Cooking Corned Beef Safely for St. Patrick’s Day?

So you’re thinking of making corned beef and cabbage for dinner on St. Patrick’s Day but not sure how to do it safely, right? You’re not alone. Every year the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline receives lots of questions this time of year about the safe handling, storage and preparation of corned beef.

What does “corned beef” mean?

Corning a piece of meat is just another name for curing. Before the invention of refrigerators, beef was dry cured in pellets of salt that looked like kernels of corn. Hence the name… Corned Beef.

Today, brining has replaced the dry salt cure, but the name “corned beef” is still used, rather than “brined” or “pickled” beef.

When you go shopping for corned beef, you may notice there are “use-by” and “sell-by dates” labeled on the packaging.

Buying uncooked corned beef brisket with the pickling (curing) spices could be dated two ways. The “sell-by” date is a guide for the store, to make sure they rotate their stock. For those of us at home, it means we have 3-5 days to cook or freeze the beef from the time of purchase.  Products with a “use-by” date can be stored unopened in the refrigerator (40 °F or less) until that date. It is safe to freeze the meat within 3-5 days, or the “use-by” date. If you need to freeze the uncooked beef, be sure to remove the pickling (curing) spices from the packaging first. For best quality, the uncooked beef can remain in the freezer (at or near zero °F) up to one month.

Cooking Corned Beef

Corned beef is made from one of several less tender cuts of beef like the brisket, rump or round. Therefore, it requires long, moist cooking. Keep food safety in mind when preparing corned beef. It can be cooked on top of the stove or in the oven, microwave, slow cooker, or in an oven-cooking bag. Refer to USDA’s Corned Beef Food Safety Fact Sheet for cooking procedures.

After cooking, the meat might still have a pink color, not because it’s undercooked, but because the nitrites used in the curing process influences the pigment in the meat and affects color. That’s why it is so important to use the food thermometer to ensure the meat reaches 145 °F with a 3 minute rest time.

You may want to allow the brisket to stand for about 20 minutes after removing from the heat. This will make it easier to slice, and it is best sliced diagonally across the grain of the meat.

You can prepare the beef a day ahead and slice when cold, this allows for more uniform cuts, and easier to reheat when it’s covered in a shallow pan.

Refrigerate your whole roast or any leftovers within two hours of cooking, and they can remain in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to three months.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!