Beef loaf can refer to several types of loaves made with beef. Some people call meat loaf, when made with ground beef, beef loaf. More frequently, what you’ll find in some stores is a product called jellied beef loaf, or jellied corned beef loaf. This is considered a sausage, but is quite different than sausages made with casings.
Beef loaf, and a number of other loaf meats are tinned meats. In this case, beef loaf is made from cooked shredded roast beef, seasonings, and preservatives. It is tightly packed into tins and may require refrigeration. Some varieties don’t need to be refrigerated until after they are opened.
Beef loaf is served like a luncheon meat. It is cut into thin slices and can make up sandwiches or any kind. Several kinds of beef loaf exist. Some beef loaf is made specifically of beef tongues. When sliced, it looks like a rectangular white food, primarily from the gelatin, which is studded with slices of tongue. Other loaves like olive or pimento loaf may be made from beef, though more typically they use pork meat as a main ingredient.
Unless you can find beef loaf in a deli or grocery store — in some regions of the US it’s quite popular — you may be hard-pressed to try to find it. Emphasis on foods with fewer preservatives often make deli meats that are cooked whole, rather than formed and jellied, now more popular. This is especially true in delicatessens where meat is sliced fresh per order.
Like Spam®, beef loaf experienced a lot of popularity prior to the ability to refrigerate meats. Being able to keep tinned beef meant that you could have meat, regardless of weather conditions. Beef loaf can be found on old school menus dating back to the 1920s. Tomato soup and a slice of beef loaf could be standard fare prior to wide scale refrigeration.
Today, you’re much less likely to find beef loaf, and it may be maligned as an inherently funny food. Most Internet references to it, merely mention it as a joking matter. In areas where a lot of beef is farmed, beef loaf is no laughing matter. Wisconsin meat scientists regularly recognize people who have been known for their quality beef loaves, or for other types of sausage.