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How to Make Corned Beef and Cabbage

Updated February 28, 2017
Slow-Cooked Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner
Learn how to cook the popular St. Patrick’s Day dinner with our no-fail recipes and kitchen tips.

What Is Corned Beef and Cabbage?

Shamrocks, leprechauns and pints of green beer are just a few examples of what Americans consider synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day. Among the traditions is corned beef and cabbage; a dish served in many U.S. households on March 17. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a table in Ireland serving corned beef and cabbage on St. Paddy’s Day. Believe it or not, it’s actually an American tradition. To understand why, let’s head back a couple hundred years.

The History of Corned Beef and Cabbage

Though corned beef’s production roots can be traced back to Ireland, the Irish were rarely the ones eating corned beef. During the 17th century, most people living in Ireland weren’t wealthy enough to afford beef. Pork was cheaper, and thus Irish bacon and potatoes was the more popular meal in lower-class family homes. Instead of eating corned beef, the Irish were exporting it to the English, who coined the term “corned beef” to describe the size of the salt crystals used to cure the meat, which were roughly the size of corn kernels. In a time before refrigerators, corning the beef kept it from spoiling on the long journey to England. With plenty of cattle and high-quality, inexpensive salt, Ireland produced the best corned beef on the market.

So how did corned beef become a dish associated with St. Patrick’s Day in America? It can be traced back to the influx of Irish immigrants in the early 20th century. Beef was much cheaper in the United States, and therefore an affordable dinner option for the lower class. However, the corned beef consumed in America was a little different than what the Irish had produced. Irish-Americans lived in close proximity to many pockets of Jewish communities in New York City who also made corned beef, almost exclusively from brisket. What present-day Americans know as classic corned beef and cabbage is a blend of the traditions from the two cultures: a cut of salted brisket boiled in a pot with cabbage and potatoes.

As the Irish continued to settle in the United States, they used St. Patrick’s Day as less of a religious holiday and more as a time to celebrate their heritage. And the meal that soon became associated with this celebration was—you guessed it—corned beef and cabbage.

How to Corn Beef

“Corning” is a form of curing, and as mentioned above, has nothing to do with corn. Dry-curing meat with large salt crystals was popular during the 17th century because it kept the meat from spoiling on long trips. Today, in the age of refrigeration, brining beef has largely replaced the dry salt cure. Brining meat is simple, but does take some advanced planning—typically, you should refrigerate the beef in the brine (which is simply salted water with seasonings) for up to five days before cooking. Luckily, most butchers sell corned beef that’s ready-to-cook, which means no extra brining work on your part.

Different Methods for Making Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned beef is typically made from brisket, which is not a naturally tender cut of meat. Because of this, the most popular methods for making corned beef and cabbage dishes involve long cooking times, whether it be in the slow cooker, on the stove or in the oven.

Method 1: In the Slow Cooker

Making corned beef and cabbage in the slow cooker is a popular method for making corned beef and cabbage—and it’s also the easiest. Most recipes call for vegetables and some liquid like broth, water or even apple juice to be combined with brisket and cooked on low for up to 12 hours. Cabbage wedges are usually added in the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Method 2: On the Stovetop

Boiling corned beef and cabbage on the stovetop is similar to cooking it in the slow cooker. Most recipes call for the beef to be submerged in cold water in a large stockpot along with onion, herbs and various veggies and then simmered on low for a few hours. Cabbage is added later and cooked for an additional few hours.

Method 3: In the Oven

A less traditional method for cooking corned beef is in the oven. Most recipes call for long cooking times—usually around an hour per pound of beef—with the beef covered in some water in a covered roasting pan with some seasonings. Cook the cabbage and veggies later, roasting about 20 minutes before serving.

How to Make Corned Beef and Cabbage

The easiest way to make corned beef and cabbage is in the slow cooker—all it takes is a little bit of prep work, and the crock does the rest.

What you need:

  • 1 5 to 6 1/2-quart slow cooker 
  • 1 small bowl 
  • 1 slotted spoon


  • 2 lb. small red potatoes 
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh baby carrots 
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 8 wedges 
  • 1 (2 to 2 1/2-lb.) corned beef brisket with seasoning packet 
  • 2 cups apple juice 
  • Water 
  • 8 thin wedges cabbage 
  • ½ cup sour cream 
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise 
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish 
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Place potatoes, carrots and onion in 5 to 6 1/2-quart slow cooker. Top with corned beef brisket and sprinkle with contents of seasoning packet. Add apple juice and enough water to just cover the brisket.

Potatoes, Carrots, onions, corned beef brisket in a slow cooker.

Cover and cook on a low setting for 10 to 12 hours. About 40 minutes before serving, remove beef from slow cooker, place on a serving platter and cover to keep warm. Add cabbage wedges to vegetables and broth in slow cooker. Increase heat setting to high; cover and cook an additional 30 to 35 minutes or until cabbage is crisp-tender.

Add cabbage wedges to vegetables and broth in slow cooker.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine all horseradish sauce ingredients; mix well.

Combine horseradish, sour cream, mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl.

To serve, cut corned beef across grain into thin slices. With slotted spoon, remove vegetables from slow cooker. Serve corned beef and vegetables with sauce.

Sliced corn beef brisket.

Expert tip: When you’re at the grocery store shopping for cabbage, look for heads with shiny, crisp leaves. Avoid cabbage with wilted or bruised leaves.

Slow-Cooked Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner

What to Serve with Corned Beef and Cabbage

The great thing about corned beef and cabbage recipes are that most call for corned beef and a variety of veggies, making your meal almost complete. If you’re hosting a St. Patrick’s Day dinner though, pull out all the stops and pair your main course with themed drinks, sides and desserts.

Soda Bread: This quick bread is often served with corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and is incredibly easy. Soda bread uses baking soda instead of yeast as the leavening agent. Our friends at Betty Crocker have a great Irish soda bread recipe that’s ready in less than an hour.

Green Beer: Though bright green pale ales aren’t traditionally Irish, these days, the more green on St. Patrick’s day, the more fun. Skip spending money at the bar and make green beer yourself!

Festive Desserts: Finish off your St. Paddy’s Day meal with a tasty treat—we love a generous slice of grasshopper cheesecake or a shamrock-shaped cookie!

Different Dishes to Make with Corned Beef and Cabbage

Don’t chuck those leftovers. There are a bunch of dishes that call for cooked corned beef—Reuben sandwiches are just the beginning. Put a twist on pot pie, whip up a Reuben dip for a party or stuff corned beef and cheese into a biscuit.

How to Store Leftover Corned Beef and Cabbage

According to the USDA, after cooking, you can store any leftover corned beef and cabbage for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. You can also freeze the cooked corned beef for 2 to 3 months.

Plan for St. Patrick’s Day and every other holiday during the year with our easy, crowd-pleasing recipes. Next up: Easter!