Cook it fast or cook it slow, either way this easy corned beef and cabbage creates fork-tender, fall-apart chunks of beef thanks to braising it in the Crock Pot or Instant Pot with beer and vegetables for an unbelievably easy and delicious one-pot dinner.
Each spring as the pansies peek through the snow and college basketball’s March Madness plays through the weekends, corned beef and cabbage is the highlight of our spring menu, particularly on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve made my corned beef so many different ways over the years — cooking it on the stove-top or in the oven. But the method I always come back to is tossing everything in the Crock Pot or Instant Pot for one of the simplest dinners you’ll make all year.
This corned beef and cabbage recipe with potatoes, carrots, and a tangy horseradish sauce for dipping takes all of 5-10 minutes of prep and 4-5 hours in the Crock Pot or slow cooker. Or, make it in the Instant Pot pressure cooker and it’s done in just about 1 hour 30 minutes. The ease of making this meal is why I’ll cook a whole corned beef just so I can make my favorite Reuben sandwiches. Corned beef and cabbage. It’s how we do March around here.
What’s in Corned Beef and Cabbage
For such a flavorful dish, homemade corned beef and cabbage require surprisingly few ingredients. Whether you’re making slow cooker corned beef or Instant Pot corned beef, the ingredients remain the same:
- Yellow onion
- Small potatoes (red or purple)
- Corned beef round (leaner) or beef brisket (fattier)
- Beer (a brown ale, or lager work great, but even Bud Light will do)
- Fresh thyme
- Head of cabbage
- Sour cream
- Prepared horseradish
What is Corned Beef?
Corned beef is made with beef round (leaner) or beef brisket (fattier) that has been preserved through salt-curing
Is corned beef actually Irish or not? Traditionally served in the U.S. each and every St. Patrick’s Day, you won’t likely find it served at the local pub in Ireland, but it IS Irish-American.
The Difference Between Corned Beef Round or Corned Beef Brisket
Corned beef is usually offered in two cuts: beef round and beef brisket. Brisket comes from the front of the cow and round is from the back. Because these beef muscles are used most often, both cuts are relatively tough unless cooked low and slow. That’s what makes corned beef the perfect slow cooker meal.
Beef brisket cuts into more shreddy pieces with lots of juicy flavors while beef round cuts into more uniform slices that don’t fall apart. I’ve made corned beef with both cuts of beef with different results. So, which cut of corned beef is best?
Beef brisket has more marbling and fat which makes this corned beef juicy, fall apart-tender, and delicious. Brisket is offered in a point or flat cut. The flat cut has a generous fat cap on top of the meat that melts flavor into the meat as it cooks. The point cut has lots of fat and connective tissue for loads of flavor, but not as much meat.
If you prefer a leaner corned beef, go with the round cut. It’s leaner with far less marbling. But just like the meat of any kind with less fat and collagen, this cut won’t have quite the flavor and won’t be as juicy as beef brisket.
- When choosing your package of corned beef, remember it will shrink by about one-third when cooked.
- Look for an uncured corned beef round that has had no nitrates or nitrites added, which could have potential carcinogenic effects.
- I usually buy a 3 to a 4-pound piece of the pre-brined point-cut beef that handily serves 4 for dinner with enough leftovers for the best Reuben sandwiches.
- Like any meat, cut your corned beef against the grain for the best slices.
What Happens if You Don’t Rinse Corned Beef Before Cooking
While you can definitely rinse corned beef before cooking if you’re concerned about excess salt, I’ve found it’s really not necessary, so I never rinse mine. It’s all personal preference. If you do choose to rinse, it will still be plenty flavorful.
How to Cook Corned Beef in the Slow Cooker
- Arrange the carrots, onion, potatoes, and corned beef (fat-side up) in the slow cooker.
- Add the pickling spices and pour the beer over everything.
- Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves.
- Cook on HIGH for 4-5 hours or until the corned beef is tender. Most recipes recommend you cook the brisket for 4 to 4 ½ hours on high in the slow cooker. In doing so you’ll have nicely cut portions that while tender, simply doesn’t fall apart when stuck with a fork. However, if you’re like me and want that fall-apart texture like the corned beef in the photo below, the longer you cook it, the more tender it will be.
- Place the cabbage on top of the beef and continue cooking for 1 more hour until the cabbage is tender.
How to Cook Corned Beef in the Instant Pot
Because I’m such a fan of pressure cooking in the Instant Pot, this slow cooker corned beef recipe was easy to convert.
- Cook the corned beef with the onion, spices, thyme, and beer on HIGH pressure for 90 minutes.
- Quick release, then add the potatoes, carrots, and cabbage to the pot.
- Set to HIGH pressure and set for 5 minutes.
- Quick release, and check for doneness.
Pro Tip: If you’re in a hurry, you can cut the beef 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 tender bites were a-okay with me.
Why is Corned Beef Served With Cabbage?
Corned beef is traditionally served with cabbage because it was one of the cheapest veggies available to Irish immigrants at the time.
Can I Omit the Beer?
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.
Tips for Making the Best Corned Beef Recipe
Corned beef usually comes with its own spice packet included. If your spice packet feels a little skimpy, feel free to make your own pickling spice, or 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. Or, you can always 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 Crockpot corned beef recipe.
Cook the veggies with the corned beef for more flavor, except for the cabbage. Because of its delicate nature, add the cabbage in the last 45 minutes to an hour of cooking time. You could also add the potatoes at the 3-hour mark if you like a firmer potato.
Don’t overcook the potatoes. 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 returning them when you add the cabbage to the cooker. The result is a fall-apart tender chunk piece of corned beef.
What to Serve With Corned Beef and Cabbage
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Crockpot Corned Beef and Cabbage (or Instant Pot)
- 3 carrots , peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces
- 1 yellow onion , peeled and quartered
- ½ pound small potatoes , halved
- 1 corned beef brisket , (about 3-4 pounds), plus pickling spice packet or 1 tablespoon pickling spice
- 2 8 to 12-ounce beers , (I prefer ale or lagers)
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- ½ head cabbage , cut into 1 ½-inch wedges
- ½ cup sour cream
- 3-4 tablespoons prepared horseradish , to taste
To Cook in the Slow Cooker:
- 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 ½ to 2 hours on low). Thinly slice the corned beef against the grain and serve with the vegetables and cooking liquid with the horseradish sauce.
To Cook in the Instant Pot:
- Cut the corned beef into 2-3 chunks so it cooks faster and more evenly. Add to the insert of a 6 quart Instant Pot with the fat cap up. Layer with the onion, spices, thyme and beer. Cook on HIGH pressure for 90 minutes then do a quick release.
- Add the potatoes, carrots and cabbage to the insert, close, and set to HIGH pressure for another 5 minutes. Natural release for 5 minutes, cut, and serve.
For the Horseradish Sauce:
- Mix the sour cream and horseradish together in a small bowl. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.
More Easy Beef Recipes to Make
- Beef Stew with Butternut Squash (Instant Pot or Slow Cooker)
- Killer Beef and Three Bean Chili
- Beef Bourguignon
- The Best Steak Fajitas
- Homemade Sloppy Joes
- Cheeseburger Macaroni (aka Homemade Hamburger Helper)
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