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What Is Bully Beef?

By J. Leach
Updated May 16, 2024
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Bully beef is a type of corned beef. Basically, it is a brisket cut of beef that is cured or pickled, finely minced, and packaged with gelatin in a can. The name is an anglicized version of the French boeuf bouilli, which means boiled beef. It became a staple of the British army during the first half of the 20th century, and is sometimes served in slices on bread as a sandwich, or combined with potatoes to form a hash.

In the United States, corned beef can refer to the canned variety as well as the cured and pickled type that many delicatessens sell. The deli version is prepared in the oven, much like roast beef, whereas the canned variety is cooked before canning. In the United Kingdom, the term "corned beef" generally refers only to the canned version.

During the Boer War, which lasted from 1899 to 1902, bully beef was introduced as a ration for British soldiers. The war, also known as the Second Boer War or the South African War, was a conflict between the British Empire and two Boers of South Africa. The Boers are descendants of Dutch settlers who speak Afrikaans, a Dutch-based language native to South Africa.

Soldiers were often given tins of beef along with hard tack, a rigid biscuit that looks like a large cracker that is made from flour, water, and sometimes a pinch of salt. It is known not only for its portability and shelf life, but also its ability to chip teeth. Bully beef was often spread on the hard tack or eaten straight from the can. In 2009, the British army announced that tinned corned beef would no longer be included in soldiers’ rations.

Hash is a dish that combines beef, potatoes, onions, and spices. It is quite common for corned beef to be used, especially in breakfast hash recipes, along with eggs and potatoes. Cowboy hash is different from most recipes and is made by combining a can of corned beef, a can of beans in tomato sauce, and a can of corn. The mixture is heated through and seasoned with salt and pepper, and it is usually served with some form of crusty bread.

Another dish that is sometimes made with corned beef is shepherd’s pie. It is a casserole made by layering beef, mashed potatoes, and sometimes corn or other vegetables. Shepherd's pie can also be made with canned rather than fresh meat. Bully beef is also a popular ingredient in some Jamaican dishes.

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Discussion Comments
By anon998018 — On Apr 01, 2017

Bully beef is banned in Brazil.

By anon351543 — On Oct 15, 2013

In South Africa the labels of certain corned meat state clearly that beef heart, sheep heart and other offal are used. Eeeww. I wouldn't eat it even if they paid me to.

By fify — On Jan 21, 2013

@alisha-- The term "corned" comes from the treatment of meat with salt that's corn shaped. It has nothing to do with corn.

I love bully beef. I can eat it in any form-- as a sandwich with pickles, as corned beef and cabbage or with potatoes. It's just delicious. I used to eat it regularly as a child. I haven't had it in a very long time but I'm craving it right now. British bully beef is the best. I've had American corned beef-- sometimes called "mystery meat" at schools-- but it's not the same.

By SteamLouis — On Jan 20, 2013

My dad has an antique bully beef can. It got passed down from my great grandfather. I've seen pictures of bully beef from those days and it doesn't look very appetizing.

I'm sure the soldiers were really happy to have something to eat, so I doubt they complained much. But I couldn't imagine eating this stuff every single day.

We used to get served corned beef sometimes at my school. I always skipped lunch on those days.

By discographer — On Jan 20, 2013

So the canned bully beef doesn't have any corn in it? I always thought that "corned" meant that it has corn in it.

By GenevaMech — On Jan 31, 2011

@ Chicada- That sounds like a great variation on the typical corned beef brisket hash recipe. I am so used to the New England style hash loaded with shredded carrots and potatoes, and only seasoned with salt and pepper. I will have to try to make bully beef Jamaican style next time; although I have no clue what Ackee is.

By chicada — On Jan 31, 2011

Bully beef is also the name for a Jamaican Spicy corned beef hash dish. It is similar to corned beef hash, but it is loaded with allspice, fried potatoes, garlic, and Scotch Bonnets. It is often served with rice, and occasionally eggs or ackee.

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