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What kind of meat is chipped beef?

Chipped beef, also known as dried beef, is a form of preserved and smoked beef that has been sliced into thin pieces. It has a unique texture and intense smoky, salty flavor that makes it a popular ingredient in many dishes. But what kind of meat is used to make chipped beef in the first place?

The Origin of Chipped Beef

Chipped beef originated as a way to preserve meat before refrigeration was widely available. It dates back to at least the 19th century when it was produced by American meatpackers as a shelf-stable product that could be shipped long distances. The process involves salting large cuts of beef brisket or round roast and then cold smoking them for weeks until they are fully dried out.

Once hardened and desiccated, the dried beef is sliced paper-thin using a meat slicer. These thin shards or “chips” of intensely flavored dried beef could be stored at room temperature in jars or cans until needed.

Chipped beef became popular among American households by the 1950s as a shelf-stable ingredient that could be used in casseroles, sandwiches, appetizers, and various other dishes. Its salty, concentrated meatiness gave it an umami flavor boost. The advent of refrigeration made preserved meats like chipped beef less necessary, but it remains popular today as a flavoring and snack food.

What Cut of Beef is Used?

Chipped beef is most commonly made from beef brisket or round roast. These cuts come from the front chest area and back hip/rump area of the cow respectively. Here is a breakdown of each cut:

Beef Brisket

  • Comes from the breast or lower chest of the cow
  • Contains a high proportion of fat marbled through the meat
  • Very tough with lots of connective tissue, so requires long cooking times
  • Brisket gives chipped beef a rich, beefy flavor

Round Roast

  • Comes from the back leg or rump area
  • A lean, muscular cut
  • Can be tougher than other cuts but becomes tender when smoked into chipped beef
  • Provides a concentrated, smokey beef taste

Both brisket and round roast are ideal cuts for making chipped beef because they contain lots of flavorful fat and connective tissue. When slowly smoked and dried out, those elements break down into gelatin and concentrated beef essence, giving the finished product its distinctive texture and savoriness.

The Chipped Beef Making Process

Here are the basic steps for how chipped beef is made commercially:

  1. Salting – Large cuts of brisket or round roast are rubbed with a curing salt mixture of regular table salt and sodium nitrite. This begins the preservation process.
  2. Resting – The salted meat rests refrigerated for 4-7 days allowing the salt to fully penetrate the beef.
  3. Smoking – The salted brisket or roast is then cold smoked at a low temperature for 2-3 weeks. This both cooks it very slowly and imparts a smoky flavor.
  4. Slicing – After smoking, the dried beef is thinly sliced into chips or shards using a commercial meat slicer.
  5. Packaging – The chipped beef slices are packaged into cans or jars for storage and sale.

The entire process takes 3-4 weeks but results in a product that can be shelf-stable at room temperature for over a year. With its concentrated flavor and meaty texture, just a small amount of chipped beef can add a flavor boost to scrambled eggs, hash, sandwiches, dips, and more.

Grades of Chipped Beef

Chipped beef is available in a few standard commercial grades that denote quality and fat content:

Grade A

  • Highest quality chipped beef
  • Made from beef round with limited fat
  • Deep red color
  • Very flavorful and excellent texture

Grade B

  • Slightly less uniform in color
  • Moderate marbling from fat
  • Still has great flavor and is the most commonly available grade

Grade C

  • Made from brisket with higher fat content
  • Paler in color
  • Strong beefy flavor but less visual appeal
  • Frequently used in processed meat products

The higher moisture and fat content of Grade C chipped beef makes it unsuitable for stand-alone use. But it adds great flavor when incorporated into sausages, canned chili, military C-rations, and other processed foods.

Popular Uses for Chipped Beef

The intense umami flavor and textural crunch of chipped beef makes it a versatile ingredient in many dishes. Here are some of the most popular ways it is used:

Chipped Beef on Toast

Also known as “SOS” or “Shit on a Shingle” in the military. Chipped beef is sautéed in white gravy and served on toast for a high protein, rib-sticking breakfast or dinner.

Biscuits and Gravy

A favorite Southern breakfast recipe. Chipped beef gravy made with milk or cream is spooned over freshly baked biscuits.

Creamy Appetizers

Chipped beef mixed into dips, spreads, and creamy cheese balls provides a savory depth of flavor to appetizers.

Salads and Eggs

Sprinkled over green salads, sliced hard boiled eggs, or omelets, chipped beef provides a smoky, salty kick of extra flavor.

Sandwiches and Pizza

Chipped beef is a popular sandwich and pizza topping. A little goes a long way in providing meaty umami richness.

Casseroles and Soups

Chipped beef is the secret ingredient in many comforting casseroles, adding a meaty boost to potatoes, noodles, rice, or vegetables. It also provides great flavor to hearty soups and stews.

Storage and Food Safety

Unopened jars and cans of chipped beef will remain fresh and safe to eat for over 1 year if stored in a cool, dry pantry. Refrigerate opened packages and use within 7-10 days. For optimal freshness and food safety:

  • Check “best by” dates on packaging
  • Store unopened chipped beef away from direct light in a pantry or cupboard
  • Keep opened chipped beef tightly wrapped in fridge
  • Discard packages with mold, off-odors, or slime
  • Avoid contaminated chipped beef that could carry Listeria
  • Heat chipped beef patties and gravy thoroughly when cooking

With proper storage and handling, chipped beef is a long-lasting kitchen staple that can add its unique zesty flavor for months after opening.

Nutrition Information

Chipped beef is high in protein and also contains a range of micronutrients:

Nutrient Per 100g Serving
Calories 116
Fat 3.4g
Saturated Fat 1.4g
Protein 18.4g
Sodium 1521mg
Calcium 25mg
Iron 2.9mg
Potassium 286mg

Chipped beef is salt-cured, so it contains a high amount of sodium. But it can provide an excellent source of protein, iron, calcium, potassium, and B vitamins. In moderation, it can be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Common Questions

Is chipped beef the same as beef jerky?

No, chipped beef and beef jerky are made using different processes:

  • Chipped beef – Smoked and dried in large cuts then sliced thinly
  • Beef jerky – Raw sliced meat that is dried and cured with salt

So while they are both dried and salty beef products, chipped beef has a softer, crunchier texture compared to the chewy density of jerky.

Can chipped beef be frozen?

Freezing is not recommended for chipped beef. The freezing process can degrade the texture and concentrated flavor of the dried beef chips. It’s best to store chipped beef sealed in the refrigerator and use within 7-10 days once opened.

Is chipped beef unhealthy because of the high sodium content?

The high sodium levels in chipped beef can be unhealthy for some individuals, especially those with high blood pressure or heart disease. However, for otherwise healthy people, eating chipped beef in moderation should pose no issues. As with many preserved or cured meats, chipped beef is best enjoyed in small portions as a flavor enhancer a few times a month rather than daily.

What is the best way to use chipped beef?

The best way to enjoy chipped beef is to use it sparingly as a flavor enhancer in foods like eggs, casseroles, sandwiches, salads, or pizza. Just a tablespoon or two mixed in provides plenty of intense salty, smoky beefiness. Heating chipped beef in gravy, creamy dips, or cheese sauce allows the flavor to melt into the surrounding ingredients.


Chipped beef is a unique preserved and dried beef product that provides a concentrated meaty, smoky flavor. It is made by salting and slowly smoking cuts of beef brisket or round roast until hardened, then slicing thinly. Despite its high sodium content, chipped beef can be enjoyed moderately as part of a healthy diet. Just a small amount of its intense savoriness can add robust flavor when incorporated into many popular dishes. Next time you see chipped beef in the grocery store, consider picking up a jar to keep on hand for adding its distinctive zesty protein punch into your cooking and snacking.