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.
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.
- 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.|