What Does Corned Beef Taste Like?

Sliced corned beef on a platter with carrots, onions, and potatoes.

The smell of slow-cooked corned beef and cabbage wafts through many U.S. kitchens every St. Patrick’s Day. Irish-Americans, along with anyone who likes a good beer-drinking holiday, has smelled the salty meat cooking. If you haven’t tried it, you’re sure to ask: What does corned beef taste like?

Read on to find out more about the taste and texture of corned beef, plus a few other fun facts you’re bound to use at your next St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

What does corned beef taste like? (Is it good?)

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Corned beef has a distinct flavor that sets it apart from other meats. Since the meat is brined before cooking, corned beef has a salty, savory, and slightly sour flavor. The brine contains spices such as mustard seeds, coriander, and cloves. As a result, corned beef tastes like a cross between roast beef and salty pastrami. 

Sliced corned beef on a platter with carrots, onions, and potatoes.

The low-and-slow cooking method delivers a tender and rich mouth feel, almost like braised short ribs. 

What exactly is corned beef?

Corned beef is cured beef brisket, usually cooked low and slow and served with cabbage. The term “corned” refers to the use of large-grained rock salt in the curing process.

The cut of corned beef — brisket — comes from the chest of the cow. It is a tough, flavorful cut that requires slow cooking to become tender and delicious. That applies whether or not the brisket is cured and brined. 

Corned beef is associated with Irish cuisine and is a popular component of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal in the U.S. 

How to cook corned beef 

You can cook corned beef in the slow cooker or in the oven. See our recipes: 

    What to serve with corned beef 

    The most common side dishes to serve with corned beef are cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and onions. These vegetables can be cooked in a pot with the corned beef so they absorb its flavor. You can also serve corned beef with mustard or horseradish, which nicely complements the meat’s salty and savory flavor. Another great pairing for corned beef is Irish soda bread. The bread’s sweet, nutty flavor balances the saltiness of the meat.

    Do the Irish really eat corned beef and cabbage?

    Many people associate corned beef and cabbage with traditional Irish cuisine , but the reality is more complicated. Corned beef and cabbage is a staple of Irish-American cuisine, but it’s not a common dish in Ireland itself. In fact, the dish rarely appears on Irish menus, except perhaps in touristy venues.

    The origins of corned beef and cabbage date back to the early 20th century. At that time, Irish immigrants in America discovered that corned beef was a cheaper substitute for cured bacon, the traditional meat used in Irish dishes. From those humble beginnings, corned beef and cabbage became a fixture in Irish-American culture — and a staple dish for St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S., along with Irish soda bread and shepherd’s pie. 

    In Ireland, the traditional meal for St. Patrick’s Day is actually a boiled bacon joint with cabbage and potatoes.

    How is corned beef different from pastrami?

    Corned beef and pastrami are both cured meats and they do have a similar taste. The main difference between corned beef and pastrami is the cut of meat. Corned beef is made from brisket and pastrami is made from the navel or the round.

    The preparation methods are different as well. Corned beef is cured and brined. Pastrami is usually smoked and seasoned with a spice rub and then thinly sliced. That’s why corned beef is often more tender and salty, while pastrami is firmer and spicier. Both make for a great sandwich though. 

    Does brisket taste like corned beef?

    No, brisket that’s not cured and brined does not taste like corned beef. Brisket is typically smoked, roasted, or braised, which makes it tender and flavorful. The flavor is usually enhanced with a spice rub and barbecue sauce. On the other hand, corned beef is boiled in water, salt, sugar, and pickling spices — that lends a salty, briny taste. 

    What is corned beef hash?

    Corned beef hash is a popular dish made by pan frying leftover corned beef, diced potatoes, and onions. The dish first originated in Northern Europe, where it was created as a way to use up leftover meat and vegetables. The exact recipe varies depending on the region and personal preference, but typically involves mixing the cooked corned beef with diced and boiled potatoes and sautéed onions. Some variations also include additional ingredients like peppers, carrots, and spices.

    You can serve corned beef hash as a hearty breakfast dish. Top it with a fried egg for extra oomph. 

    Should you try corned beef this St. Patrick’s Day?

    Some people love corned beef and others…well, not so much. If you like salty, briny foods (think: dill pickles) and stewed meat, you’ll probably like corned beef. If pickles or braised meats gross you out, corned beef probably isn’t your thing.