What Type of Beef is Corned Beef Made From?

Corned beef is a salt-cured beef product that has become associated with traditional Irish and Jewish cuisine. But what cut of beef is used to make authentic corned beef? This article will uncover exactly what type of beef corned beef is made from and why it lends itself so well to the curing and cooking process.

Origins of Corned Beef

Before modern refrigeration, salting and curing meats was an essential preservation technique. The term “corned” refers to the coarse grains of salt historically used to cure meats. While many types of meat can be corned, including pork or lamb, today corned beef is almost always made from beef brisket.

Why Brisket for Corned Beef?

Beef brisket is the cut of choice for making corned beef for several good reasons:

  • High collagen content – Brisket contains lots of connective tissue that breaks down into gelatin when cooked low and slow, keeping the beef tender and moist.

  • Lean yet fatty – Brisket has nice marbling that bastes the meat while cooking. But it’s still a lean enough cut that the fat doesn’t overwhelm when curing.

  • Large, uniform cuts – Whole briskets contain two intact muscles perfect for curing and cooking whole.

  • Affordable price – Brisket is relatively inexpensive compared to other beef cuts, keeping corned beef affordable.

  • Absorbent meat – The brisket’s loose grain and fat pockets readily absorb the salt, spices, and flavor of the curing brine.

No other cut of beef has all of these ideal qualities that make it so well suited for corning and cooking. Let’s look closer at the anatomy of a beef brisket.

Anatomy of a Beef Brisket

A beef brisket comprises two separate muscles from the breast region of the cow:

  • Flat cut – The long, rectangular “first cut” brisket. It’s leaner and consists of the pectoral muscle.

  • Point cut – The fattier, thicker “second cut” located beneath the flat. It contains the pectoralis profundi muscle.

For making corned beef, the flat cut or whole un-separated brisket is typically used. The flat cut has a higher proportion of meat to fat, allowing the salt and spices to penetrate effectively during curing.

Why Jewish Delis Corn Beef Brisket

In the late 1800s, Jewish immigrants arriving in America sought affordable meat options to conform to their kosher dietary laws. Beef brisket, a lesser-used cut, fit the bill. Brisket also echoed traditional Jewish recipes for salted and cooked beef.

Jewish delis adopted brisket for their corned beef because it follows kosher law, suits curing and long braising, and allowed patrons to enjoy traditional flavors affordably. The association with Jewish culture has continued today.

How the Meat Industry Corners Brisket

In the commercial meat industry today, full briskets are trimmed from beef carcasses and cured using a fast, consistent process perfected for mass production:

  • Briskets are submerged in a brine of water, salt, nitrites, and spices for 6-10 days. This cures the meat.

  • The cured brisket is then vacuum-packed and cooked for several hours until tender.

  • Finally, the cooked corned beef is chilled, sliced, and vacuum-packed for retail sale.

While brisket was originally chosen for its ideal properties, it remains the standard cut used across the meat industry for corning beef.

Other Cuts for Homemade Corned Beef

Although brisket is standard, other cuts of beef can be corned at home. Fattier cuts with connective tissue work best. Options include:

  • Chuck roast – Well-marbled like brisket; must cook long to tenderize
  • Round – Very lean so can dry out; benefits from larding
  • Plate – High collagen content; may have more waste
  • Rump roast – Similar marbling to brisket; nice uniform shape

For your first corned beef experiment, stick with brisket. But if you can’t source one, try another fatty cut. Trim it well and cook it low and slow.

Tailoring the Cure to Different Cuts

If curing a non-brisket cut of beef, adjust your wet cure or brine accordingly:

  • Lean cuts – Reduce salt slightly and monitor curing time to avoid overly salted beef.

  • Fattier cuts – May need a touch more salt for proper curing due to higher moisture content.

  • Larger cuts – Will require a longer curing time for the salts to fully penetrate.

Don’t be afraid to modify your recipe based on the cut you’re working with.

Buying Corned Beef Brisket

When purchasing corned beef, you can buy it pre-cured and cooked, or choose a raw brisket to cure at home:

  • Packaged corned beef – Fully cooked, ready to heat and serve. Look for high-quality ingredients.

  • Raw corned brisket – Cured but uncooked. Requires simmering for 3+ hours.

  • Fresh brisket – Raw, uncured brisket to brine and cook yourself. More work but rewarding.

Talk to your butcher about sourcing a good corned brisket or pick from quality brands at the grocery store. With the brisket ready, move on to cooking your perfect corned beef.

Cooking Methods for Corned Beef

A properly cooked corned beef brisket should be ridiculously tender with juicy, beefy flavor. These methods all work well:

  • Braising – Simmer in liquid for 3+ hours until fork tender.

  • Roasting – Cook in the oven at 300°F for 4-5 hours until tender.

  • Slow cooker – Set on low for 8-10 hours. May not brown.

  • Pressure cooker – Cooks in 1-1.5 hours under pressure. More hands-on.

Cook low and slow to properly break down the connective tissues. Slice across the grain before serving.

Serving Corned Beef

Once you’ve perfectly cooked a corned beef brisket, pile high on sandwiches or slice for a traditional Irish or Jewish dinner:

  • For Reuben sandwiches, pair slices with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island or Russian dressing on rye bread.

  • Serve with boiled potatoes, cabbage, and carrots for a New England boiled dinner.

  • Combine leftovers with vegetables for an easy corned beef hash.

  • Use for Jewish deli classics like hot corned beef sandwiches or corned beef egg rolls.

  • Fold chopped corned beef into mashed potatoes or stuffed peppers for delicious leftover recipes.

With its signature salty flavor, hearty texture and pink color, brisket-based corned beef is ideal for all your traditional recipes.

In Summary

While many meats can be corned, today beef brisket is the standard cut used to make corned beef. Brisket has the ideal marbling, connective tissue and structure for curing, cooking and serving. Corned brisket remains a staple in both Irish-American and Jewish cooking. Look for a quality pre-cooked or raw corned brisket to experience this richly flavored, time-honored delicacy.


What’s the difference between flat cut and point cut brisket?

The flat cut brisket is leaner with a uniform shape. The point cut contains more fat and collagen for richer flavor and tenderness.

Is ground beef used for corned beef?

Rarely. The brining process works best with whole beef cuts. Ground beef would not cure evenly or hold its texture.

How thick should I slice corned beef?

For sandwiches, slice corned beef between 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick against the grain. For dinner plates or hashes, thicker 3/4 to 1 inch slices are ideal.

Can I use beef round or chuck roast for corned beef?

Yes, other cuts like round or chuck can be substitutes but may need some adjustments to the curing time or method to prevent drying out.

How long does leftover cooked corned beef last?

Refrigerate leftovers for 3-4 days. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat gently before serving.

What Exactly Is Corned Beef?


What cut of beef is used for corned beef?

What cut of beef does corned beef come from? Beef brisket is the cut used to make corned beef. A primal cut, it’s a large piece from the breast or lower chest of beef cattle. Brisket is a tough cut with connective tissue throughout, and a whole brisket typically weighs 10 pounds or more.

What makes corned beef different from regular beef?

Fresh beef brisket is like a big roast. Corned beef starts out as beef brisket and is brine-cured first. The brine-cure is what makes it corned beef and that curing process is where it gets its color from. At stores, beef brisket will be labeled beef brisket and have a good amount of fat on it.

What is the American version of corned beef?

In North America, corned beef is brisket, taken from the lower chest of a cow or steer, that has been brined in salt and spices. (In general British usage, fresh corned beef is called “salt beef,” while the canned version retains the “corned” designation.)

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