Oops! You overdid it when seasoning your meat—or maybe just the brine—and wound up with corned beef too salty to eat. What went wrong, and is there any way to salvage your hard work? Or will you have to toss it out and start all over again?
That latter option isn’t too appealing, so we’ve put together this guide. With any luck, it can help save your meal and prevent you from making the same mistake again.
Corned Beef Too Salty
Corned beef can turn out too salty if you use too much (or the wrong type of) salt in the curing liquid. The store-bought versions can be overly salty as well. Try rinsing the meat before you cook it. If it’s still too salty, you can offset the effect with mustard or a cream sauce, or by making the corned beef an ingredient in another dish.
Why “Corned” Beef?
Even if you’ve had corned beef numerous times, you might not know why it’s called that. The dish, which consists of meat that’s been cured in a brine, doesn’t include corn as a traditional ingredient. So where did the name come from?
The key ingredient in corned beef is the salt used for curing. Back when the dish was first invented, the word corn was used to refer to large particles of any grainy substance, including salt. Since the grains of salt used for curing meat were so big, the term corned beef was coined.
Back when corned beef first arrived on the scene, curing the meat was a means of preserving it. Nowadays, you can buy prepackaged corned beef from the supermarket, but the results are more impressive if you do the curing yourself.
Is Corned Beef Salty To Begin With?
We should start by pointing out that corned beef is always going to taste somewhat salty. After all, it’s made by soaking beef in salt water. This is true especially when curing salt is included in the recipe, as is usually the case (more on that later).
That said, corned beef should never be so salty that it’s impossible to eat. You should be able to taste the beef and other seasonings as well.
Corned Beef Too Salty: What Went Wrong?
There are a few reasons why your corned beef might be unpleasantly salty. The root cause, however, remains the same: There’s too much salt in the dish.
It could be that you used the wrong type of salt in the curing liquid. If the recipe called for kosher salt and you substituted regular table salt, the resulting brine would be too salty.
Table salt has finer grains than kosher salt. That means you can’t substitute one for the other without making adjustments. In general, you should use about half as much table salt when using it instead of kosher salt in a recipe.
It’s also possible that you overdid it on the curing salt, or Prague powder. This isn’t like table salt—it’s a preservative that contains sodium nitrate. Because it can be toxic when consumed in large quantities, it’s dyed pink to distinguish it from other salts.
Even if there was nothing wrong with the curing liquid, you may have added too much salt during the cooking process. Since corned beef is already infused with salt, it’s not usually necessary to add more.
Finally, failing to rinse the beef under cold water can result in meat that’s overly salty. While we don’t usually advocate this practice, it is a good idea when dealing with meat that’s been soaking in a brine solution for several days.
Some people worry that rinsing the beef will result in a bland dish. Don’t worry about that—the meat will be infused with flavor at this point. The only thing you need to watch out for is cross-contamination, as rinsing meat under running water can spread bacteria around the kitchen area.
It’s easier to remove excess salt from corned beef before it’s cooked. That won’t do you any good if you’re at the point of serving the meal, but if you’re worried that the meat will be too salty at the outset, there are ways to avoid this outcome.
Try soaking the corned beef in milk before you cook it. This works especially well with the prepackaged versions that are available at the supermarket, but you can try it with the homemade variety as well.
It’s also possible to remove some of the salty taste during the cooking process. Cover the meat with cold water and simmer it gently on the stovetop, adding vegetables once the beef is nice and tender. You can also use a slow cooker for this method.
What if you only realize that the corned beef is too salty once you’ve served it? In this case, you still have a few options for salvaging the leftovers.
For one, you can add your favorite mustard. The tart, vinegary flavor will help to offset the excess salt. This works well particularly if you’re serving the corned beef on sandwiches, although it’s also acceptable to slather the naked slices with mustard.
A cream sauce will also cut back on the salty taste. You can experiment with whatever flavors suit your side dishes best. For example, horseradish packs a nice punch and will distract from the saltiness.
Another good method would be to use leftover corned beef an ingredient in other dishes. Since the meat isn’t the star of the show, the saltiness won’t be as overpowering. Try making a shepherd’s pie, a stew, or a casserole with the leftover beef.
How To Make Corned Beef
- 1 brisket flat (weighing 6 to 7 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon Prague powder #1 (or curing salt #1)
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon allspice berries
- 2 bay leaves
1. Fill a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water. Add the salt, sugar, Prague powder, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cloves, allspice, and bay leaves.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved.
3. Pour this mixture into a bowl and add 2 quarts of ice water. Test the mixture to be sure that it’s cool to the touch. If it’s still too warm, put it in the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes.
4. Add the brisket and the brine mixture to a container large enough to hold them both while keeping the meat completely submerged.
5. Refrigerate the brisket for 5 to 7 days. It’s a good idea to rotate the meat in the container every other day just to ensure that all of the beef is getting properly treated with the brine mixture.
6. Remove the brisket from the container and discard the brine. Rinse the beef under cold running water.
7. The corned beef is now ready to be prepared according to your chosen recipe. We like to use the smoker whenever possible, but a slow cooker makes an acceptable substitute on cold or rainy days.
More Tips On Making Your Own Corned Beef
- Choose the right cut. The flat cut of the brisket is the ideal choice, but you can use the point cut or even a chuck roast if you prefer to shred the meat rather than slice it.
- Add some red pepper flakes to the curing mixture if you enjoy spicy foods.
- Be sure to use a low cooking temperature. If the meat cooks too quickly, it will turn out chewy or stringy rather than tender.
- When cooking corned beef on the stovetop or in a slow cooker, make sure it’s completely submerged. If there’s not enough liquid in the pot, the meat will toughen up.
- Be sure to slice the meat across the grain. Carving meat with the grain will result in a chewy mouthful.
We’ve all been guilty of over-seasoning our meat every now and then. With corned beef, it’s especially easy to do because salt is such a key ingredient in the preparation. The more often you make the dish, the easier it will be to get the proportions down.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!