BY: Joan Ginsberg
It’s hard to believe that slow cookers have only been around since 1971, when Rival Corporation introduced its iconic “Crock-Pot” to the mass market. To people like Sy Ginsberg, who was cooking corned beef for years before this appliance was available, putting corned beef in the slow cooker is not the traditional or preferred method of delivering up that brisket on St. Paddy’s Day.
But many people prefer to use this appliance for corned beef, because using the stove-top takes a long time anyway, and a slow cooker is less messy and more “whole dinner” friendly.
When someone asks us for directions using a slow cooker, though, we are a little stumped. That is because the size of the piece of beef, the shape of the cooker, and the heating times are so different from one household to another, any type of “one size fits all” instruction is almost impossible.
Here are a few tips – not instructions! – if you insist on using the slow cooker to make a perfect piece of Sy Ginsberg’s Corned Beef. All of these tips envision that you are using an average size piece (3-4 pounds).
6 QUART OR BIGGER COOKER
I own 3 cookers – 7, 6 and 5.5 quarts. The smaller cooker, even though it is rectangular and appears to be the proper shape, doesn’t hold enough water to fully cover and immerse the beef. Having the beef fully immersed is the cardinal rule of corned beef cooking, no matter the method. Both my 7 and 6 quarts are oval, which is a great shape for a piece of beef. A 6 quart round will work, IF you make sure there is water under, around, and above the meat. One more time – there must be water surrounding the piece of meat.
VEGGIES IN FIRST
I always cook carrots with my corned beef, so large hunks of carrot (no smaller than 3” long) should go on the bottom, as well as onion quarters. If you want potato, I recommend using 1/2 pieces of a smaller potato, like a red-skinned or a Yukon gold. Put them in first so that the meat is resting on top of the veggies and there is sufficient space for water to seep underneath it.
Leave the cabbage out of the slow cooker! There just isn’t enough room. Cook the cabbage in a separate pot later, using some corned-beef flavored water from the slow cooker.
Every time you take the lid off a slow cooker in use, a significant amount of heat and steam is lost, increasing cooking time, especially if you are cooking on a low setting. There is nothing to stir or see when you are cooking corned beef, so don’t open the lid for a minimum of 3 or 4 hours.
USE LOW ONLY
Again, each slow cooker is totally different as to what “low” and “high” temperatures really are, but my experience is that a 3-4 pound piece of our corned beef will cook in 5-6 hours on low if you leave the lid on. You are welcome to try cooking on high for a couple of hours before turning to low, but we think you will find your beef overcooked most of the time, unless you are sure your cooker temp runs very low.
USE SUFFICIENT WATER
I’ve already said this a few times, but it is SO important it deserves a final mention. Cover the entire piece of meat with water. We know that a slow cooker does not lose water to evaporation the way a pot on a stove-top will, but we don’t care. You risk uneven cooking and drying out if it’s not surrounded by water, even in a slow cooker.
Want to see the finished meal that was served after these pictures were taken? Check out the cover photo on our Facebook page.
Do you have a tip to add? We welcome your comments!