How Is Canned Corned Beef Made? (Unusual But Edible)

You have probably seen these peculiar rectangular cylinder-shaped cans on your supermarket shelf that say Corned Beef on the label.

So, what is this mysterious meat product, what is it made of, how does it taste like, and how are you supposed to actually eat it?

canned corned beef in the supermarket

What Is Corned Beef?

salt beef and corned beef in the tin

Corned beef comes in two different forms: delicatessen, or canned. When bought from a Deli counter, corned beef is a cut of beef, usually the brisket cut, that has been cured or pickled as a whole object. Then, when you request a certain amount of beef, it will be cut for you – as with other deli meats. The deli version is also known as salt beef.

How Is Canned Corned Beef Made?

making of canned corned beef

Canned corned beef, also known as ‘Bully Beef’ is made of a variety of meat cuts that are not good enough to be sold as fresh Deli corned beef brisket. These cuts of beef are slowly cooked in curing brine, mixed with large-grained rock salt, also known as ‘corns’ of salt, and finely minced. Then nitrates are added and the meat is canned in distinctive oblong shape cans.

This type of corned beef is typically bought from supermarkets rather than Delis.

There’s no corn (maize) in corned beef, instead, the term refers to the size of the salt grains used in the brine. [1]In the course of this article, I am going to be focusing on the tinned version.

How Does Corned Beef Taste?

tasting of bully beef

Corned beef has a particularly distinctive crumbly texture, pinkish-brown color, and salty taste with some fat and oil notes. Despite its soft texture, it tastes quite meaty. In many cases, this canned meat is an acquired taste.

Many people say that it looks a bit like dog food, but don’t let the appearance get in the way. Surprisingly, you can create many decent-looking and rather delicious dishes with it.

So, What Can You Do With Corned Beef?

corned beef dish

Tinned corned beef is already cooked before being canned, so it is perfectly safe to eat it straight out of the metal tin. You can use it to make sandwiches or add it to a salad without cooking.

While you can eat it without cooking, I would still recommend cooking it to give it some flavor and a more appealing appearance.

One of the great recipes to try is corned beef hash.

Making Corned Beef Hash

One of my favorite corned beef dishes and probably the most famous ones is canned corned beef hash. This simple, yet filling dish is especially popular in countries such as France, Britain, and the United States.

This dish can be served with a fried egg, toast, or baked beans and is great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Check out the video below on how to make corned beef hash. (This recipe is with cabbage but is optional as cabbage is not really part of the classic recipe).

It is easy to prepare and only requires a few ingredients:

  1. Corned beef (canned or deli)
  2. Potatoes
  3. Onion
  4. Cabbage (optional)
  5. Beef stock or bouillon cube
  6. Seasoning

Served with a fried egg and toast.

That is not the only recipe you can try. There are many more clever and tasty ideas and delicious recipes that you can do with this meat, some traditional and some quite modern. 

You can check out more recipes here on Pinterest.

Why Are Corned Beef Tins Such A Strange Shape?

rectangular corned beef tin with the key

You have to admit, corned beef tins are definitely a strange shape. They’re a slightly tapered, rounded rectangle or oblong shape which doesn’t need a can opener to get into. Instead, the cans typically come with a little key that is used to remove the top part of the metal tin.

The reason that corned beef comes in these odd-shaped cans is that it was originally made to be supplied to the military. There is less wasted space in a stack of square tins than in a stack of round tins, so the military opted for the square cans to optimize efficiency.

The cans are still that shape simply because it is distinctively unique and they stack and stand out well on a supermarket shelf. People have come to expect that can, so companies will continue to make it that way.

Also, because of the shape, the meat can be easily removed once the can is open. The only downside for these cans is that they could be tricky to open, especially if you have broken or lost the special key, and talking from my own experience, these keys are easy to lose.

So, to avoid the struggle and potentially hurting yourself with the sharp edge of the metal, check out the video below where I will demonstrate a very simple method of how to open a tin of corned beef without the key.

How Healthy Is Corned Beef?

Corned beef is a very simple food, yet it has its share of health risks. One of the key ingredients in the makeup of corned beef is rock salt. Some brands may contain over 3g of salt per 100g of meat.

So, if your diet is already high in sodium then you should definitely eat it in moderation. 

Check Out My Video: 7 Surprising Signs You’re Eating Too Much Salt (Don’t Ignore!)

rock salt for cured beef

Many processed meat products, also contain curing salt, known as Prague Powder or Pink Salt. This powder is what gives the meat this bright pink color that it has, as well as making up a large portion of the pickling brine that is used to make corned beef. Without it, most meat products would have a very unappealing gray color. [2]

The sodium nitrite in Prague powder is what stops bacterial growth in food, which would lead to spoilage and food poisoning if unchecked.

It’s sodium nitrate that’s responsible for a lot of the claims about the unhealthiness of corned beef and a lot of other processed meats. Sodium nitrate can also be found in ham, bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats, sausages, smoked meats, and even in smoked fish.

According to The Mayo Clinic, sodium nitrite is thought to damage your blood vessels and potentially lead to heart disease. It is also mentioned that Nitrites can affect the way your body processes sugar, making you more likely to develop diabetes.

In yet another worrying fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed nitrites as a probable carcinogen in 2012. Since then, the American Medical Association has lessened its warnings on Nitrites.

So, which side of the Nitrite argument should you opt for? Well, it’s hard to say.

Nitrites and other ingredients that are used in the production processes of red meats could lead to health complications down the line.

On the other hand, eating a little red meat as part of a rich, varied, and balanced diet is likely to be safe – so make sure to eat your veggies also! Just make sure you clean and wash your vegetables properly after bringing them home from the grocery store.

How Long Can You Store It?

Canned corn beef is designed to be stored for a long time. It makes great survival food. The idea behind canning food is that it will be sure to preserve and maintain the food within the tin for a long time.

This is why it was used to supply soldiers, as it could be kept edible for a long time during shipping and storage. Generally speaking, a can of corned beef will have a shelf life of three to five years. [3]

After the tin has been opened, you can still preserve it for a little while. Store the opened corned beef in an airtight container in the fridge, and it will be good for three to four days. If you did the same thing in the freezer, the beef would last two to three months.

Read Also: Check Out How To Heat Up Tinned Soup The Right Way

About Jen Evansy

Nutritionist, researcher, avid home cook, and writer interested in everything nutrition and food-related. Striving to inform, encourage, and inspire all the readers to make healthy and informed choices when it comes to cooking, food, diet, and nutrition.