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What Is Corned Beef? (and Other Facts About "Bully Beef")


Rose West has been an online writer for more than 10 years. She often writes about England, Hawaii, and books.

Corned beef and cabbage is the traditional dish to eat on St. Patrick’s Day—in America, that is. Although corned beef isn't actually very popular in Ireland, Irish Americans love to celebrate their heritage by eating the dish. Even wannabe Irish join in on the fun on March 17th.

St. Patrick's Day is considered a national holiday in Ireland, but those with Irish heritage have been celebrating the holiday in America since the 1700s. Corned beef and cabbage has become recognized as traditional food for St. Paddy's Day, but in fact, the dish is more American than Irish. Read on to learn more about corned beef.

Corned beef in a can.

Corned beef in a can.

Corned beef and cabbage dinners are eaten almost exclusively on St. Patrick’s Day. The rest of the year, corned beef consumption in the U.S. consists mostly of Reuben sandwiches and canned corned beef hash.

The brisket is from the front part of the cow.

The brisket is from the front part of the cow.

What Is the "Corn" in Corned Beef?

The fresh cuts of corned beef you find at the grocery store are usually the brisket cuts. The brisket is from the front part of the cow. The beef is called “corned,” which refers to the curing method of the meat. Corned beef used to be dry-cured using “corns” of salt. Today, this meat is brined with salt water. The method of preserving meat using salt has been around for millenniums, but the combination of corned beef and cabbage originated with Irish Americans in the 1800s.

The Modern Dish Is Based on Bacon and Cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage is a result of the Irish dish bacon and cabbage. The people in Ireland didn’t often eat beef during times of need, eating bacon joint instead. But when the Irish came to America, they learned from their Jewish neighbors about corned beef, which was cheaper and easier to find.

The famous Reuben sandwich.

The famous Reuben sandwich.

Reuben Sandwiches

Reuben sandwiches are made with rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing. The origin of the Reuben is the source of much dispute:

  • One story holds that Arthur Reuben invented the sandwich in 1914 at his New York City restaurant.
  • Another account says that a grocer named Reuben Kulakofsky created the sandwich in Omaha, Nebraska, in the 1920s to feed a group of poker players at a late-night game.

Whatever the beginning of the Reuben sandwich, the end result was a delicious and popular sandwich found at many delis nationwide.

Corned Beef Hash

Corned beef hash is a mixture of corned beef, potatoes, and onions all chopped up together and cooked on the stove. It is often served for breakfast with eggs. A canned version is available at grocery stores.

This can't be edible.

This can't be edible.

Canned Corned Beef

I have my doubts as to whether canned corned beef is really corned beef at all. Personally, it reminds me of cat food. During the World Wars, canned corned beef was given to soldiers on the front, who nicknamed the meat “bully beef.” Much of canned corned beef is actually imported from South America.

Is It Good for You?

Not really. Corned beef isn’t exactly a healthy choice for dinner. Let’s just say you should save it for St. Patrick’s Day only. And even then, you might want to balance it with a healthy dose of Guinness. Although it contains good amounts of vitamin B12 and zinc, corned beef is high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium.

Corned Beef Facts

  • Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American dish.
  • "Corned" refers to the size of the salt used to cure the beef.
  • It is considered a spring dish because it used to be cured over the winter.
  • Pastrami is really corned beef that is smoked.
  • President Abraham Lincoln ate this dish at his inauguration dinner in March 1861.
  • One of President Grover Cleveland’s favorite dishes was corned beef and cabbage.


McLovin Cornbeef on November 26, 2019:

I am also not a fan of Rye Bread but love the sweet taste of Corned Beef.No hearts in my corned beef, all made from brisket. Also one of the freshest served lunch meats I buy. It is very obvious from discoloration when it is not fresh sliced. Because of this you never see corned beef sold like Ham,Chicken, Roast Beef, Turkey, Bologna, etc in pre sliced lunch meat packages.

Charles on May 08, 2019:

I hate Reuben Sandwiches and find them to be completely overrated....one reason is, because I can't stand Rye Bread.

Brian on March 17, 2019:

Please learn that dietary cholesterol does NOT equal serum cholesterol. Never has, never will.

Frank on May 31, 2018:

If you say beef hearts real fast it sounds like you said bee farts.

Debbie Gillespie on February 24, 2018:

It’s interesting that in Britain the Corned Beef manufacturers don’t make any reference to the real content of Corned Beef. In France the label clearly states beef hearts. If you really knew this, would you eat it? So there is no surprise that cat food springs to mind! Manufacturers of this product probably don’t want the public to know the real content because sales would drop.

Logan46 on November 29, 2017:

I think it would so much more delicious with the bacon, no doubt. I can't stand the taste of rye bread, never did.

sober chef on September 30, 2017:

I have researched for hrs and can only find one company that sells fresh corned beef hash. this product is in the mid-west and is $7 a lb also frozen. My question is do you think there is a market for fresh quality hash out there?

Jason on January 27, 2017:

I have a theory about canned corned beef. It goes as follows:

On virtually every can of corned beef, stamped on the bottom is either "Brazil," or "Brasil;" spelling is the only difference...or is it REALLY (insert your choice of ominous music here)!?

I think not. Conspiracy? Kiddies, I do indeed think so. I'll go out on a limb and say that every person not residing in a hunter-gatherer society has, at one time or another, had Mother Earth's struggle with the slashing and burning of Her rain forests and the displacement of the many, and some ancient, indigenous tribes of South America. Well, when the bulldozers come a crawlin' in, those peoples are given two choices: A) Go to work for the timber company and, once the condos and resorts are completed, switch over to guest services; OR, B) Become "canned-villager." The latter option reeeeeally needs no further 'fleshing out,' I don't suppose.

So, before the next time you go shopping for your favorite brand of canned corned beef at your local grocer, make a note of the following: "Brazil" indicated your typical grade A premium "downer cow, and/or spent bull." However, the "Brasil" designator is code for "canned-villager."

Only today, just moments ago in fact, did my hypothesis transcend into the theoretical when I opened a can of xxx brand canned-villager and found what I cannot swear isn't older human hair (gray beard or eyebrows, perhaps) and dirty toddler fingernail clippings...(here, Fido...come on, boy...yeah, daddy gots some good stuff for ya..dadda good boy,eat'em all gone gone!)

Domsi on November 01, 2016:

It was a well-written article enjoyed the read although it didn't help me in my search for finding raw corned beef out of season ( the season being st. Patty's Day) even reading the comments was quite pleasurable

Mark on September 10, 2016:

How can you tell that your cornbeef and cabbage is bad?

Chuck on May 01, 2016:

It seems that canned corned beef suppliers became health food crazy and now market a ghastly product with little or no fat and juices. Blah is a good definition of its taste. The Aussies put out a brand that isn't bad but it's hard to get. Anybody have any suggestions? For something I'm going to eat only a few times a years I say nuts to healthy, where's the flavor?

Kitty on July 01, 2015:

I grew up eating "fresh" corned beef (often called corned silverside) and was disgusted by the thought of the canned stuff (because we all "know" about the gross stuff that goes into canned stuff, right?)....until I stayed with a Filipina. When she asked if I wanted corned beef for lunch, I never even thought it would be the canned stuff so I ate it (it was mixed with cubed potato and onion) and it was delicious. I had it quite a few times while I was there and didn't click until months later while I was googling for the recipe that it was the canned stuff. Maybe the quality is better here in Australia? But fresh is definitely worth the effort...if I could find the winning recipe I wrote on a scrap of paper

Scott A McCray on September 20, 2014:

Not an every day food for me, but I do like it - both canned and cook 'em yourself briskets. I've saved some how-to pages on doing the corning process from scratch - I plan to try that this winter.

paul w on August 29, 2014:

i love Hormel's deluxe canned corned beef. This is going to sound like a criticism, but it isn't....to me, it tastes like the best canned tuna ever when eaten cold. It isn't fishy, but it is a brine-cured and canned meat, like canned tuna.

so it has the flavor of a very non-fishy tuna...and that's not a bad thing.

Cooked, the stuff falls apart like cheap dog food, but it has the flavor of salty, overly fatty hamburger, which really is what it is.

Rose West (author) from Michigan on July 12, 2014:

Funny how people have so many misconceptions about this :)

Rose West (author) from Michigan on July 12, 2014:

So glad you found this interesting :) It was definitely fun to write!

Nathan Eddy on May 25, 2014:

What about the fact that Corned Beef is the cheapest form of grass-fed beef, insomuch as South American beef is the last bastion of grass-fed as the rule rather than the exception.

Adrienne Lawton from Deptford, NJ on March 18, 2014:

Very interesting hub. On a few occasions, I have found myself explaining to people that the Irish in Ireland don't traditionally eat corned beef (or any beef, for that matter). I always thought it was called corned beef because they cows they obtained it from were corn fed.

Don Colfax from Easton, Pennsylvania on March 17, 2014:

Very interesting hub. I haven't done much research into the topic, but the title caught my attention for sure!

Good stuff, look forward to reading more of your work!

Rose West (author) from Michigan on January 03, 2014:

Hi dahoglund, thanks for reading! I love finding the origins of things too :)

Rose West (author) from Michigan on January 03, 2014:

Hi iguidenetwork, so glad you enjoyed this!

Rose West (author) from Michigan on January 03, 2014:

Hi belinda, thanks for your comments! Sounds like you have better-quality corned beef over there in Australia :)

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 11, 2013:

It is always interesting to learn about where foods originated. I have heard about corned beef and cabbage for years associated with the Irish. I recall it was some comic strip but of hand can't remember which one.

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on December 10, 2013:

The title of the hub is misleading... I initially thought that corned beef might be harmful, which is sad considering I love corned beef... When I got to read your hub I was relieved hehehehe. Really enjoyed the fun facts. I really thought of corned beef as pastrami, only from a can. Thanks for sharing :)

belinda on December 02, 2013:

Here in australia i grew up eating bully beef an cabbage. Mum used to serve it with rice. I liked it then and still do. I must admit if you buy the really cheap stuff its not to great but the more you pay the better quality. Ive never come across hair or skin or anything gross. And ive been eating it once a week for 22 years. Ive had the real stuff but not only does it take a lot of prep i find the canned better. Like someone said earlier of slicing and pan frying it is good to. I usually have that with sunny side up eggs, mushrooms,toast and beans on occasion when i haven't managed to buy bacon. If your finding bits of hair or skin in your canned stuff maybe look at the place its made. High quality canned corned beef in australia costs me ruffly $6-8 depending on the supermarket.

Rose West (author) from Michigan on October 17, 2013:

Hmmm...not too appetizing!

Kcin on October 15, 2013:

In South Africa certain corn beef cans clearly state on the labels that it contains Beef- & other animals' hearts. Wish we had the nicer variety with brisket, etc, then I would've eaten the stuff.

Debs on July 12, 2013:

Canned corn beef could be used to slowly poison my millionaire husband, i'm getting ideas

Tony Mead from Yorkshire on June 11, 2013:

an interesting hub, thank you for sharing. Your recipe sounds very good and I will certainly give it a try.



voted up

Linda Bryen from United Kingdom on May 21, 2013:

I have to say we like corned beef and we eat it a lot. When times are hard we can't complain we can afford to buy a tin of corned beef for dinner.

Eric on July 27, 2012:

Cut some slices of canned corn beef and cook them over high heat in a cast iron skillet until the edges are almost crispy. take these slices and use them to make a traditional Reuben sandwich. I think A reuben made this way is as good or better than one made with actual corned beef from the deli

Rose West (author) from Michigan on May 15, 2012:

Okay, that has to be one of the nastiest things I have ever heard. I don't think I will even come close to being in contact with canned corned beef ever again!

shawzo on April 16, 2012:

found a clump of what looks to be cow hair attached to skin...(really digusting) in a can of libby's corned beef today...I vomitted everything i ate immediately. Never touching processed food again...it looked like those fake eylashes that girls wear but a big chunk...GROSSS!!!!!

Rose West (author) from Michigan on November 07, 2011:

Hi bel, I think fresh is definitely better, but I know people who prefer the canned, as well. Plus, you're right, it is cheaper. I guess it's a matter of taste :)

bel on November 03, 2011:

Surely if it's fresh corned beef will taste better, like most things. I've bought some of the canned variety in my local, and it is actually pretty good and tasty, and not very expensive. With a bit of nice english mustard and good bread it can go a long way...but it may just be me. (by the way, no hide nor hair here)

Rose West (author) from Michigan on March 23, 2011:

Hi crystolite, I'm glad you enjoyed this!

Emma from Houston TX on March 21, 2011:

Interesting article which i enjoyed coming across.Useful information that is well shared to every bodies understanding.

Rose West (author) from Michigan on November 09, 2010:

blackjava, thanks for your visit! Hide and hair? Now that's just gross! Yet another reason canned corned beef should be banned corned beef :)

blackjava from Canada on November 09, 2010:

I had that "bully beef" when I was in the army back in 63. It was part of our rations wen we did field exercises. Unfortunately you often found bits of hide and hair in the mix. Turned me off canned corn beef forever :)

Rose West (author) from Michigan on August 21, 2010:

Hi Steve, tasted great? Really? The canned kind comes nowhere close to the "real" kind :) Thanks for visiting!

Steve on August 11, 2010:

Well my sister in law suggested canned corned beef hash as an omelate. And then my wife suggested canned corn beef in taquitoes. None the less I cracked open a can and good god... Looked nasty but tasted great! I'd much rather try an authentic corned meat, one with a good cut and cured properly over several weeks.

Rose West (author) from Michigan on March 19, 2010:

I'm glad you came by, fiona_33! Thank you for reading.

fiona_33 from UK on March 19, 2010:

A fun and informative hub. Never really thought about corn beef despite eating it on a regular basis.

Rose West (author) from Michigan on March 18, 2010:

Michael, thank you so much for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed learning about this interesting food.

Michael Cavinta on March 18, 2010:

I really love corned beef. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information, now I know the history of my favorite food. Corned beef is a really versatile food, you can eat it with eggs and coffee in the morning, and have it with beer in the evening. Great post!

Rose West (author) from Michigan on March 12, 2010:

WriteAngled, thank you for stopping by! Worse than cat food, haha :) Yes, canned corned beef is gross, but I do know some people who actually enjoy it for some reason.

Krys W from Abertawe, Cymru on March 12, 2010:

I didn't even know there was any corned beef that doesn't come in cans! The canned stuff is vile. I wouldn't dare give it to my cats, because they would surely take some kitty revenge if I did.

Rose West (author) from Michigan on March 03, 2010:

Jane, definitely opt for fresh over canned when eating corned beef! I don't even like to think about eating the canned kind.

Tony, I warned you in the title :) I've never heard the nickname "canned missionary"... oh dear, doesn't sound good! It really is funny to me how Americans think corned beef is Irish, when they really don't eat it there anymore.

Tony McGregor from South Africa on March 03, 2010:

Thanks for this intersting read - and some of the things I really didn't want to know. Another nickname for the canned variety, especially when served with a tomato and onion relish, is "canned missionary"! LOL! I leave it to your imagination to work out how that came about.

Have to confess I have never before thought of corned beef as connected in any way to Ireland. So that was a new one for me!

Love and peace


Ann Leavitt from Oregon on March 03, 2010:

I loved the fun facts to know and tell, though now I'm officially grossed out about canned corned beef!

Rose West (author) from Michigan on March 03, 2010:

itakins, thanks for reading and confirming what I've heard about corned beef in Ireland. I would love to try genuine bacon and cabbage - sounds delicious!

itakins from Irl on March 03, 2010:

Rose West-

Great hub-The corned beef we get here is actually more like a bacon joint-I think I've only had it half a dozen times in my life-although I believe it's popular in some parts of the country.

Canned corned beef-perish the thought-yuk!

I have to admit bacon and cabbage-especially if the cabbage is cooked in the bacon water-now that's delicious,and very Irish.

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