How Irish Corned Beef Became Big Business

The history of America’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner staple

Adam Bluestein
Marker
Published in
6 min readMar 16, 2021

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Corned beef and cabbage at Junior’s in Brooklyn. Photo: Adam Bluestein

St. Patrick’s Day is about more than just green beer and Shamrock Shakes, of course. It’s about corned beef and cabbage, too. Even with parades canceled and many bars closed due to Covid-19, a recent survey by the National Retailers Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics found that 49% of U.S. adults planned to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, spending an estimated $5.1 million. Of consumers surveyed, 32% were planning a special dinner or celebration at home, giving a bump to sales of foods that fall into the trade group’s “traditional Irish” basket, including Irish butter, soda bread, and corned beef brisket.

Thanks to my upbringing among argumentative connoisseurs of Jewish deli products, I’ve come to hold strong opinions about corned beef—the good, the bad, the saltily sublime. But I confess I’ve always been confused by the annual appearance of the Irish version that went by the same name. A year spent in quasi-quarantine — deprived of access to real deli meat — recently inspired me to investigate. There’s a lot of St. Patrick’s Day corned beef in my supermarket’s meat section now. If I went to the supermarket and picked up one of these vacuum-sealed packages of brined brisket, boiled it up, sliced it, and slapped it between slices of rye…

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Adam Bluestein
Marker

I write about business, science, and things that people do for fun. Work published in Fast Company, Inc., Men’s Journal, Proto, Marker. Vermonter by choice.