Can You Candy Corned Beef?

Corned beef is a Saint Patrick’s Day tradition. But candied corned beef? It’s a sweet and spicy snack that we didn’t know was possible until now.

Published Mar. 17, 2021.

As you’re preparing your traditional corned beef this Saint Patrick’s Day, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait to candy this later.” Wait, just me? Believe it or not, you can candy your corned beef. Well, sort of.

Inspired by the Cook’s Country Candied Bacon recipe, I set out to adapt it for this Saint Patrick’s Day staple. I decided to reach out to Morgan Bolling, deputy food editor of Cook’s Country, to see if this would even be possible. She gave me some great tips on how best to tackle this. What I got in the end wasn’t quite the same as candied bacon. Candied bacon—brown sugar sprinkled on bacon and cooked in an oven—almost melts in your mouth. But candied corned beef was more along the lines of a sweet and spicy beef jerky, which was still absolutely delicious, and definitely not a bad thing.

For the ease of testing, I used sliced corned beef from the deli, since making it from scratch can take up to a week. But you can also find packaged corned beef, ready to cook, in the meat section of many grocery stores.

corned beef package in grocery store

Next was how thin we should slice it. Morgan brought up that having it too thin would cause the meat to completely overcook before the sugar even had a chance to melt, and her initial instinct was to use a ⅛-inch-thick slice. I tested with a few different cuts, but I thought the ⅛-inch-thick version worked the best too. It didn’t overcook like the thinner slices, and it wasn’t floppy like the thicker versions.

After cutting my corned beef into 5- to 6-inch-long slices that were about 2 to 3 inches wide (similar to the bacon dimensions), I placed them on a foil-lined baking sheet and evenly sprinkled on a mixture of ¼ cup brown sugar and 1 teaspoon pepper. I then set the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions. After some trial and error, I figured out that heating the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit was the perfect temperature to melt the sugar before the meat completely dried out.

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Another suggestion Morgan made was to use visual cues and to keep my eye on the sugar, as opposed to going with the times set in the Candied Bacon recipe. The original recipe has you transfer the baking sheet from one rack to the other halfway through cooking. Around 5 minutes, the sugar looked about half melted, so I rotated the baking sheet from the upper rack down to the lower rack.

At the end of the second 5 minutes, I then transferred the finished pieces to a wire rack and let them cool. It had a jerky-like texture and was slightly spicier than the candied bacon, but the sweetness of the glaze still came through, providing great balance to the pepperiness. Though this adaptation wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was a welcomed and delicious surprise.

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