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March 20, 2017

The Secret Behind Shrinking Corned Beef

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:12 am

Clara Peller, the feisty senior who famously questioned the lack of meat in Wendy’s competitors’ burgers, could well reprise her memorable line, “where’s the beef,” when it comes to corned beef.

Cooks across the country surely noticed last week that the plump corned beef brisket they boiled for St. Patrick’s Day emerged from the pot only a fraction of its original size. Most people probably chalked it up to the high fat content of corned beef. But that is only part of the reason.

Had all of us paid more attention to the package the corned beef came in, we would know the primary reason for the shrinkage.


corned beef

corned beef

What? Thirty-five percent watery brine? You bet. And we are not talking about water with a 35% concentration of salt and chemicals that the brisket took a bath in. The solution is actually injected into the meat to plump it up big time. According to meat packers that MrConsumer consulted, while the solution is in deed needed to “corn” the beef, manufacturers that inject their briskets with more than 20% solution are doing so for economic reasons.

A three pound piece of beef brisket plumped up with 35% solution magically becomes about a four pound brisket. That’s how stores can sell raw corned beef in Cryovac packages for only $1.69 a pound around St. Patrick’s Day. And this is all perfectly legal as long as the percentage of solution is stated on the package if over 20%.

One corned beef manufacturer candidly put it this way, “We’re basically selling water.”

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  1. $1.69 a pound is good though, most I saw were $3.50 to $3.99, maybe they weren’t 35% water but if they were 20% water then $1.69 is still much better.

    Comment by lisa — March 20, 2017 @ 10:53 am
  2. Companies are getting better and better each day at coming up with new ways to screw us. It gets tiring trying to stay ahead of these tricksters.

    Comment by hmc — March 20, 2017 @ 12:41 pm
  3. I was just testing this myself this weekend. My 4lb brisket was about 3lbs after draining the liquid and thinning the fat pad. One local store offered it as cheap as $1.77/lb, with an additional $25 purchase. Otherwise it was $2.47. (I only saw 35% solution containing products, but I didn’t look hard for alternatives, either) Either is still quite a savings over the off-season purchase price. I recently learned that you can “corn” a brisket at home in six days, so I wonder how complete the process is in these 35% solution packets. With that much liquid, they could complete the corning process on the way to the store!

    Comment by Derlin — March 20, 2017 @ 4:41 pm
  4. So 4 pounds goes down to three. Then the piece of meat would be like 2.99 a pound which I still a solid price for beef.

    A 1.77 a pound is a steal for this meat even with 35% solution.

    Comment by Richard — March 21, 2017 @ 10:04 am
  5. Salt brine solution – “Now with 15% less corned beef!”

    Comment by Wayne — March 21, 2017 @ 3:56 pm
  6. So some people here think that it’s just fine that companies screw us as long as it’s still a good deal comparatively. I find that to be a very odd way to look at things.

    Comment by hmc — March 22, 2017 @ 2:25 pm
  7. Same issue exists with pretty much any other kind of meat. Not that high a percentage, but look at the “flavor enhancing solution” added to your other pieces of beef, steaks, pork loin a, cold cuts, chicken…

    Comment by Alces — March 23, 2017 @ 7:06 pm
  8. Hello, I’m not a “corned beef” fancier and have not a shred of Irish in me, but I do sympathize with those who get ripped off by paying for 35% brine.

    My wife and I cook a lot of boneless chicken breasts (we buy on sale) and almost always, when browning them on the stove, the bottom of the pan becomes a chicken swimming pool. Gee…I guess it could be considered to be chicken stock…or base…but I don’t LIKE paying for all of that water in my chicken. Does anyone know what percentage of water is pumped into those poor waterlogged chicken breasts and just how much meat I am getting per pound? I understand they do the same for frozen shrimp. Boil THOSE puppies down and they turn into shrimp pellets. Most annoying. Thanks. Alan in MA

    Edgar replies: Alan, the labels of “enhanced” boneless chicken breasts are marked with the percentage of solution. At Stop & Shop, for example, look at store brand red packages versus the green packages. The red ones, I believe are the ones spiked with broth. If you search chicken here in Mouse Print*, you’ll see a picture.

    Comment by Alan Glasser — March 24, 2017 @ 8:00 pm
  9. Excellent reporting.I am glad I passed up the packaged corned beef,but I wonder if the deli sliced stuff is the same. Regarding the chicken, I have found most of it contains a 10% solution. I don’t like it,especially the boneless breasts that I pound for a recipe. They turn into a mushy mess.

    Comment by Pete — April 3, 2017 @ 9:10 am

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