Corned beef is one of the most common foods eaten on St. Patrick's Day. Corned beef comes in two primary types: gray and red. The main difference between the two types is the way they are processed and the amount of salt used during the curing process.
The gray type is known primarily in New England and is often called Boston Irish corned beef. It is sometimes hard to find gray corned beef outside of New England. The red type of corned beef is more commonly found in all other parts of the world and is generally available year-round. The red type is often known as the New York style of corned beef.
The main difference in these two types of corned beef is the type of salt used during the curing process. Red corned beef is cured using sodium nitrate. This keeps the meat from oxidizing, which preserves the red color. Spices are also added to red corned beef, but salt is the only ingredient used when curing gray corned beef. Gray corned beef is put in a salted brine without any other spices.
Gray corned beef is said to have a better taste than red. The gray meet is softer and sweeter. Gray corned beef is also less salty than red corned beef. The most popular way to eat corned beef is by making corned beef and cabbage.
Corned beef became an Irish-American tradition in the mid 1800s. Irish immigrants who moved to the New England states sometimes served this type of meat on holidays, rather than the ham they would have served back in Europe. It was mixed with potatoes, carrots and cabbage, making what we know today as corned beef and cabbage. It has become a tradition in the U.S. to eat this meal on or around St. Patrick's Day. The gray corned beef is found primarily in New England. In order to preserve the meat longer, extra preservatives are added to the meat, causing it to retain the red color. These preservatives allow corned beef to be distributed to other parts of the country.