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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.


                      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.

                    3. I disagree with those who say it must be cut thin. I often cook it and then make half inch cubes to use in a casserole. Those cubes are very tender, and they are not cut thin or in any special way. The only real trick is to not eat all the cubes as I cut them.

                      It will definitely seem like shoe leather before it it cooked. I do my by boiling/simmering on the stove top. First it sort of plumps itself up and seems tough, but after a long while, if you stick a fork in and twist, the strands of the grain just fall apart. Don't be surprised if you thought you started with a lot of meat and the resulting usable food is not that much. Often with a point cut there are large streaks of fat, which I don't like to eat. The point cut is yummy though. I just cut around that to make my cubes. The flat cut is drier.

                      1. How much liquid was in the crockpot with the brisket? I always do corned beef in the crockpot, but I've found that it needs to be almost submerged with liquid or it doesn't break down and get "tender". I cook it on the low setting, too.

                        1. I use various brands of corned beef and a slow cooker all the time, and it comes out great. My slow cooker has a high setting and a low setting, and will hold the food at serving termperature (warm) until we are ready to eat it. I think the poster that pointed out that your cooker might not have been hot enough is probably right. Now, believe me, it does cook more slowly because even the high setting is probably cooler than a simmer on the stovetop, so you are looking at least at six hours at the high temperature.

                          If you have any doubts, just cook it the rest old fashioned way in a pot on the stove. I have had to cook some of them up to 3 1/2 to 4 hours before they became tender. Oven cooking is also a possibility with a good Dutch oven, but the stove seems to be able to get hot enough, long enough in order to break down the toughest cuts of all.

                          1. I think you might have the same slow cooker as me. Last year, I tried the same thing and after over 14 hours of cooking, the meat was still tough. I ended up transferring it all into a large stock pot and boiling it some more. That worked, the meat did become tender. My (and probably your) crock pot just didn't get hot enough, which may have been a result of too much water in the crock pot to efficiently heat.

                            1. Based on this recipe, I think OP should have cooked on medium with a bit more liquid.

                              1. Besides Ora and Chefchicklet, does anyone else bake their corn beef? I bought two briskets. Both gray but one of them is Angus beef. I wanted to cook them together to see if there was a difference in taste. I was looking for a recipe to bake corn beef on the internet but only found recipes where you boiled the meat first and then baked it.

                                Ora, do you add liquid and do you wrap in foil? Add spices?

                                Also, I have been marinating them with mustard, brown sugar and garlic for several days. I hope that doesn't have a negative effect. It's just finding 3.5 hours to cook it. Each brisket is 2.5lbs. Do you think 3.5 hours in total cooking is the right amount of time?


                                3 Replies
                                1. re: bearzie

                                  I've done a 2 step process...braise low and then finish in a medium hot oven. This is my favorite method as it adds a bit of flavor complexity and another texture to the meat.

                                  1. re: bearzie

                                    I do it either on the grill or in the oven. In theoven, I braise in liquid, usually a mix of beef stock and tomato juice, with a bunch of sliced onions, some bay leaves, a couple of allspice berries and some mustard seeds. salt pepper and garlic as well. Cover tightly with heaavy foil and cook at 275 for 3 hrs. then remove foil, spread a mixture of 1/4 c. tomato paste, 2 tbsps brown sugar, 2 tbsp black soy sauce, 1/4 c. sherry, 2 tbsp. frozen OJ concentrate, and a tsp. of powdered ginger, and 3 tbsp. of dijon or whole grain mustard.all mixed up till smooth and spread over sliced onions on top of the brisket. turn oven up to 500 and cook for 15-20 minutes until the sauce crusts and starts to turn almost black. remove form the oven and let sit for 15 minutes then slice across grain thinly. It should melt in youtr mouth.

                                    1. re: bearzie

                                      bearzie---I bake it covered witih foil, so steam creates liquid for moisture and sometimes I cook in a low oven 300 or 325 depending on how much time I have. In the last 20 min, I glaze it with a spiced pineapple juice reduction --like a ham really. For serving I cut up in slices (not too thin) and spoon the pineapple glaze over the pieces. It is delicious. My Mom created this dish years again.

                                    2. I found this information that should help:

                                      This may come as a surprise, but what is likely happening is that you are overcooking the meat. We tend to think that if you stew meat, the longer it cooks, the more tender and juicy it gets. In fact, this works only up to a point

                                      Read more at KitchenSavvy: KitchenSavvy: Meat Dries Out in Slow Cooker http://www.kitchensavvy.com/journal/2...

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: green_sleeves

                                        That blog entry is completely wrong. 175F is the worst possible temperature you could aim for and virtually guarantees tough, dried out meat. That is the point at which any meat is at its worst. Once it passes 190 or so it loosens up again and begins to absorb the surrounding moisture, the collagen fully gelatinizes and it becomes fall apart tender.

                                        The OP here just didn't give it long enough. There is no physical process in which cooking meat too long can make it become tough, that cooking it longer won't fix.

                                        1. re: acgold7

                                          thanks for clarifying this. Makes sense. I was trying to find an answer for a friend who told me all her stews turn out terribly tough in her slowcooker. Now I don't know what to suggest. This is what she sent me:
                                          Whenever I use the slow cooker the meat comes out dry and tough.

                                          Things I have tried:

                                          Cooking on low longer - I have left it all day, still comes out dry and gross.

                                          More liquid, less liquid - more liquid seems to make it less tough, but more dry. Less liquid and it is just tough and dry.

                                          I brown the meat first.

                                          I have tried watching for when it looks cooked. Still comes out dry.

                                          1. re: green_sleeves

                                            Different slow cookers do cook at different temps. But my rule is ten hours on low or 5 hours on high. But it's also a good idea to make sure everything is hot when it goes in, i.e. brown meat, deglaze pan and pour in boiling liquid to cover, etc. But this may not always be possible or practical.

                                            Another problem may be the choice of meat. Chuck and point cut Brisket are moist and juicy. Round and flat cut Brisket are more likely to come out dry, tough and livery.

                                            1. re: acgold7

                                              Yes I know! I have three different sizes of them. My 'newest' one is a small 3 litre oval Rival- and has a hot spot. If it isn't filled to close to the top I can see that spot bubbling away LOL.
                                              I wish when friends ask for help that they give more information. We are not mind readers and it is like squeezing a rock 6 times to figure out what is going on.
                                              I was stumped as I consider myself a fairly accomplished cook (but your information taught me something) because tough meat in a slow cooker is a problem I have never experienced.
                                              Thanks for helping! :o)
                                              You must be from the States? I'm in Canada and we don't have cuts called flat cut brisket!
                                              I will find out what size she is using and what cuts, size she uses and what she is putting in her liquids. I've done pulled pork roasts with not much sauce and it never fails to fall apart.
                                              I will past on your rules and see if this cook hasn't thrown in the towel and is willing to try again. I know it gets expensive having to toss out meat.

                                              1. re: green_sleeves

                                                The flat cut of the brisket is sometimes called the first cut. It is easy to identify because it is indeed flat. It is usually about two inches or so thick but up to ten or twelve inches wide, with a cap of fat on top but little marbling.

                                                The point cut is the thicker end of a whole brisket. It is composed of two different muscles with a large amount of fat and collagen within and between them. It is tastier and cheaper, but sometimes harder to find. I much prefer it if I can get it.

                                                Beef Round is almost always dry and nasty and livery unless cooked very rare, usually roasted low and slow, not braised.

                                                Beef Chuck (Shoulder) is a great choice for the crockpot.

                                                1. re: acgold7

                                                  Thanks for the explanation! I know the cheaper cuts (not all of them as you've pointed out) are best cooked long and slow. I agree, some beef rounds are dog food LOL. Up here we have top round (decent oven roast if done rare) bottom round is always braised or tossed in the slow cooker. For all the bother I'd rather roast proper cuts in the oven and the better tough cuts for all day slow cooking.
                                                  You've been a great help! Thanks and enjoy the rest of your weekend! :o)