So how did beef brisket—a chewy cut with strong ties to German transplants to Texas and Jewish immigrants, and with virtually no popularity in Ireland—come to be the iconic food of the American version of St. Paddy’s Day?
Here’s the answer: Irish immigrants to New York’s Lower East Side in the 1800s, unable to afford bacon and cabbage (the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal in their homeland), substituted the beef brisket so popular with their equally poor Jewish neighbors. But the Irish made it their own by brining it with salt—the term “corn” refers to the large particles of salt used—and other spices, and boiling it, usually with cabbage.
Well, this knowledge prompted me to rewrite my mantra: “If something tastes good baked, fried, or sautéed, it probably tastes better grilled.” I figured something that tastes good boiled—as corned beef usually is—would also taste better grilled. (or more precisely smoked) Note to self: Add the word “boiled” to mantra. So I road-tested the theory last week by smoke-roasting corned beef brisket on the grill.
The challenge with any brisket, of course, is to cook it long enough to make it tender, without drying it out. The solution in this case is to cook it in an aluminum foil pan (to shield the meat on the bottom from the heat), draping the top of the corned beef with bacon, so the melting fat bastes the meat.
I think you’ll agree that the wood smoke adds a whole new dimension and depth of flavor to corned beef, while the low-slow smoking makes the meat tender enough to cut with the side of a fork.
Not incidentally, the leftovers—not that there were many—were turned into a soul-satisfying hash for a crew lunch the next day by by our fearless Nancy who was in Miami to test recipes for my next book, “Planet Barbecue. (Her cryptic recipe for hash is below.)
Barbecue for St. Patrick’s Day? Hey, it works for me.
BARBECUED CORNED BEEF
You can stay true to the Irish-American and barbecue themes by preparing Barbecued Cabbage as a side dish (the recipe is below), or smoke-roasted potatoes.
Recipe courtesy of Steven Raichlen
1 4-pound corned beef, drained and scraped of excess whole spices
6 strips of bacon
Mustard and rye bread for serving (optional)
You’ll also need: aluminum foil drip pan, 6 cups hickory, oak, or other hardwood chips, soaked in water for 1 hour, then drained
1) Place the corned beef fat side up in an aluminum foil pan. Drape the bacon strips over the top of the corned beef.
2) If using a smoker, light it according to the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 250 degrees F. Toss 1-1/2 cups wood chips on the coals.
3) If using a charcoal grill, set it up for indirect grilling using only half as much charcoal as you usually would (the equivalent of 6 to 8 nice lumps of charcoal per side). Toss 1-1/2 cups wood chips on the coals.
4) Smoke the corned beef until very tender, 5 to 6 hours or as needed, replenishing the coals every hour and replenishing the wood chips every hour for the first 4 hours. Try to maintain an even temperature of 250 degrees F.
5) Transfer the corned beef to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes, loosely tented with foil. Thinly slice the corned across the grain and serve with mustard and rye bread, if desired.
Note from Nancy: If you want to turn the corned beef leftovers into hash, boil a couple of decent-sized potatoes until tender, then peel and dice. Chop up the leftover corned beef until you have at least half as much as the potatoes—more if desired. Combine in a mixing bowl. Dice a small onion and a clove of garlic and sauté them in oil in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet over low heat until translucent. Add to the potatoes and corned beef. Toss the mixture with a bit of dry mustard (a half-teaspoon, or more to taste), a splash or two of Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, a bit of minced fresh parsley, and enough heavy cream to moisten the mixture. Pack into your well-seasoned and oiled cast iron skillet. Transfer the skillet to a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the bottom of the hash is attractively browned and crusty. Top with a fried or poached egg, if desired.
Source: How to Grill by Steven Raichlen (Workman, 2001), pg. 360
Method: Indirect Grilling
Serves 6 to 8
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slivers
1 small onion, finely diced
1 medium green cabbage (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce
Coarse salt and black pepper
You’ll also need: 2 cups wood chips, soaked in cold water to cover, then drained. Best of Barbecue Grill Ring (optional) or aluminum foil, crumpled into a 3-inch ring
1) Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and onion and cook until just beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the bacon and onion in a strainer over a bowl and reserve the drippings.
2) Core the cabbage by angling your knife about 3 inches down toward the center and cut in a circle that is about 3 inches in diameter. The piece removed should look like a cone. Discard this piece. Dice the remaining butter. Stir the barbecue sauce into the butter/bacon mixture. Prop the cabbage upright on the grill ring or aluminum foil, cavity facing up. Place the bacon and onion mixture in the cavity and top with the diced butter. Using a basting brush, paint the outside of the cabbage with bacon drippings. Season the cabbage with salt and pepper.
3) Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and preheat on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium.
4) When ready to cook, place the cabbage on its ring in the center of the hot grate away from the heat. If using a charcoal grill, toss all the wood chips on the coals. Cover the grill.
5) Grill the cabbage until very tender (when done, it will be easy to pierce with a skewer), 1 to 1-1/2 hours. If using a charcoal grill, you’ll need to add 12 fresh coals per side after 1 hour if the cabbage is not done. To serve, peel off any dried-out or charred outside leaves and discard. Cut the cabbage into wedges and serve.
Again, Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
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