The long and the short of it is “yes, you can.” But only if you’re armed with this knowledge and use these techniques.
Corned beef… what a resourceful way to take a lesser cut of beef—the big, tough, collagen-rich brisket—and turn it into a fork-tender meal for supper! (Home cooks on the British Isles often refer to corn beef as “salt beef.” The terms can be used interchangeably.)
A serving of corned beef makes for a delicious meal at any time of day, whether it’s eaten hot or cold. It’s moist and tender, and can be served as a standalone meal with mashed potatoes and parsley sauce or sliced thinly and eaten as a sandwich, layered between two pieces of bread lathered with mustard.
And yet, as delicious as corned beef is, it intimidates even the most seasoned of home cooks—and for a good reason. Unless you use the right amount of heat and cooking it to the correct internal temperature, brisket can overcook, and come out tough and chewy.
So, today, we will discuss the technique to prevent that. The question is, “Can corned beef can overcooked?”
Corned beef can be overcooked. Made from beef brisket, it shouldn’t be cooked at high heat or the meat will dry out and become tough. Instead, cook the corned beef low and slow, and remove it from the heat when it reaches an internal temperature of 200-210°F.
Let’s look at how to avoid overcooking this Irish classic, as well as what to do if you do left it on too high of a heat or cooked it for a little longer than what we recommend above.
How to Not Overcook Corned Beef
From simmering it in a large pot on the stove to baking it in the oven and placing it in the slow cooker, the number of ways to take a beef brisket and turn it into corned beef are limited only by the imagination of the cook.
Whichever you choose to prepare yours, the golden rule is to cook it slowly, over as gentle of a heat as you can.
The most reliable way to avoid overcooking corned beef is to keep checking the internal temperature of the brisket once you start to suspect that it’s close to being done. Remove it from the heat when it reaches 200-210°F and rest it for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving it.
Readers who know that beef should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F are probably wondering why corned beef should be cooked to an internal temperature this high.
The long answer short is that the collagen—the connective tissue that makes brisket tough in the first place—only begins to break down at a temperature of 190°F and above.
Since the internal temperature of the corned beef will continue to increase as it rests, the meat’s ending temperature will be around 215°F. (We will talk about this method in detail throughout this article.)
Moist-heat cooking methods, such as simmering in a pot, are the most popular. This is because they are easy on the cook and quite forgiving with such a tough piece of meat.
As long as the liquid simmers at a low heat, you should produce a successful corned beef. However, if the liquid boils, it will evaporate too quickly, and the higher heat that follows will stiffen the meat.
To prepare your meat for cooking, remove it from its brine. Next, rinse the corned beef under cool running water to remove the excess salt from the brine. Drain well, and repeat this rinsing process two or three times if you like. It all depends on how salty you like your salt beef, after all.
Be sure to use a pot big enough to completely submerge the entire cut of meat in liquid. Also, be sure to check the liquid level throughout the cooking process, adding more if and when necessary.
The beef will need to be cooked for 1 to 1½ hours per pound and will need about 10-15 minutes of resting to finish cooking and for the juices to settle after it’s been taken off the heat. Do not skip this step; doing so can ruin even the most skillfully prepared corned beef.
Other Methods to Cook Corned Beef
You can fire up your smoker and cook a smoked corned beef. As with moist cooking in the confines of your kitchen, a low temperature is essential when smoking beef brisket out in your yard.
Try to keep the temperature at between 225 to 250°F. If you have to speed up the cooking process, you can increase the temperature to 275°F. That said, the lower the heat, the gentler the cooking, and thus the more tender the meat.
The same heat guidelines apply if you decide to cook your beef in the oven.
Why Is My Corned Beef Tough?
Corned beef is made from the brisket, a piece of meat that’s cut from the lower pectoral region of the cow. This area gets a lot of exercise, which contributes to it being a generally tough cut of meat compared to other cuts.
The slow cooking process breaks down the collagen. Anything other than slow cooking will probably result in a chewy piece of meat. We have also established that you may overcook the meat if the temperature is too high, as it causes the proteins in the muscles to stiffen.
But even if your temperature is low—and you cook the beef slowly—you may still land up with an overcooked piece of meat if you cook it for far too long. This is why the internal temperature method that we mentioned earlier is a great way to know when to take the meat off the heat.
Take note, though: the internal temperature may stall at around 145-150°F for quite some time, and it may stall again at a higher temperature. This is absolutely normal; do not panic and crank up the heat.
How to Tell if the Corned Beef Is Done
Other than the temperature test, you can use a fork to test if your corned beef is more or less done. This method is significantly less accurate than when using a meat thermometer, and you can misread the level of doneness of the meat.
But when it’s the only method available to you, what choice do you really have?
Stick a fork into one of the edges to see if the fibers come apart easily. If they do, your beef is ready. If not, give it another 15-20 minutes and repeat the test. Continue doing this until the meat is done.
The trick is to only start doing this when you are 90% sure that the meat is done. And to only poke the meat now and then. Poking it too often can cause a good amount of the juices to flow out, so your corned beef can turn out drier than expected.
Can You Salvage Overcooked Corned Beef?
The good news is that you can usually save an overcooked corned beef by reheating it with a moist-heat method.
Preheat the oven to 250°F for 10-15 minutes.
Place the sliced beef in a roasting pan with a bit of liquid, whether that’s beef stock, water, or a light beer.
Cover tightly with foil and then put the pan in the oven for about 20 to 30 minutes. The moisture should rehydrate the meat, and you should be able to enjoy your corned beef dinner.
If it is really too tough to enjoy, you can use it as an ingredient in another dish, such as a corned beef hash.
What is Corned Beef, and How Did It Get Its Name?
We’ve looked at the cooking methods and how not to overcook and what to do if we do, but what is this cut of meat and what gives it its distinctive hue and flavor?
Corned beef is usually a brisket flat that has been cured in a brine. The large grains of rock salt used in the curing process are called “corns,” thus its name. Various types of salt can now be used to cure the meat, including kosher and even table salt. A pink curing salt gives corned beef its red hue.
As a traditional Irish meal, corned beef is served with cabbage and new potatoes or mash. It is also excellent on rye bread with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing. This sandwich, as New York Jewish deli-frequents know, is called a “Reuben”.
Leftovers can be used to make a corned beef hash.
It is possible to overcook corned beef, but slowly cooking it at a low heat should prevent any disasters. Don’t panic if you do; these things happen. However, there are ways to salvage the results.
We wish you good luck and a good appetite!