Camp Cooking: How to Cut Corned Beef
Corned beef is a delicious treat that most of us love to eat around St. Patrick’s Day when we all pretend to be Irish for a few days. It’s ideal for campers because it travels well and doesn’t spoil as quickly as some other proteins.
It’s a tough cut of meat, though, so knowing how to cut corned beef properly is imperative to get it right for the holiday or your next camping trip.
Let’s dive in!
What is Corned Beef?
Corned beef is a brisket cut, which is the muscular front part of the cow used for kneeling. As you can imagine, years of knee movement make the meat very tough.
That’s why barbecue pitmasters smoke their briskets for 12-14 hours until it’s tender enough to enjoy.
A fun fact about the brisket is that both corned beef and pastrami come from the same cut.
The only difference is that corned beef is brined and seasoned in saltwater, and pastrami is spiced, cured, and smoked.
Why Corned Beef Makes a Great Camping Meal
Corned beef can be great for camping because it takes so little effort to cook. Although the cooking time is long, it isn’t working time. Many of us love the relaxation of cooking, but it’s even more relaxing to set it and forget it and not think about cooking at all.
It couldn’t be easier to drop a corned beef and some veggies into your RV’s crockpot in the morning and then go hike and explore for the day. You’ll come back to the fantastic smell of a delicious meal.
Keep in mind that slow-cooking isn’t ideal for camping spots with bears and other meat-hungry predators. The lingering smell might draw them to your camp.
Why Is It Important to Cut Corned Beef the Right Way?
Remember those long bundles of muscles the cow used for kneeling? Well, they aren’t very fun to chew. These muscle fibers are long and rubbery in the brisket, making it difficult to chew them without the right cut. If you can shorten the muscle fibers, it makes it tender and easy to chew.
The muscle fibers of corned beef all run together in the same direction, often referred to as “the grain.” To create a tender, easy-to-chew piece of meat, you’ll cut against the grain, meaning you cut crosswise over the muscle fibers.
When cut properly, a slice of corned beef should have the appearance of small dots, which are the end-wise view of the muscle fibers. By slicing the meat against the grain, you’ve shortened these fibers and made them possible to chew and enjoy.
How to Cut Corned Beef Correctly: Against The Grain
Beef (more than pork or chicken) requires heat to cook and then a proper rest before cutting. When the muscle fibers heat up, the fibers lengthen and squeeze together. This action wrings the juices out of the muscle bundles and suspends them in the muscles’ spaces.
If you cut the beef immediately after cooking, all those free-roaming juices are released to run out onto your carving board, leaving behind a stretched-out and dried-out piece. By allowing the beef to rest for at least ten minutes, you’re letting the muscles to relax again, shorten, widen, and push the juices back into the muscular cells where you want them.
While this concept holds for just about any beef cut, it’s critical for muscular cuts like a brisket.
If you’re looking for the grain, you can assume it’s running longwise on your corn beef, but a quick visual inspection will tell you the line orientation. If the fat cap is hiding the fibers, turn it over or study the edges and ends. Take it slow; you must get this step right.
After finding the grain, cut a thin quarter-inch slice and check for the dotted, muscle fiber ends. If you see long strings in the cut, you got it wrong. Just turn the meat until it’s right and cut another slice. (Always eat the evidence so nobody will see your mistake, of course.)
Once you find the grain, slice all the portions you expect to eat during this meal and leave the rest intact. This will seal in the juices to keep it moist and tender for leftovers.
Tips for The Best Corned Beef
It’s much easier to cut corned beef if you cook it correctly. Here are our best tips for turning out a perfect corned beef cut.
Briskets need to be cooked “low and slow” to become tender and delicious. Not only are you tenderizing the muscle fibers this way, but you’re also breaking down the fats and connective tissues.
Throw away the spice packet that came in the package and find a spice profile that suits your tastes. The beef is salty already, so don’t add more. You can soak it in water overnight (rinsing and changing the water a few times) to remove some salt if you want. Try adding orange wedges or your favorite beer to the pot.
Use the lowest cooking setting on your crockpot, but not the “warm” serving setting. It’s OK if the water simmers, but turn it down if it boils hard.
Follow the recipe or instructions on the package, but make sure there are enough liquids to submerge the beef fully.
Don’t be in a hurry. Allow no less than 45-60 minutes per pound, but budget a full day for it to cook.
Cook to touch. A fork should easily probe into the meat with only a little more resistance than mashed potatoes. It’s better to overcook than to undercook corned beef.
Don’t forget to cut it against the grain.
If you’re feeling adventurous, soak it as described above to reduce the salt, and then smoke it slowly at 180°F to 200°F all day for a southern spin on this Irish delight. Let your fork tell you when it’s tender and done.
Corned beef is a hearty meal, and the crockpot makes it a very simple entree to prepare at camp. It’s simple to cook and nearly impossible to get wrong, as long as you cook with patience and cut it against the grain.
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