatty when cut. But, I have never had one that was inedible.