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What is Spiced Beef?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet

Spiced beef is a specially seasoned beef dish associated with the southwest region of Ireland, particularly County Cork. As it takes several days to prepare, it is generally considered a dish for special occasions, especially Christmas. Spiced beef is made by rubbing a cut of beef with a blend of salt and spices, allowing it to marinate for approximately one week, and then simmering it for several hours.

Due to the salt and saltpeter used in its preparation, spiced beef can remain fresh for up to a month. Thus, it is possible that Irish cooks devised the recipe as a way of preserving meat in the days before refrigerators were invented. As of the early 21st century, however, spiced beef is a dish loved by many for its distinctive flavor. Since it requires approximately a week of preparation, spiced beef has generally come to be considered a food for special occasions. Many Irish families, particularly in the southwest region of the country, eat it as part of Christmas dinner.

Peppercorns can be added to make spiced beef.
Peppercorns can be added to make spiced beef.

Usually, spiced beef is made from a cut of beef taken from the hindquarter section of a cow. Additional ingredients traditionally include saltpeter, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, juniper berries, allspice, water, and stout. Many cooks modify this spice mixture to create a flavor that suits their taste. While saltpeter was once widely available, in the 21st century its availability may be limited due to the belief that large quantities of the compound may be hazardous to the health. In some countries, it may be obtainable only from a pharmacist.

Low-quality meat is typically used to make spiced beef.
Low-quality meat is typically used to make spiced beef.

The first step in making spiced beef is trimming the beef cut of excess fat. Next, the salt, saltpeter, sugar, and spices are ground together. The beef is then rubbed well with this mixture and set in a covered container in the refrigerator to marinate. Every day for approximately one week the beef should be turned over.

Once the spiced beef has marinated for a week, it is ready to be cooked. It should be removed from the refrigerator and transferred to a casserole. Water and, if desired, stout should be poured into the casserole until the beef is submerged. The casserole should then be covered, and the beef simmered on the stovetop for three to four hours or until cooked through. When ready, the beef is removed from the casserole, thinly sliced, and eaten alone or in a sandwich.

Discussion Comments


I've had spiced beef, I had it when I was in Ireland. It's very good, I enjoyed it a lot. It did taste a little different because of the long marination with spices, but in a good way. The outside of the meat was rather salty but the inside was not. Overall, it tasted perfect with side dishes like potatoes. I think some people even serve slices of this with bread for starters.


@ddljohn-- I think that the spices were enough to preserve the meat. Spiced beef, as a concept, is not unique to Ireland. It's actually a type of food found in various cultures. It was developed before the time of refrigeration. People soaked and wrapped meats in salt, spices and even garlic to preserve the meat for long periods of time. Salt and spices not only inhibit the growth of bacteria but also dry out the meat overtime, literally preserving the meat.

Of course, extensive treatment with spices is not necessary now because we have refrigerators. So we marinate the meat in the fridge to make sure that it doesn't go bad. Originally, the meat would have remained in salt and spices for much longer than a week.


If this recipe was developed as a way to preserve meat before refrigeration, how was the meat marinated for one week without it spoiling?

Modern recipes call for the meat to be marinated for one week in the fridge. But what did they do when refrigeration wasn't available? How did they keep the meat from spoiling?

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    • Peppercorns can be added to make spiced beef.
      By: valery121283
      Peppercorns can be added to make spiced beef.
    • Low-quality meat is typically used to make spiced beef.
      By: margo555
      Low-quality meat is typically used to make spiced beef.