This slow cooker corned beef and cabbage creates tender, fall-apart chunks of beef thanks to braising it in the crock pot with beer and vegetables for an unbelievably easy and delicious one-pot dinner. Plus! Updated directions for the Instant Pot.
When questioned as to whether corned beef is actually good for you, I say it may not be something to recommend eating each and every day of the year, but I feel it’s totally fine when you eat it just like everything else you should— say it with me— in moderation! And whether corned beef is actually Irish or not? Well you won’t likely find it served at the pub in Ireland, but it IS Irish-American.
One of the very first “adult” dinner parties I had at the apartment I shared with my then boyfriend/now husband was a St. Patrick’s Day party with my friends from college. That night we had green beer, 7-layer dip (so Irish of us!) and played a mean game of Hearts.
My friend Julie aka Wells aka Pepper (because we each had about 19 different nicknames) and I tended the corned beef and discussed the merits of adding beer to the stewed meat or not, comparing notes on cooking on the stove top or baking in the oven, and in general were thrilled that in the end our guests had consumed enough green beer to deem the dinner a raging success.
Since that time I’ve made this meal every single year. Like many of you it’s a tradition you just can’t ignore come March. It’s a ritual. And I’m good with that.
In fact I will cook a whole corned beef just so I can make my favorite Reuben sandwiches loaded with sauerkraut, that delicious sauce and melted cheese piled high on grilled rye bread, because seriously…who can say no to a killer reuben??
I’ve baked my corned beef. I’ve cooked it on the stove top. But the method I seem to go to time and time again is tossing it all in the crock pot or slow cooker (this one is great for cooking on the stove top, too!) for one of the simplest dinners you’ll make all year.
How to Make Easy Corned Beef and Cabbage : Use the Crock Pot!
My local Smiths Marketplace (aka Kroger) gets the most gorgeous Savoy cabbages in this time of year because it’s the time of year people will actually eat cabbage. This winter hardy vegetables is at it’s height of the season now. I feel bad for cabbage, it gets a bad rap but it’s so good! Just look at these leaves, so firm and crisp. When choosing your cabbage, look for one that is heavy for it’s size and doesn’t emit any bitter smells.
It seems like corned beef is rather hard to find any other time of year outside of March, which makes it the perfect excuse to make it more than once. When choosing your package of corned beef, remember it will shrink by about 1/3 when cooked. I usually buy a 3 to 3 1/2 pound piece of the pre-brined flat cut beef that handily serves 4 with leftovers for Reuben sandwiches..
Now, you could go all scratch crazy and brine your corned beef yourself (here’s a recipe for that) but in my opinion, that’s simply taking the ease right out of this recipe. I look for an uncured corned beef round that has had no nitrates or nitrites added, that could have potential carcinogenic affects. Or not. Who knows. But when I can, I go cleaner when it’s an option.
Personally, I prefer the “point” cut, with more marbling and fat that makes this corned beef juicy, fall apart-tender and delicious. Plus there’s a generous fat cap on top of the meat that melts flavor into the meat as it cooks. Once it’s done cooking I discard the fattier pieces if my husband doesn’t snack on them first.
If you prefer a leaner corned beef, go with the “flat” cut. It’s leaner with far less marbling, and literally flatter so you can cut slices easier after cooking. But just like meat of any kind, this cut won’t have quite the flavor since the fat is less.
The corned beef I buy comes with its own spice packet included. If your spice packet feels a little skimpy, feel free to add an extra teaspoon or more of coriander seeds and allspice and another bay leaf or two to the whole deal once you’ve popped it into the slow cooker.
I cook the veggies in with the corned beef to give it more flavor. All of the veggies EXCEPT the cabbage because of it’s delicate nature. I add that in the last 45 minutes to hour of cooking time. You could also add the potatoes at the 3 hour mark if you like a firmer potato, and be sure to use a sturdier potato like a red rather than a creamier potato like a white so it holds up to the cooking time.
Then there’s beer. I douse the whole set up with two 8-ounce beers. Choose a brown ale, a lager or even a regular old Bud Light will do.
If beer isn’t your thing, simply cover the beef and veggies with 16 ounces or so of cold water or beef broth and let the stewing begin. The spices should flavor it all well enough.
Or, you can always go half and half water/broth to beer. It’s totally your choice.
How Long Do You Cook Corned Beef In the Slow Cooker?
I’ve varied my cooking time again and again with this recipe, testing and re-testing to decide what I liked best.
My conclusion? I really like a corned beef that is fall apart tender. So tender that when you cut it across the grain with a knife, it simply falls apart. Braising the beef in beer and in a slow cooker does help the corned beef retain its moisture but be aware it could get dry if you cook it forever and a day.
Most recipes recommend you cook the brisket for 4 to 4 1/2 hours on high in the slow cooker. In doing so you’ll have nicely cut portions that while tender, simply don’t fall apart when stuck with a fork.
If you’re like me and want that fall apart texture like the corned beef in the photo below that I cooked on high for closer to 6 hours.
The only part of this cooking cautionary tale is I would recommend removing the vegetables from the slow cooker at about 4 hours so they don’t turn into mush, then return them when you add the cabbage to the cooker.
The result is a fall apart chunks piece of corned beef.
UPDATE: How to Cook Corned Beef In the Instant Pot
Because I’m such a fan of pressure cooking in the Instant Pot, this recipe was a natural for me to convert.
To do so, I cooked the corned beef with the onion, spices, thyme and beer on HIGH pressure for 90 minutes then did a quick release and added the potatoes, carrots and cabbage to the pot, set to HIGH and cooked for another 5 minutes, then did a quick release again.
One tip to make the corned beef cook quicker this way is to cut it into 2-3 chunks so it cooks faster and more evenly. Since I slice mine up to serve anyway, I didn’t care whether I had a big chunk of meat to plate or not, and the delicious bites were a-okay with me.
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment below or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage
- 3 carrots peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces
- 1 yellow onion peeled and quartered
- 1/2 pound small potatoes halved
- 1 corned beef brisket about 3 pounds, plus pickling spice packet or 1 tablespoon pickling spice
- 2 8- ounce beers I prefer ale or lagers
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 head Savoy cabbage cut into 1 1/2-inch wedges
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 3-4 tablespoons prepared horseradish to taste
In a 5-to-6-quart slow cooker, place the carrots, onion and potatoes. Place corned beef, fat side up, on top of the vegetables and sprinkle with pickling spice. Pour the beers over the vegetables and brisket. Sprinkle with the sprigs of fresh thyme. Cover and cook on high until corned beef is tender, 5-6 hours or 10-12 hours on low.
Arrange cabbage over corned beef, cover, and continue cooking until cabbage is tender, 45 min to 1 hour (or 1 1/2 to 2 hours on low).
Meanwhile, mix the sour cream and horseradish together. Thinly slice the corned beef against the grain and serve with the vegetables and cooking liquid with the horseradish sauce.
Recipe Ideas for What to Serve with Corned Beef
It’s easy to go traditionally Irish with St. Patrick’s Day fare to compliment corned beef all day long. Here’s a few suggestions to get you going:
- 30+ Lucky St. Patrick’s Day Recipes. And then…let the green rainbows fly…
- Happy Saint Patrick’s Day charcuterie board
- Stout chocolate brownies — + 20 additional links to stout recipes to love
- Golden green goddess margaritas — a naturally green drink with flecks of gold? I’ll drink to that!
- Irish colcannon mac and cheese — a lucky match made in carb and dairy heaven.
- Mint chocolate mousse with toasted matcha meringue – who needs green dye when you have matcha?
- Irish cream Lucky Charms treats – a fun and festive treat to make with the kiddos
- Lucky Charms cereal milk confetti cupcakes — the gold at the end of the rainbow
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