Corned beef is an integral part of many traditional dinners, and is a wonderful choice for meat with a long shelf life and full flavor. However, there are so many different options for corned beef that it can seem rather daunting to try to choose the best. As with any food, "best" is a relative term-it all depends on what you want from your corned beef. If you don't want canned corned beef hash, then you can either buy pre-made corned beef in the refrigerated meat section of your grocery store, or you can prepare your own.
The best cuts for making your own corned beef
There are three cuts that are generally used for corned beef: round, flat brisket, and the brisket point. While round is acceptable if you're on a budget, it's also considered one of the poorest cuts for corned beef. It's very lean, and can come out dry and bland. The brisket point is well-marbled and often touted as the very best cut for corned beef. It loses a lot of the fat during preparation, but leaves the meat moist and full of flavor. For a leaner cut that still has some flavor, the brisket flat usually falls into second place as a corned beef favorite.
Selecting commercially-prepared corned beef
Preparing your own corned beef is a very time-consuming process, but they're also widely available already made. Most of these will be packed in brine, and the same selection process for cuts applies: round will probably be cheaper, but a brisket point will usually taste the best. Occasionally, you will find corned beef packaged in vinegar. You can purchase a corned beef that has the typical preservatives found in pre-packaged meat, or you can shop for "gray" corned beef that has no nitrates or nitrites added. Nitrates and nitrites are a well-known culprit for food headaches in some individuals. Finally, for the utmost in cleanliness and careful manufacture, you may want to purchase only kosher corned beef (denoted by a K, P, or R on the packaging).