Prepare Make-ahead Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage a day in advance to ensure tender, juicy corned beef!
Make-ahead Crockpot corned beef & cabbage: not Irish, but it's all good
Saint Patrick's Day is here, and my family always celebrates with crockpot corned beef and cabbage, the Irish-American classic.
Yes, corned beef and cabbage is technically Irish-American, not Irish per se. In Ireland, the locals didn't have access to beef—apparently that more expensive meat got shipped off to England back in the day.
So if you want a more authentically Irish dish, you'd be better off making lamb. For example, my Make-Ahead Irish Guinness Lamb Stew or this wonderful Guinness-Colcannon Shepherd's Pie.
In much the same way, St. Patrick's Day celebrations in the United States—with their green beer, green rivers, green everything—are nothing like the celebrations in Ireland.
But, like many families in the U.S.—with or without roots to the old country—corned beef and cabbage is the dish that Phil and I have been eating since childhood to celebrate the holiday. So that's the tradition we keep.
Another familiar moniker for crockpot corned beef and cabbage is New England Boiled Dinner. This name is a bit more illuminating as far as the roots of the dish.
Whatever you prefer to call it, crockpot corned beef and cabbage is just about the easiest slow-cooker-and-go recipe around.
I use the pre-packaged brisket strategy, seasoning packet and all. These briskets are pre-brined to stay hydrated and tender during the long cooking process.
Are you still deciding what to have for Easter dinner? If so, check out my best Easter Recipes (that aren't ham!).
Preparing make-ahead corned beef & cabbage
For the most part, make-ahead crockpot corned beef & cabbage method is more of a braise, since the meat sits up on top of the veggies and only has the lower ⅓-½ in the broth.
While it's cooking, you continually baste the meat by the juices that condense on the lid of the slow-cooker and drip back down on the meat. To me, the result is more flavorful and tender.
I find that Guinness makes a darned fine braising liquid for this corned beef and cabbage recipe. This is especially true for a good Irish-inspired meal.
Don't worry, it won't taste like alcohol. The meat will put out quite a bit of juice on its own and the alcohol will almost completely cook off.
If you're concerned, use beef broth instead. For veggies, I use a bag of baby carrots, some red or yellow new potatoes, and an onion.
Why is my corned beef tough after 8 hours in the crockpot?
If you've ever made slow-cooker corned beef & cabbage, you know that the meat can come out tough.
It's not your fault! Beef brisket is a one of those strange, formerly cheap cuts of meat that—even if you low-and-slow it for 8 hours—is still likely to come out tough.
Why? Brisket is a cut that is chock-full of collagen, a protein found in large amounts in connective tissue, particularly in muscle.
In order for meat to be tender, the collagen has to melt. And in order for the collagen to melt, the meat has to be heated to a certain temperature over a certain period of time.
Melted collagen turns into luscious gelatin, which not only makes the corned beef incredibly succulent, but also enhances its flavor.
I have made a version of this crockpot corned beef & cabbage recipe for many, many years. For a number of those years, my corned beef came out at approximately the consistency of shoe leather.
This is when I made the realization that 8 hours of low and slow isn't enough. In fact, if I returned my shoe leather to the pot and cooked another 4 or so hours, the result was almost always fantastic.
So at least the SECOND meal of crockpot corned beef & cabbage was awesome—not to mention the to-die-for Reuben Sandwiches later on.
As a result of this revelation, I have begun making a make-ahead crockpot corned beef & cabbage the day before.
I put the corned beef in the slow-cooker around 8 in the morning and let it go until 8 at night (removing the potatoes and carrots at 5 or 6), followed by a simple reheat on the stovetop the next day.
You may know from elsewhere on this site that I'm a big fan of making sauces and stews the day before anyway. Doing this gives the flavors a chance to deepen and meld.
Make-ahead Crockpot corned beef & cabbage: about the veggies
Another result of crockpot corned beef & cabbage badness is mushy vegetables.
My preference is to keep the corned beef vegetables separate.
The safest strategy for the carrots, onions, and potatoes is to par-cook them (for example, steaming for 6-8 minutes until you can pierce them with a paring knife, but they're still somewhat firm).
Then add them to the slow-cooker with the cabbage for the final hour on high.
But I totally get it if you don't have the time or energy to futz with the vegetables that much. You can absolutely add the potatoes, carrots, and onion—but don't you dare add the cabbage!—at the beginning.
The onion will dissolve away into nothing. That's not a big issue to me, since its main function is to flavor the meat and broth.
8 hours is likely enough to cook the potatoes and carrots (so in my 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. scenario, I would check the veggies at 6 p.m. and take them out if they're done).
For the cabbage, I use a half of a large head (save the rest for stir-fry!) and cut it into wedges lengthwise, with the core still attached.
This keeps the leaves together.
So in the run-up to the final hour of cooking, I remove the potatoes and carrots, put the meat in the bottom of the slow-cooker so it's submerged in the juice, arrange the cabbage around it, and turn the slow-cooker to high.
Cooked this way, the cabbage retains some of its texture and color rather than turning into nasty, greyish-green mush.
Make-ahead Crockpot corned beef & cabbage: the key to juicy, tender meat
After this final hour, I let the make-ahead crockpot corned beef & cabbage cool down slightly before putting them in the refrigerator.
Remember that collagen I mentioned before? By now, it should all be melted. Putting the meat in the refrigerator gives the resulting gelatin a chance to redistribute and set up throughout the meat—a huge flavor boost, not to mention that the meat will be tender and succulent as a result.
The next day, I simply add all of the crockpot corned beef & cabbage ingredients to a Dutch oven and reheat over medium-low.
When the corned beef is warmed through, I let the meat rest about 10 minutes before slicing into it.
Serving your corned beef & vegetables
About slicing. It's important to slice it against the grain.
If you slice with the grain, you're practically guaranteed stringy, tough shoe leather.
As you probably know, "the grain" refers to the orientation of the muscle fibers.
"With the grain" means that you're cutting the meat along the length of the muscle fibers so that they stay intact and give you that nasty, tough, stringy texture.
"Across the grain," on the other hand, means that you're cutting those muscle fibers up, which results in tender meat.
I also like to slice the meat thinly, which will take care of any stubborn toughness.
After slicing, I arrange the meat on a platter with the drained veggies and serve with Dijon mustard.
Obviously, I like a ton of vegetables and just a few slices of corned beef.
My motives are two-fold: first, it's healthy, and second, I have more leftovers for Reuben Sandwiches. SCORE.
Sure, make-ahead crockpot corned beef is a bit more work than your standard recipe for slow-cooker corned beef with cabbage, potatoes, onions and carrots.
But it's totally worth it—and since you spread the cooking across two days, it's very do-able.
You can always choose to follow the standard 8 hours of low-and-slow: your results will still be delicious. Just remember that if the meat comes out tough, it needs more cook time.
Suffer through a few thin slices of the meat, but put the rest back in the pot and cook it a couple more hours.
I'm linking my make-ahead crockpot corned beef & cabbage recipe up with:
- #CookBlogShare , a great food blogger recipe-share at Easy Peasy Foodie.
- #CookOnceEatTwice, for recipes that are just as good left-over as they are when you made them, hosted by Searching for Spice.
- Delicious Dishes Recipe Party, hosted by Walking on Sunshine Recipes.
- #RecipeOfTheWeek hosted by A Mummy Too.
- #BrillBlogPosts, a link party with a variety of lifestyle reads hosted by Honest Mum.
Make-ahead Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage
I have been eating roughly this same meal every St. Paddy's Day for practically my entire life. I can't complain: this make-ahead crockpot corned beef & cabbage is my easiest slow-cooker meal.
- 1 lb red potatoes,, quartered
- 1 lb baby carrots
- 1 large onion,, quartered
- 3-3.5 lb. corned beef brisket,, with spice packet*
- 6 whole peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 14.5- oz Guinness stout, (in a can)
- ½ large head cabbage,, cut into wedges with the core still attached
- Salt and pepper,, to taste
- Rinse the brisket well under cold water and pat dry with paper toweling. I always cut off most of the fat cap, but I leave that up to you.
- Place the potatoes, carrots, and onion in the bottom of a 6-qt. slow-cooker. Add the brisket, fat side up. Pour the Guinness around the beef and sprinkle with seasonings. Add the bay leaves and peppercorns.
- Lid the slow-cooker and set on low for a minimum of 10 hours and up to 12.
- After 8 hours, check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. Check the potatoes and carrots: remove if done. Cool and refrigerate overnight.
- During the last hour of cooking, add the cabbage and change slow-cooker setting to high. After an hour, remove the meat, cabbage, and juices. Remove any peppercorn or bay leaf cling-ons and discard. Cool and refrigerate overnight. Combine all vegetables, juices, and meat in a large Dutch oven and reheat on medium low. Remove meat when heated through and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly against the grain and serve with carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and a dollop of Dijon mustard. Enjoy!
*If no spice packet is included, use 2 tsp. corned beef seasoning
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g
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|Reuben Sandwiches: these delicious, decadent sandwiches are mandatory in the Frank house after St. Paddy's Day. Perfectly melty and delicious, with dressing served on the side.|
Straight from the fridge, how long should I allow for heating everything on serving day?
Phil F says
I would plan an hour. Slowly simmer everything until you get an internal meat temperature of 140º F.
Kim B. says
This sounds delicious and I’m planning to make it tomorrow. I have one question though. When you refrigerate the meat, juices, and vegetables overnight - do you keep them all together or separate them and then recombine the next day? Thanks in advance for your help.
Hi, Kim! Thanks for the question. You can keep everything together—I'm all for dirtying fewer dishes. Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Michelle, this looks tasty! These are absolutely mouth watering! It will quickly disappear in our house, very tasty and flavorful!
Thank you so much, Olga!!
Michelle, it’s awesome! I cannot wait to try this. I’ll have to try this out sometime soon. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much, Alyssa! I hope you love it.
I never remembered being especially fond of corned beef as a kid. I thought it was fatty, stringy, a bit tough at times, and had mushy vegetables. That said, I just had to give this a try. First off, there was almost zero prep work and cooks while you’re at work. Solid win there. I did decide to cut off most of the fat. When I removed the meat from the slow cooker, it was fall-apart tender. I also followed directions for the veggies and they were nicely cooked and NOT mushy. The resulting meal was very good. So much flavor! I’m especially happy about this recipe since it’s a gateway to one of my favorite sandwiches (the reuben). That’s next on my list. Thank you!
Fantastic, Deb! I’m so happy that it worked out so well for you. I bet the second meal was even better than the first one, right? ? Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!
Monika Dabrowski says
This is such a great weekend dish, you can make a big batch on Friday and not worry about cooking until Monday! This dish sounds really yummy Michelle:) have a good weekend!
Thanks, Monika! I agree: I love making it and then having an easy dinner for the next few nights. 🙂
Eb Gargano | Easy Peasy Foodie says
I find it fascinating that St Patrick's Day is such a big thing in the US. It's definitely more of a thing in the US than it is here in Britain (unless you are actually Irish that is!!) But even then a lot of people I know who do have Irish roots (like Mr G for example) still don't celebrate it at all. The pubs generally use it as an excuse to entice customers in with discounts on Guinness, but that's about it. Mind you it's better than St George's Day (the English version) which is even less celebrated. I wish we did...but us English are really not all that patriotic (which is a shame) I think it's because we are not sure what exactly our country is...are we English? British? UKish? (The Scots, Irish and Welsh obviously have no such problem in celebrating their national days or being patriotic, but then they have no similar dilemma!) . Anyways, I digress - excuse the ramble!! Your dish looks lovely and a great way to celebrate. I love your tip about cooking it even longer and of course you are so right about things tasting even better then next day! Thanks for linking up to #CookBlogShare 😀 Eb x
This is so funny, Eb! I hadn't thought about an English identity crisis: "UKish" made me LOL! Here in the US, St. Paddy's Day is a celebratory melting pot: EVERYONE seems to celebrate it, Irish or not! Thanks so much for your kind comments on the corned beef and cabbage! 🙂
mummy here and there says
That sounds a lovely and comforting meal X #brilliantblogposts
Thank you! It really is. St. Paddy's Day is always a very cold celebration here, so it's nice to have this steaming hot meal waiting!
Great recipe for a special occasion - love that it can be made ahead
Thanks, Mandy! 🙂
Corina Blum says
I've never had this type of corned beef but it looks so tasty and really tender. It is something I'd like to try one day. Thank you so much for sharing with #CookOnceEatTwice!
Thanks so much, Corina! The hubster and I just love it. We do it a few times a year: the meal is really budget-friendly since you get so much out of it. 🙂
Platter Talk says
I love conned beef and cabbage! This recipe is wonderfully easy and tasty.
Luci's Morsels says
This looks like the perfect corned beef and cabbage recipe and so simple too! I am definitely taking note for Friday. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks, Luci! I hope you love it!
Patricia @ Grab a Plate says
What a great tradition for the celebration! And nothing "green" in sight 🙂 Bet the leftovers will be amazing, but I'm a leftovers kind of gal!
Thanks, Patricia! I am also a big fan of leftovers: for corned beef, it's almost mandatory that SOME goes into Reuben Sandwiches! (I'll post THAT recipe tomorrow, heh heh)
Hi Michelle, I always had trouble preparing corned beef and stopped serving it at home, will give it a go and try your method, makes a lot of sense.
Thank you! I hope it turns out really well for you! ????
One of my clients who is from Ireland asked me what Americans fascination with corned beef was all about and suggested I eat Canadian bacon instead of corned beef. ha! I still love it, especially if it's cooked in a crock pot and I don't really have to do anything. 🙂
LOL, Rae!! Too funny. 🙂
I've never attempted to cook corned beef. Your photos are uber-tantalizing! So much good explanations and tips in this article, too, that I think I can do it!
Thank you, Amanda! I just updated this post with new photos and more explanation (the old photos were the opposite of tantalizing!). 🙂
[email protected] says
I love the flavor that Guinness adds to so many dishes and I love that this is made in the crockpot. Can't wait to try this.
Thanks, Janette! I agree: Guinness is divine. For drinking too! 😉
Oh what delicious flavors! Now I can't wait for St. Patrick's Day!
Thank you, Valentina! Me either! 😉
I make a pot roast braised in Guinness and it is SO good. I've not made corned beef at home (though I enjoy ordering it out on a Reuben). I'll have to try this!
Thanks, Jill! It's worth it just for the Reubens to use up the leftovers!
Mmm I love this idea, looks so yum!
lindsay Cotter says
My husband is part Irish. This is so going on our menu SOON!! We love crock pot recipes too
lindsay Cotter says
p.s how did i know not traditional corn beef is not irish?? GASP!
HAHA, Lindsay! I thought the same thing when I learned it. Thanks for stopping by!