One of the most beloved Spring traditions in America is having a yearly helping of corned beef and cabbage to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. If you’d like to stock up and enjoy your corned beef to enjoy some now and a lot more later, here’s how to store this briny beef for quality flavor and safety.
What Is “Corned” Beef?
Corned beef involves the preparation of beef brisket (or beef round) by curing it with corns of salt and a brine solution—there’s no actual corn involved, the term “corn” in this context refers to the large size of the salt pieces. The beef is packed in the salt to cure and then later packaged in a brine and delivered to your local store.
If you’re wondering how it gets that distinctive pink color we’ve all come to know, it’s the sodium nitrite. This ingredient helps to stop the growth of bacteria, and it’s used in many other cured types of meat like ham, bacon, and hot dogs.
Other ingredients that make their way into the brine include pickling spices, garlic, sugar, bay leaf, and peppercorns.
Once your corned beef is ready to go, a few hours of low-and-slow cooking in a crock pot or Dutch oven will take care of the rest. What you are left with is a gorgeous pink hunk of meat filled with briny flavors that flawlessly accompany potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.
How to Freeze Corned Beef
Lucky for us, you can skip all the fun (and work!) of salt-packing the meat, save space in your fridge, and purchase already brined and ready-to-cook brisket.
Around St. Patrick’s Day, you will find heaping piles of brined corned beef in supermarket coolers. It’s a great time to take advantage of those sales and tuck some extra corned beef in your freezer. However, it’s essential to know how to safely store it in the freezer if you do buy extra.
Before taking your ready-to-cook corned beef and throwing it in the back of your freezer, be sure to drain the meat of its brine and wrap it very well. Leaving the brisket in the vacuum-sealed bag you bought it in with the salt solution will cause the flavor and texture to diminish with prolonged freezing, so be sure to get rid of the liquid.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends freezing uncooked and already brined corned beef no longer than one month for the best quality. It will remain safe to eat as long as it remains frozen, but the texture and flavor of corned beef decrease fairly quickly in the freezer compared to other meats.
After cooking your corned beef, you can freeze the meat for two to three months for the best quality. Again, after a few months the texture and flavor change.
So, if you want to take advantage of the sales and have a tasty corned beef dinner in the coming months, we recommend you cook it now, then freeze it for later. For more information about corned beef safety, be sure to check out this helpful USDA fact sheet for the full rundown.