4 Reasons Why Your Corned Beef Is Tough & How to Fix It

Cooking corned beef properly is essential to avoid toughness. Use low heat, pressure cooker, rest meat, add water, and soak to fix tough corned beef.

Corned Beef

Saint Patrick’s Day is a celebration of all things Irish, including corned beef. However, if not cooked properly, it can be tough. Here are tips on how to fix tough corned beef.

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1. Cook in Water on Low Heat 

corned beef and white onion on a pan

Corned beef starts out as a brisket which is a very tough piece of meat. This meat must be properly cooked, or it will turn out tough every single time. If you’ve tried to dry roast or fry brisket, it is no wonder the meat is tough as shoe leather. You are going to have to change things up and try something else. But take heart–you probably haven’t completely ruined your corned beef.

Take the piece of meat and put it in a large stock pot with chopped onion and a head of cabbage that has been cut into 4 equal pieces. Cover the meat and cabbage with water and put it on the stove over medium heat. Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer. Cover the pot with a tightly fitted lid. Simmer the meat for 2 to 3 hours, and it should be much more tender (works also for cube steak and bottom round).

2. Use a Pressure Cooker

Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker, Warmer & Sterilizer, 3 Quart, Stainless Steel/Black

Pressure cookers are amazing gadgets for cooking meat quickly and tenderizing tough pieces of meat. In the past, pressure cookers were a little scary since they could explode if not used correctly. However, modern pressure cookers like the Instant Pot can safely and quickly cook and tenderize your corned beef. 

  • Add an onion to the bottom of the Instant Pot and place your 3 to 4 pound, rinsed and soaked corned beef brisket on top of it.
  • Sprinkle the seasoning packet on the meat and pour 4 cups of water around the meat. Seal the lid and set the pressure level to high, cooking the corned beef for 80 minutes. 
  • Release the pressure when the time is up by opening the valve.Take the beef and onion out of the pot and set the meat aside to rest.
  • Remove 2 cups of the cooking liquid and add 4 large peeled and chopped carrots, a quartered head of cabbage, and a pound of baby potatoes to your Instant Pot.
  • Put the lid back on and cook the veggies on high pressure for 5 minutes. Release the pressure by opening the valve.  Slice your corned beef against the grain and serve.

3. Let It Rest

The instructions to allow meat to rest before slicing are actually really important and not just a suggestion. When you cook a piece of meat, the moisture in it migrates to the outer portion of the meat closer to the surface. If you cut the meat immediately after cooking it, the moisture will all leak out, leaving the center of the meat dry, hard, and tough. 

When you let a piece of meat rest, it allows the moisture to be redistributed throughout the muscle fibers. Since corned beef is such a large piece of meat, it requires a long resting time. Corned beef should rest for about an hour after cooking. Put the meat, wrapped in a double layer of aluminum foil, in a good-quality cooler with the lid on. Layer a couple of bath towels over the meat while it is resting.  This will keep the meat hot as you wait for it to rest. 

4. Add More Water

If you allowed too much of the water to evaporate in cooking, this can make the corned beef tough (or even too salty). Add extra water to the pot and cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid. Put it on the stove and let it come to a boil. Then, turn down the heat. You do not want to boil the meat; you just want it to simmer. Cook the meat for about half an hour and test the meat with a fork. If it’s still tough, cook it for 30 to 40 minutes longer.   

Why Does Corned Beef End Up Tough Sometimes?

Corned Beef

Corned beef is made from the brisket of a beef steer. The brisket is found in the lower chest, where the front legs connect to the trunk of the body.

This muscle group gets a lot of exercise, so the muscle is tough and strong, interlaced with connective tissue. However, if you cook it correctly, the connective tissue breaks down into gelatin, making the meat tender and tasty.

Can I Fix Tough Corned Beef After It Has Cooked?

The answer to this common question is, “It depends on why it is tough.” Undercooked corned beef is often tough, and if you undercooked the beef, you can tenderize it by returning it to the pot, covering it with water, and simmering it for longer. Most of the time, try cooking the meat longer in water to tenderize it (no need for a tenderizer).

However, if you cooked the meat at too high of heat, such as boiling it or trying to dry roast it at too high of a temperature, the brisket muscle may have seized up, and it is too late to salvage it.

You can try to put it in water and cook it longer to tenderize it, but it may not work. To keep your corned beef tender, never cook it at a temperature higher than 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Should You Cover Corned Beef When Cooking?

Corned beef should always be covered when it is cooking. A tightly fitting lid will not only help keep the temperature stable, but it will also trap the moisture in the pot, keeping the meat from drying out. Since corned beef should be completely covered in water as it cooks, a tightly fitted lid will keep the cooking liquid from boiling away. 

How do you make corned beef more tender?

To make corned beef more tender, you can achieve this by cooking it in a crock pot on the low setting for 8 to 10 hours. This prolonged cooking duration enhances the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the meat.

Will baking soda tenderize corned beef?

Baking soda can be used to tenderize corned beef by briefly soaking it in a solution of baking soda and water. This process raises the pH on the surface of the meat, preventing excessive protein bonding and resulting in a tender and moist texture when the meat is cooked.

What is the most tender corned beef?

The most tender corned beef is the point cut. It is known for its higher marbling and fat content, resulting in a more flavorful, soft, and juicy meat compared to the flat cut. However, it is important to note that both cuts are tough and require low heat and slow-cooking methods.

What temperature is corned beef most tender?

Corned beef is most tender when cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160°F for food safety. However, for optimal tenderness, it is recommended to cook it to an internal temperature of 190°F. After cooking, let the corned beef rest for 5 – 10 minutes before slicing it thinly across the grain and serving.

Can you soak corned beef overnight?

Corned beef can be soaked overnight to reduce its saltiness. If you skip this step or only soak it for an hour, your corned beef will turn out too salty.

How do you tenderize corned beef before cooking?

To tenderize corned beef before cooking, it is necessary to break down the connective tissue in the tough cut of meat, which comes from brisket. One method is to braise the corned beef in a liquid mixture of water, spices, and salt. Alternatively, some people choose to add beer to the braising liquid to enhance the tenderizing process.

Should you soak store bought corned beef?

You should soak store-bought corned beef to reduce its saltiness. If you intend to smoke it, it is recommended to soak it in water for a minimum of two hours and a maximum of eight hours. This soaking process will aid in extracting some of the salt. If time is limited, it is advisable to at least rinse the corned beef thoroughly.

Can you soak corned beef in milk?

Yes, you can soak corned beef in milk. It is recommended to soak the corned beef in cold water or milk for 12 to 24 hours before cooking it. It is important to keep it in the refrigerator during this process and regularly change the liquid. Before cooking, make sure to drain as much liquid as possible from the meat.

Which corned beef is the most tender?

The most tender corned beef is the point cut. It offers a higher level of marbling and fat, resulting in a more flavorful, soft, and juicy meat compared to the flat cut. However, it’s important to note that both cuts are tough and require low heat and slow-cooking methods.

What temperature does corned beef fall apart?

Corned beef falls apart when it reaches a temperature of 185-200 degrees F. The closer it gets to 200 degrees, the more tender it becomes, easily falling apart. This high internal temperature helps break down collagen, resulting in melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.

Do you use the liquid in corned beef package?

The liquid in the corned beef package should be used when cooking the corned beef.

How do you know if corned beef is tender?

To determine if corned beef is tender, it is recommended to use a meat thermometer to check its internal temperature, which should reach 145°F. Additionally, when the beef is done, it will be easily pierced with a fork. It can be challenging to judge the doneness of corned beef solely based on its pink color, as it may remain pink even after cooking.

Should corned beef be soaked in water overnight?

Corned beef should be soaked in water overnight to avoid an overly salty taste. By rinsing your cut before cooking and soaking it in a bowl of cold water, you can draw out excess salt. It is important to keep the cooking temperature at simmering point to prevent the corned beef from becoming dry and stringy.

Is it better to boil or slow cook corned beef?

It is better to slow cook corned beef rather than boiling it. By cooking corned beef in a slow cooker, you can enjoy all the advantages of boiling without the need to constantly monitor the cooking process. To prepare, simply place a quartered onion, a carrot, a couple of garlic cloves, and a few stalks of celery in the slow cooker. If desired, you can also include potatoes.

How long should you soak corned beef?

The recommended duration for soaking corned beef is 6 hours in cold water to remove excess salt from the meat before smoking. It is important to change the water every 2 hours during this process. Once this essential step is completed, proceed to Step 5, which involves combining brine ingredients and stirring them in a Dutch oven or large stock pot.

Why did my corned beef come out tough?

Your corned beef may have come out tough because it was cooked too quickly or at too high a temperature, which prevented the fibres and connective tissues from properly breaking down. As a result, they toughened and contracted, resulting in a chewy and undesirable texture.

Do you keep the corned beef liquid?

The corned beef liquid is kept to flavor the vegetables, so once the meat is tender, it should be removed from the pot and covered. The cooking liquid can be reserved for this purpose. To keep the corned beef warm, it can be placed in a 250°F oven.

Do you use the liquid from corned beef?

Yes, you can use the leftover broth from corned beef and cabbage in a soup the next day. If the broth is very salty, you may need to add a little more water or stock, but it will still result in a delicious soup.

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