Johnston: Cooking a St. Patrick’s Day tradition

St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays.

My college roommates can attest to my immense excitement on the morning of March 17, as I put a big ol’ corned beef brisket in the slow cooker, surrounded by potatoes and carrots.

I would come home to the scrumptious smell later that day and add the shredded cabbage to the slow cooker. After about an hour, I would ladle out the vegetables, cut up the beef and serve my three roommates a plate full of yumminess.

None of them really shared my joy, but they choked down the meal with side comments of “It’s not that bad” and “I’m glad she only does this once a year.”

I have continued this tradition with my own family, who by the luck of the Irish, do enjoy the taste of corned beef (though my daughter wants nothing to do with the cabbage).

But I wonder, is there a family sitting in County Kildare, Ireland (Lexington’s sister city), enjoying the same meal? Chances are, probably not. So why do we do it here in the United States?

According to, corned beef and cabbage did not become known as an Irish tradition until the Irish immigrated to the U.S. during the Famine in the mid-1800s.

Ireland had been a major producer of salted meat, dating all the way back to the middle ages. The Irish did not consume beef products, as they were expensive and, therefore, used for trade.

Instead of beef, the Irish typically consumed salted pork, which is similar to today’s bacon. It was inexpensive and readily available.

When the famine started in Ireland, and the Irish began to immigrate to the U.S., they found just the opposite in the U.S.

Salt pork and bacon were expensive and considered a luxury item. Beef was cheaper, so they began to eat corned beef in place of the salted pork.

The tradition of serving cabbage with the corned beef is really one of convenience, as cabbage was one of the cheapest vegetables available to the Irish.

So I can thank the Irish-American immigrants for beginning the association of corned beef and cabbage with St. Patrick’s Day.

Here are some tips and recipes for trying your own corned beef and cabbage this St. Patrick’s Day, and may the luck of the Irish be with you:

Buying and storing corned beef

Check the “sell by” date of uncooked corned beef in a pouch with pickling juices.

Store it unopened in the refrigerator for five to seven days.

Products with a “use-by” date can be stored unopened in the refrigerator until that date.

An uncooked corned beef brisket can be frozen if it is drained and wrapped well.

Keep in mind salt encourages rancidity and texture changes but it is still safe to eat. Try to use within a month or two.

After cooking, store corned beef for three to four days in the refrigerator. You can also freeze cooked beef two to three months.

How to cook corned beef

Corned beef requires long, moist cooking which can be done in the oven, on top of the stove or using a slow cooker.

No matter how the meat is prepared, cook until the internal temperature has reached at least 160 degrees F.

Although “fork-tender” is a good indicator of doneness, using a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer is recommended.

Corned beef may still be pink after cooking. The pink color is from nitrites used in the curing process.

Checking the internal temperature will ensure the meat is cooked completely.

Let the brisket stand about 10 minutes after removing from the heat to make slicing easier. In most cases, it is easier to slice diagonally across the grain of the meat.

After cooking a whole corned beef, cut it into several smaller pieces or slice it to cool more quickly.

Storing leftover corned beef

Any leftovers should be refrigerated as soon as possible within two hours of cooking or reheating.

Use leftover corned beef within three to four days or freeze up to two months.

Corned Beef and Cabbage Recipe


— 3 to 5 pounds of Corned beef

— 6 potatoes,

— 1 large onion

— 6 to 12 medium carrots

— 1 head of cabbage

— Other root vegetables like beets, turnips or parsnips, if desired


Remove corned beef from package and rinse off brine under cool running water. Rinsing the brine off helps to remove the excess salt from the meat. Also trim any excess fat from the meat.

Place the corned beef in a large, heavy pot and cover with water. Add the spice packet included with the corned beef.

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and let simmer for about two to three hours.

At about two hours, add chunks of onions, potatoes and carrots. Bring back to a simmer and cook until vegetables are tender. You can also add wedges of cabbage and other root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips and beets, if desired. Just make sure you do not overcook the vegetables. If the vegetables get done before the meat, remove them from the pot and keep warm.

Shonda Johnston is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 859-744-4682 or by email at


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