Smoking Corned Beef: Step-By-Step Recipe

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Last updatedLast updated: May 01, 2021
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A long time ago, we cured meats in salt and smoked them to preserve them for months. These meats went with us to the battlefield, got us through harsh winters, and the worst of economic times. Today, smoking corned beef is legit haute cuisine that every BBQ enthusiast needs to master.

And no wonder, because a tender slice of perfectly smoked corned beef simply explodes with flavor. The corning process allows the meat to absorb the salt and spice mixture used, while the long cooking process allows it to become tender and juicy.

However, smoking corned beef to perfection is a somewhat technical process. You need an understanding of how the corning process works, the intricacies of temperature and color of the brisket at various stages of the cook, and good old Southern cooking sense. By the end of this step-by-step guide, you should learn how to smoke a corned beef brisket like a pro.

What is Corned Beef?

Smoking Corned Beef: Step-By-Step Recipe

Corned beef is beef that has been cured by treating it with a special mixture of salt, spices, and sometimes sugar as well. Coarse-grained rock salt (or corns, hence the name), together with a special curing salt called Prague Powder 1, react with the meat to give it a distinct red or pink color even after cooking.

Prague Powder 1 is special because it contains nitrates and nitrites that react with the proteins in the meat to give it its characteristic pink color. They also prevent the growth of the bacteria that cause botulism, which helps to make the beef safe for eating even after days or curing.

You can easily make your own corned beef by curing it with a mixture of spices for 5-7 days, depending on its size. All you need to do is make the brine solution as described below:

  • Put 4 quarts/1 gallon of water in a large crockpot
  • Add 1 ½ Kosher salt and 4 teaspoons or Prague Powder 1 (pink curing salt)
  • For the aromatic spices, add some mustard seed, coriander seed, cardamom pods, 4 garlic cloves, and bay leaves
  • Add ½ cup of brown sugar if you prefer more sweetness
  • Cut in whole black peppercorns and sprinkle red chilli pepper flakes
  • Add some Allspice mixture or corned beef seasoning
  • Bring the brine to a boil then turn off the heat
  • After boiling, cool the brine to a temperature lower than 45F. You can put it in the freezer or add some ice cubes in it; this prevents harmful bacteria from multiplying during curing
  • In the meantime, you can trim the excess fat from your beef brisket flat or round cut
  • When the brine is cool, place the brisket into the pot, cover, and place it into a designated place in the fridge. Turn the brisket once a day to allow for even curing.

This recipe is designed for a small flat brisket about 4-5 pounds in weight. It should take a cut that large 7 days to cure properly, after which you should rinse the meat of excess brine and pat it dry.

If, instead of brining, you rub the curing directly onto the meat before smoking, you have a recipe for smoking corned beef for pastrami.

Of course, you can always pick up pre-corned beef from the store or from dedicated high-end butchers and farms. This saves you a week of curing and makes it much more convenient.

What is the Best Beef Cut for Corning?

Any cut of meat could theoretically be corned, but this particular recipe calls for brisket. The brisket is a tough, relatively fatty cut that is perfectly suited for the extensive brining and slow cooking method required here.

If you know anything about BBQ and its intricacies, you can immediately tell that brisket is perfect for corning and smoking. When you buy a brisket, chances are that it will already have been cut into two parts: the brisket flat and the brisket round.

The round half of the brisket is typically thicker, has a bit more fat, and thus makes for a tender and juicier smoked brisket. It is also called the point cut or second cut. The flat half of the brisket is tougher, has less fat content, and thus makes for a more presentable piece of BBQ after cooking is done.

While either cut of brisket is great for corned beef, the flat is preferable because it has less fat and holds up better. Ultimately, choosing the best cut of brisket for corning is a matter of personal opinion.

Smoked Corned Beef Round: Recipe

Due to its extra fat content, the brisket round takes a slightly different smoking process to make the most of its attributes.

Useful Info

The brisket round typically weighs 8-10 pounds, which puts it on the larger side. Because it is more tender, it is often recommended for medium-rare cooking and should also be sliced thick to reduce shredding

Tools You’ll Need

  • Smoker

Smoking Corned Beef: Step-By-Step Recipe

You will need a smoker to cook the brisket in. Smoking corned beef brisket on a pellet grill is probably best, but you can use an electric smoker (we have a review of the best models here).

If you have the electric grill, you will also need to buy a smoke tube for your electric smoker to create the flavorful fruit smoke needed.

There are lots of smoker tubes out there, but the A-MAZE-N Pellet Tube Smoker from Pitmasters has stolen the hearts of BBQ fans. The unit produces very little ash with a lot of smoke output and lasts 4-5 hours easily, which makes it a must-have for any serious BBQ enthusiast.

  • Thermometer

Smoking Corned Beef: Step-By-Step Recipe

A wireless thermometer works great because it gives you instant reads on the internal temperatures of your brisket. If you don’t have one, a meat probe will do.

  • Gloves

Smoking Corned Beef: Step-By-Step Recipe

A pair of heat-resistant gloves will be very useful in helping you to handle the meat while it is cooking. A pair of nitrile BBQ gloves will do a great job, besides being useful for putting on the rub.

  • Spritzer

Smoking Corned Beef: Step-By-Step Recipe

If your corned beef brisket gets too dry, you will need to spritz some water, vinegar, or apple juice onto it to restore moisture.

  • Supplies

Smoking Corned Beef: Step-By-Step Recipe

Apart from the smoker and smoker tube, you will also need some good quality butcher paper to wrap the meat in and a brisket carving knife to cut up the meat when it’s ready to serve.

Ingredients

  • 1 slab of corned round brisket
  • 1 teaspoonful of kosher coarse-grained salt
  • 4 teaspoonfuls of coarse-grained pepper
  • Yellow mustard
  • You can add 1 tablespoon each of dried thyme, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and garlic powder for extra spice
  • You can also buy commercial corned brisket rub if you like

Instructions

  1. You can start by rinsing out excess brine from the meat. Simply place it in fresh water and give it 2-3 hours and drain it. If you don’t mind the extra saltiness, skip this step.
  2. Preheat your smoker to 250F. Use fruit wood pellets in your smoker tube such as apple or cherry for a sweet flavor, or hickory if you want the classic smoky flavor profile.
  3. Grind your peppercorns and seeds, then mix them with the dried thyme, paprika, garlic, and all other dry spices.
  4. Apply a thin layer of yellow mustard onto your brisket round. On top of this, sprinkle your dry spices and pat them in gently – do not rub them in. Make sure to coat it evenly, including the sides and bottom.
  5. Place your brisket round directly on the grill plate with the fat side up. Slow cook the meat 4-6 hours or until done. Check the meat’s internal temperature, targeting a temperature of about 135F for medium-rare.
  6. If you need your meat cooked through, remove it at about 150F (once it reaches the thermal stall) and wrap it tightly with butcher paper. Get it back in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 185F-190F.
  7. When it is ready, give it 20 minutes to cool and serve. Remember to cut against the grain and cut thick, unless you’re making cuts for sandwiches.

Smoked Corned Beef Brisket Flat: Recipe

The flat half of your corned brisket is usually smaller, about 2-4 pounds. It is smoked for longer, up to 6 hours at 250F. This long cooking period is necessary because brisket flat comes from a more muscular part of the animal, which means it has more collagen that needs to be broken down slowly.

Useful Info

For a tender and well-cooked corned beef brisket flat, you should aim for a final internal temperature of 190F-210F. Your brisket flat is done when you can push your probe into the meat like a knife through butter.

Ingredients

  • Corned brisket rub. You can purchase a commercial rub, but it’s better to make your own so you can control the ingredients. A basic rub of salt and coarse pepper will do
  • You can also add a teaspoonful of paprika, chilli powder, granulated garlic, cayenne pepper, among others if you want a more spicy flavor
  • Yellow mustard

Instructions

  1. Rinse your slab of corned beef if you need to do so.
  2. Preheat your smoker to 275F.
  3. Spread a light layer of yellow mustard onto the beef and proceed to season it with the dry spices. Make sure that you coat it evenly and pat them in instead of rubbing.
  4. Place the brisket directly on the smoker grate with the fat side up. Insert a meat thermometer or probe into the meat and let it cook for about 4 hours.
  5. Keep checking on your meat. When it reaches an internal temperature of about 160F, take out your brisket and wrap it tightly in butcher paper or aluminum foil.
  6. Put the meat back inside the smoker for a couple more hours or until you achieve an internal temperature of 190-210F.
  7. When the meat is done, remove it from the smoker and let it rest. Giving it about an hour to cool allows it to reabsorb some of its juices.
  8. Use a scalloped brisket knife to slice the brisket across the grain and serve. It should have a soft, bright pink interior and be very tender.

Smoking Corned Beef: Useful Tips

  1. No matter what type of oven you use, it’s worth getting a smoker tube and some premium smoking chips. This ensures that you get the best fruity flavors thanks to a long, clean smoke exposure. Like other users, we find that the Western BBQ smoking chips are a fantastic buy. These come in four flavors of apple, peach, maple, and cherry, and are packed with flavor.
  2. Your BBQ rub should have minimal salt in it. Even after smoking, your meat is going to have a high amount of salt in it. You can check out our review of the best BBQ rubs for more information on these special rubs.
  3. Some people like to let the brisket lie overnight after seasoning, which is an amazing idea. Just make sure to place the meat in the fridge, which allows the spices to percolate and bind into the meat for a fuller flavor.
  4. Don’t cook by time but rather by temperature. The internal temperature of the meat will let you know when it’s done, while timing alone can lie.

Final Thoughts

Corned beef today makes an appearance mostly on St. Patrick’s Day in the company of cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and other ingredients to create the ultimate family meal. However, smoking corned beef makes it into a far more praiseworthy meal when done right.

The secret to smoking corned beef is knowing the details of what goes on before, during, and after the cooking. How the curing process changes the meat, what story the temperature tells, and the final color and texture of the meat all come into account. Thankfully, now you know how to transform a traditionally hardship food into a meal fit for a holiday – like St. Patricks.

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