Why is Corned Beef So Expensive?

Corned beef holds a special place in many culinary traditions, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. But its devoted fans have likely noticed corned beef prices steadily rising over the years. This delicacy can cost 2-3 times as much as regular unprocessed brisket. What’s behind the high price tag for corned beef?

Overview of Corned Beef

Corned beef is made from beef brisket that has been cured or “corned” in a salt and spice brine. This curing gives it a distinctive pink color and seasoned flavor. The curing process also acts as a preservative.

Traditionally, corned beef is simmered in the spices until tender – a preparation method known as “corned beef and cabbage.” Sliced thin, it also makes an excellent sandwich meat.

While made from a relatively inexpensive cut like brisket, corned beef itself can be quite pricey. Let’s look at some of the reasons behind the steep cost of corned beef.

Manufacturing Costs

One of the biggest factors affecting corned beef prices is the additional processing required compared to plain raw brisket. Here are some of the extra production costs:

  • Raw materials – The brine ingredients, especially the salts/nitrates
  • Labor – Time and personnel required for brining, slicing, packaging
  • Equipment – Specialized tanks, pumps, slicers, packaging machines
  • Inventory – Storage space and time for brined product
  • Transportation – Shipping finished goods to retailers

These costs mean the manufacturer has a much higher input cost for corned beef before it even leaves the factory compared to unprocessed brisket.

Retail Packaging

Corned beef is most often sold pre-sliced in vacuum sealed retail packages. This is convenient for consumers but adds even more processing expense compared to selling whole briskets.

The slicing, Modified Atmosphere Packaging, and retail packaging bump the price up further. When you buy corned beef, you are paying extra for that preparation convenience.

Prime Cut Factor

Brisket is considered one of the prime cuts of beef. While not exceptionally pricey on its own, using a high-value cut raises the base price compared to starting with a cheaper beef cut. The prime location of the brisket on the chest of the steer results in wonderfully flavorful and tender corned beef.

Niche Production

Corned beef production is a relatively small niche within the broader meat industry. The major meatpackers excel at high volume commodity beef products. Smaller regional processors specialize in artisanal items like corned beef in smaller batches. This production scale leads to higher costs.

Brand Reputation

For some consumers, the brand matters when it comes to corned beef. Iconic brands command a premium – they are able to fetch higher prices based on their reputation, perception of quality, and consumer loyalty. This allows the brand to spread costs over a smaller volume of production.

Retailer Margins

Grocery stores know that corned beef is primarily purchased around St. Patrick’s Day. To take advantage of this seasonal demand spike, they tend to mark up prices significantly compared to the rest of the year. Retailers aim to maximize profits during this corned beef sales window.

Supply Chain Issues

Recent supply chain disruptions have impacted many areas of food manufacturing. Issues like labor shortages, transportation delays, and rising fuel costs have driven up expenses for corned beef producers. These increased costs inevitably get passed on to consumers.

Is Corned Beef Worth the Price?

Whether corned beef is “worth” the higher price depends on your budget and preferences. If you love the distinctive flavors of corned beef and value the convenience of fully cooked, sliced product, then it may be worthwhile for a special occasion meal.

However for everyday cooking, choosing raw brisket and making your own corned beef at home can save substantially. You can control the flavors and quality while benefiting from bulk pricing on the raw meat.

Ways to Save on Corned Beef

If you want to enjoy corned beef without breaking the bank, here are some tips:

  • Choose brisket and corn your own beef using a simple brine
  • Buy larger cuts vs pre-sliced retail packs
  • Look for sales before St. Patrick’s Day when prices peak
  • Opt for house-brand corned beef over premium name brands
  • Consider lower-cost substitutes like pastrami

With some smart shopping strategies, you can still enjoy delicious corned beef without overspending. Sláinte!

What Meat Is Really In Canned Corned Beef?


What is so special about corned beef?

Corned beef is made from brisket, a relatively inexpensive cut of beef. The meat goes through a long curing process using large grains of rock salt, or “corns” of salt, and a brine. It’s then slowly cooked, turning a tough cut of beef into one that’s super tender and flavorful.

Why is there a shortage of corned beef?

There are several reasons behind the current meat shortage crisis. The closure of meat processing plants due to outbreaks or even potential outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers caused a major slowdown in production, leading to supply chain disruptions.

Is corned beef good or bad for you?

Corned beef is processed red meat made by brining brisket in a salt and spice solution to flavor and tenderize it. While it provides protein and nutrients like iron and vitamin B12, corned beef is relatively high in fat and sodium. It’s also a source of certain compounds that may increase your risk of cancer.

Is corned beef a junk food?

Canned corned beef is a processed food high in saturated fat, salt and cholesterol—a type of fat that clogs arteries. Dr. Heena Akbar explains that these are all things that contribute to why diabetes and heart disease are more common in Pacific Island populations. “It’s processed, it’s fatty.

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