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What Part of the Cow is Corned Beef? All You Need to Know

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Sliced Corned Beef on Chopping Board

When you see corned beef packaged for sale, what cut of beef is that? And why is it called corned beef in the first place? If you’re asking these questions, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve put together this guide to fill in the blanks. 

What Part of Cow is Corned Beef?

The term corned beef doesn’t refer to a cut of beef, but it’s usually made from the brisket or beef round. To make corned beef, the chef brines the meat in a saltwater solution to give it that signature flavor and texture. Since the rock salt originally used for brining was made up of large crystals that resembled corn kernels, the term corned beef was born. 

About Corned Beef

Corned beef is meat that’s been brined in a saltwater solution with a host of other spices. This alters the texture of the meat, giving it a rough appearance. It also provides a savory hit of flavor. 

If the brining solution contains Prague powder, a type of curing salt, the corned beef will have a reddish hue. That’s because Prague powder is dyed pink to distinguish it from regular table salt. 

The corned beef you buy in the supermarket usually has that pink tinge to it, but when you make your own corned beef at home, you don’t necessarily have to use Prague powder. I’ve made the dish multiple times with regular kosher salt, and it tastes just as good. 

What Part of Cow is Corned Beef?

Corned beef can refer to any cut of beef that’s been subjected to a brine solution until it achieves the right texture. However, the best cut for corned beef is the round. 

Round

The round is one of the primal cuts of beef. That means it’s one of the large sections that’s initially separated from the steer during butchering. It comes from the rear leg and the rump, which are naturally tough due to the amount of exercise they get. 

Since the round is both tough and lean, it has a chewy texture if it’s subjected to quick-cooking applications. That makes it an excellent fit for braising, which is the preferred method for corned beef. 

Brisket

Brisket Grilled Beef

Brisket is another primal cut. It comes from the lower pectoral area, which supports a great deal of the steer’s weight. As such, the meat is naturally tough, with lots of fat and connective tissue. 

The brisket can be divided into two subprimal cuts. These are known as the point and the flat. The point end is very fatty, with an irregular triangular shape. The flat is leaner and rectangular, and easier to slice as a result. 

Silverside

Americans almost always make corned beef from the brisket. However, in England, where the dish was born (see below), the chefs will sometimes use silverside instead. This is a boneless cut taken from the hindquarters, between the tail and the rump. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the silverside and how to trim it, take a look at this instructional video

Why is it Called Corned Beef?

The term is a bit confusing. As you’ve no doubt surmised by reading this far, there’s no corn involved in the recipe. So where did the phrase corned beef come from? 

Corned beef dates back to the 17th century, when the British began to cure the meat in this way as a means of preservation. Back then, the salt that they used was made up of crystals that were the same size as corn kernels. Hence, the resulting meat was called corned beef. 

Are Pastrami and Corned Beef the Same Thing?

You can smoke corned beef to add another layer of flavor. If you take this step, the corned beef becomes pastrami. Note that when pastrami is typically made from the point end of the brisket, regular corned beef is usually made from the flat. 

While pastrami is always smoked, traditional corned beef is steamed or boiled. That’s why a St. Patrick’s Day feast made with corned beef and cabbage is sometimes called a “boiled dinner.” 

You can substitute pastrami for corned beef and vice versa. Naturally, the pastrami will have a smokier flavor, and it will be a little bit richer due to the extra fat. However, they’re similar enough to be used interchangeably in most recipes. 

Which Cut is Best?

If you have a choice, opt for the round. Corned beef is my favorite dish to make when I find this cut. This is a particularly good choice if you’re going to smoke the meat instead of braising it. 

The next-best option would be brisket. The cut contains more fat than the silverside, which helps to keep it moist. Since corned beef has to cook for a long time to obtain the right texture, this is a key point. 

Sliced Beef Brisket

Choose the flat end of the brisket over the point end. You can make corned beef with a whole brisket (sometimes called a whole packer), but the flat has a broad grain and a uniform shape that makes it easier to slice. 

Corned Beef vs Brisket 

Now that you know corned beef is often made from brisket, you might be wondering why they have different labels. The fact is, they’re not exactly the same thing. 

We’ve already established that you can make corned beef from other cuts, namely the silverside. So not all corned beef is brisket. More to the point, not all brisket is corned beef. 

Regular brisket is a raw, unseasoned cut of beef. In order to be called corned beef, it has to undergo the brining treatment. So don’t make the mistake of buying a raw brisket flat and thinking you have corned beef. 

How to Make Corned Beef

You can buy corned beef in the meat section of your supermarket. Some specialty butcher shops will sell it too, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. But I prefer to make my own from scratch. 

When you make your own corned beef, you have full control over the spices and the salt content. You can also decide when the meat has been in the brine long enough, so the finished dish will have the texture you prefer

Use the recipe below as a template. You can substitute brisket for the beef round, or adjust the spices to your liking. The pink curing salt will give the meat that signature red color, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s not essential. 

Ingredients 

  • 1 beef round roast (5 to 6 pounds) 
  • 2 cups kosher salt 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon pink curing salt (optional) 
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds 
  • 10 whole cloves 
  • 10 allspice berries 
  • 10 juniper berries 
  • 2 bay leaves

Directions 

Home Made Corned Beef

1- In a stock pot, combine 4 cups of water with the salt, sugar, curing salt, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cloves, allspice, juniper, and bay leaves. 

2- Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the salt and sugar have dissolved.

3- Pour the brine solution into a large bowl and add 4 cups of cold water. If the mixture isn’t cool to the touch, add a few ice cubes. 

4- Once the brine is cool, put the beef in a container that’s large enough for the meat to be completely submerged. Add the brine. 

5- Set the container on a low shelf in the refrigerator, pushed toward the back so it will be out of the way. 

6- Refrigerate the beef for 5 to 7 days, turning it over in the brine every other day. 

7- When you’re ready to start cooking, remove the beef round from the container and discard the brine. 

8- You’ll need to cook the corned beef for about one hour per pound, until the meat is fork-tender. You can do this in the oven or slow cooker, but I prefer to braise it on the stove top using water and more pickling spices.  

9- When the meat is done, remove it from the braising liquid and cover it with foil. Add potatoes and cabbage to the pot and simmer the vegetables until tender. 

10- Carve the corned beef into slices and serve alongside the potatoes and cabbage.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to turn a round roast or brisket flat or into corned beef. Once you’ve figured that out, you may never go back to the store-bought variety again. 

Happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar

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