Can You Substitute Red Cabbage for Green in Corned Beef and Cabbage? Here’s What You Need to Know

Corned beef and cabbage is a beloved St. Patrick’s Day tradition for many. The salty tender beef paired with bright green, lightly cooked cabbage is simply delicious. But what if you don’t have green cabbage on hand? Can you use red cabbage instead?

As an amateur home cook and food blogger myself I’ve experimented with subbing red for green cabbage in this classic dish. Read on for my tips and tricks on how to make the swap successfully.

An Overview of Corned Beef and Cabbage

Before we dive into the cabbage question, let’s quickly go over what exactly corned beef and cabbage is.

Corned beef starts with a brisket or round cut of beef that has been cured in a salt and spice brine, or “corned” brine. This curing process tenderizes the meat and gives it a distinctive pink color and salty, savory flavor.

The corned beef is then simmered for hours until fall-apart tender. Finally, cabbage wedges and small whole potatoes are added to the pot in the last 30 minutes or so of cooking.

The result is a hearty, comforting meal where the salty beef complements the sweet, earthy cabbage and potatoes.

What’s the Difference Between Green and Red Cabbage?

Green and red cabbage are varieties of the same vegetable species, Brassica oleracea. The main differences come down to color and flavor.

Green cabbage has a paler green color and milder, sweeter taste. Red cabbage is a vivid purple-red and has a more peppery, robust flavor.

When raw, red cabbage also has a tougher, crunchier texture than green. However, when cooked, both turn tender with a similar texture.

Swapping in Red Cabbage – Things to Consider

Here are a few things to think about if substituting red for green cabbage in your corned beef and cabbage.

Color – The dish may end up more purple-toned instead of green. This is not a huge deal, but something to be aware of.

Flavor – Red cabbage will give a sharper, more peppery taste versus the sweeter green variety. Adjust other seasonings accordingly.

Acidity – Raw red cabbage has higher levels of anthocyanins, antioxidants that also contribute to its acidic tang. Account for this extra acid when cooking.

Moisture content – Red cabbage contains a bit more moisture than green when cooked. Keep this in mind if converting a recipe.

Cook time – The thicker leaves of red cabbage may need a few extra minutes of simmering to reach the tender stage.

How to Soften Red Cabbage’s Strong Flavor

The more pronounced flavor of red cabbage pairs deliciously with boldly flavored meats like corned beef. However, if you find it overpowering, there are a few tricks to mellowing it out.

  • Quick-pickle – Soak sliced red cabbage in a bath of apple cider vinegar and salt for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry before adding to the corned beef pot. The quick pickling will mellow flavor and acidity.

  • Sauté briefly – Heat a bit of butter or olive oil in a skillet. Add sliced red cabbage and sauté for 2-3 minutes just until wilted.

  • Balance with sweetness – Add a grated apple, diced onion, or touch of brown sugar along with the red cabbage to balance the flavor.

  • Use less – If the red cabbage is strongly overpowering the corned beef, simply reduce the amount you add to the pot.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Here is a simple set of instructions for successfully swapping red for green cabbage in your traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner:


  • 3-4 lb corned beef brisket
  • 1 small head red cabbage, cored and sliced
  • 4-5 small potatoes, halved
  • 1 onion, diced (optional)
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, grated (optional)
  • 1-2 cups beef broth or water


  1. Place corned beef in large pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook approximately 2 1⁄2 hours until fork tender.

  2. While corned beef is cooking, quick pickle the red cabbage for 30 minutes in a bath of apple cider vinegar and salt. Rinse and set aside.

  3. Once corned beef is fork tender, add potatoes and onion to pot. Cook 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.

  4. Add quick pickled red cabbage to pot along with grated apple (if using for sweetness). Simmer together 15-20 minutes until cabbage is desired tenderness.

  5. Remove corned beef, slice against the grain, and serve immediately with red cabbage and potatoes. Enjoy!

Tips for Leftovers

Like most stews and boiled dishes, corned beef and cabbage is even better the next day as the flavors continue to meld. Here are some ideas for savoring those leftovers:

  • Slice and pan fry the corned beef in butter until lightly crisped on both sides. Load into crusty rolls for delicious corned beef sandwiches.

  • Dice or shred the leftover corned beef. Pile on plates and top with leftover cabbage and a fried egg for an easy corned beef hash.

  • For a St. Patrick’s Day inspired lunch, place slices of corned beef and cabbage between two pieces of Irish soda bread. Butter the outsides and grill like a panini.

  • Chop up leftover potatoes, cabbage, carrots and corned beef. Fry everything together in a hot skillet until nicely browned.

  • Whip up a hearty soup by simmering leftover corned beef, vegetables and broth together. Ladle into bowls and top with a swirl of whole grain mustard.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about subbing red cabbage in corned beef and cabbage:

Can I use a red cabbage and green cabbage mix?

Absolutely! Combining both types of cabbage will give you a balance of flavors and colors. Roughly chop the cabbages separately, then mix together before adding to the corned beef pot.

What about using purple or white cabbage instead of red?

Purple and white cabbage can also substitute for green cabbage in this dish. While they won’t provide as dramatic of a color contrast, their flavors are mild like green cabbage. Adjust cook times as heads of purple/white cabbage tend to be a bit denser.

Can I use pre-cut bagged cabbage instead of a whole head?

Bagged coleslaw mix or sliced cabbage can be convenient options when making small amounts of corned beef and cabbage. Avoid pre-shredded kale or cruciferous vegetable mixes though, as these won’t have the right flavor or texture.

Should I alter the amount of cabbage if using red instead of green?

Taste preference will vary, but in most cases you can substitute red cabbage 1:1 for green. Just start with equal amounts, then adjust higher or lower to your liking. The red cabbage’s stronger flavor means a little can go a long way.

What about boiling the vegetables separately from the corned beef?

You can absolutely boil the potatoes and cabbage in a pot separate from the corned beef. Just make sure to bring a cup or two of the corned beef broth over to flavor the vegetables.

Putting It All Together

While red and green cabbage differ a bit, they can be largely substituted for one another, especially in a flavorful dish like corned beef and cabbage.

To review, keep these key tips in mind:

  • Account for red cabbage’s sharper taste by mellowing flavor or balancing with sweetness
  • Adjust for the extra moisture content in red cabbage
  • Allow a couple extra minutes of cook time for denser red cabbage leaves
  • Quick pickle or sauté the red cabbage prior to simmering for best results

With a few simple adjustments, you can enjoy delicious homemade corned beef and cabbage with red cabbage when green isn’t available. This unique twist on a classic Irish dish is sure to impress your tastebuds and dinner guests alike! Sláinte!


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