I have a large gathering on St Patrick's day and serve corned beef. In years past I did all the cooking on that day and missed my own party due to all the work. Last year I cooked the beef the night before, let it cool overnight, and sliced it cold. I added water from the pot and reheated it in the oven in aluminum trays, and kept it warm in sterno racks. The taste was great but the color changed from pink to gray.

Any suggestions on how to serve a large group a hot meal and still keep the color of the beef pink would be appreciated. FYI, my typical method is to cook the beef first the night before, then in the same pot with the same water cook the potatoes, carrots, and cabbage on the day of the party.

  • 6
    Can you post the recipe you used? Potassium nitrate or sodium nitrite are usually used to preserve the pink color of corned beef.
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 15:12
  • 1
    No recipe really, I usually buy freidrick's or mosey's thin cut (aka flat cut) from the supermarket and put the spices that come with it in a tea ball. It simmers until tender and it comes out pink and great. It's when it sits in the sterno that it turns gray. I would like to be able to serve warm pink corned beef without having to be slicing it when my guests have arrived. Certainly the restaurants have things done ahead of time, thanks for your help.
    – John
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 18:42

2 Answers 2


As Jay mentioned, potassium nitrate or sodium nitrite is what gives commercially made corned beef its long-lasting pink color. Home cooks can use the same chemicals. Just make sure that whichever you buy is specifically labeled for use in food. Also, since you mentioned that the corned beef you buy comes with a spice mixture, check the ingredient list to make sure it doesn't already contain either chemical.

I've only ever used potassium nitrate (A.K.A. saltpeter) for corned beef. 1-2 teaspoons per gallon of water is plenty.

  • 4
    The person who asked the question mentioned commercial corned beef brands that are presumably pre-cured. I don't think there's anything to suggest he is curing a brisket himself. For anyone considering this answer, I would strongly emphasize the point in this question about making sure the meat isn't already cured or contains these chemicals (or things that might include them, for example celery juice is high in nitrates and is used as a "natural" curing agent). Adding nitrites outside of a proper curing recipe with controlled concentrations can lead to toxic food.
    – Athanasius
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 0:58

I had this same problem. It has to do with re-heating or hold in an oven. It is best to warm this back up in liquid. My plan will be to cook the day before - make the cabbage that day and throw the corned beef in the cabbage water for heating.

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