Photo by Matthew Benson
Like most brisket dishes, traditional corned beef requires a slow, low-temperature cook in a moist environment to render it tender. So, some years ago, I had the idea to smoke corned beef instead of braising it. Think of it as pastrami, but without the peppery crust. (It’s the perfect cured meat for people who find pastrami too garlicky.) The smoke lends a complexity and depth of flavor you just don’t find in traditional corned beef.
Made from the brisket flat, corned beef is leaner than pastrami. So I like to wrap it in foil two-thirds of the way through smoking; the built-up steam breaks down tough muscle fibers, tenderizing the meat.
Hickory or other hardwood, chunks or chips
Classic Corned Beef, cured, but not cooked
Rye bread, mustard, pickles, sauerkraut, and coleslaw, for serving
- Fire up your smoker, cooker, or grill, following the manufacturer’s instructions, and heat to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re using hardwood chips, soak in water to cover for 30 minutes, and then drain and add the wood as specified by the manufacturer. Place a metal bowl or foil pan filled with 1 quart of warm water into the smoker; this will create a humid environment that’ll help the smoke adhere to the meat and keep your brisket moist.
- Place the cured brisket, fat side up, in the smoker. If using an offset smoker, position the thicker end of the brisket closer to the firebox. Cook the brisket until the outside is darkly browned and the internal temperature registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 6 to 8 hours. Refuel your cooker as needed.
- Wearing heatproof gloves, tightly wrap the corned beef in heavy-duty foil, pleating the edges to make a hermetic seal. Cook the corned beef another 2 hours or as needed to bring the internal temperature to 205 degrees.
- Place the wrapped corned beef in an insulated cooler, and let it rest for 1 to 2 hours. (This will allow the meat to relax and the juices to redistribute.)
- Transfer the corned beef to a welled cutting board and unwrap it. At this point, you can serve it hot or cold. For hot corned beef, use a long, sharp knife to slice the meat across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices. For cold corned beef, let it cool to room temperature, and then wrap it in foil and refrigerate it until cold and firm. Cut it into paper-thin slices. Serve it on rye bread with mustard, pickles, sauerkraut, and coleslaw.
For variations on corned beef, see:
Steven Raichlen was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2015. His books have won five James Beard Awards and been translated into 17 languages. This excerpt is from The Brisket Chronicles (Workman Publishing).