UP IN SMOKE
HOT FROM THE SMOKER
March 7th, 2013
As a nice Jewish boy growing up in Baltimore, scant attention was paid in my household to “St. Patrick’s Day,” a liturgical feast day vigorously celebrated by people of Irish descent and wannabe countrymen—especially in Boston, where I lived and worked for many years. (Boston hosted the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1737.) Come March 17, the anniversary of the sainted bishop’s death, I strenuously avoid the green-tinted beers and fake brogues. But beef brisket? I’m a sucker for brisket in all its iterations.
So how did an ornery cut of meat beloved by German transplants to East Texas and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe become the food most associated with Ireland’s patron saint? The tradition started on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 1800s. Unable to afford traditional Irish bacon (which is the “back” meat, similar to Canadian bacon) eaten on the holiday in their homeland, Irish immigrants began substituting brisket for bacon. Brisket was much beloved by their equally poor Jewish neighbors. But as is so often the case with food cultures—Italian-American cuisine, for example—the Irish made brisket their own by curing it with salt and spices, then boiling it with cabbage and other vegetables. (The word “corn” is actually a medieval term that refers to large grains of salt.)
This year, bypass the vacuum-sealed pouches of “corned” beef at the supermarket and make your own. And for the barbecuebible.com twist, cook it on a smoker! It’s a simple two-step process that yields a spectacular result.
First, you cure the brisket for 5 days in a wet brine flavored with pickling spices. Next, you smoke the meat slowly using hardwood chips or chunks. Once you taste it, you’ll never again be tempted to boil corned beef. If you have neither the time nor the inclination to “corn” your own beef, feel free to buy a brisket that’s already been cured: Soak it in several changes of cold water to remove excess salt, then drain and smoke as directed below.
Accompany the corned beef brisket with potatoes and cabbage—either boiled or smoke roasted. (See recipes for both in How to Grill.) Or serve thin slices on good rye bread slathered with a righteous mustard. Leftovers make great corned beef hash, of course.
Oh, what the hell: Top o’ the morning to ya!
SMOKE-ROASTED CORNED BEEF BRISKET
For the brine/cure:
4 quarts cold water
1-1/2 cups kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
10 allspice berries
10 whole cloves
2 bay leaves, coarsely crumbled
1 cinnamon stick, coarsely broken
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon pink curing salt (see Note below)
1 4- to 5-pound beef brisket, fat closely trimmed, preferably grass-fed
For the smoking:
1 large aluminum foil-roasting pan
6 large whole carrots, peeled and trimmed
6 to 8 strips of thick-cut bacon
6 cups hardwood chips, preferably oak, soaked in cold water to cover for 1 hour, then drained
Put 2 quarts of water in a large nonreactive stockpot. Add the kosher salt and brown sugar. Lightly crush the allspice, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, coriander, peppercorns, and mustard seed in a mortar with a pestle or in a spice grinder. Add to the brine, along with the ginger and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the salt and sugar crystals. Stir in the pink salt and the remaining 2 quarts of cold water. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for several hours. Submerge the brisket in the chilled brine, weighting it with a glass pie plate or heavy dinner plate. Cover and refrigerate for 5 to 7 days.
When ready to cook, drain the brisket—scrape off any clinging spices—and discard the brine. Lay the carrots crosswise in the roasting pan and put the brisket, fat side up, on top. (The carrots make a natural roasting rack.) Drape the top of the brisket with the bacon strips.
If using a smoker, light it according to the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 250°F. Toss 1-1/2 cups of wood chips on the coals. If using a charcoal grill, set it up for indirect grilling using only half as much charcoal as you usually would—about 6 to 8 nice lumps of charcoal per side. Toss 1-1/2 cups wood chips on the coals.
Smoke the corned beef until very tender, 6 to 8 hours or more, replenishing the coals as needed to maintain 250°F. Replenish the wood chips for the first 4 hours of smoking time, then tightly cover the roasting pan with heavy duty foil for the remainder of the cook. When done, the internal temperature of the brisket on an instant-read meat thermometer should be 195°F. Let the meat rest, still covered, for at least 20 minutes. Uncover carefully, remove the bacon, and slice the brisket against the grain into 1/4-inch slices. (Discard the bacon and carrots, if desired.)
Alternatively, let the meat cool to room temperature, then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate it overnight or for up to three days before slicing.
Note: Pink salt—also called Prague powder or InstaCure—is a curing agent that inhibits bacterial growth and gives cured meats their characteristic reddish-pink color. It contains 93.75 percent salt and 6.25 percent sodium nitrite as well as a coloring agent to distinguish it from table salt. It is available through some butchers and businesses that sell sausage-making supplies. You can also buy it online from sausagemaker.com. You can eliminate pink salt from the recipe without affecting the flavor, but your corned beef will not retain its color.
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