Smoked Corned Beef Tips

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It isn’t easy admitting mistakes — much less writing about them for the world to see. But even grilling experts like me can occasionally get too big for their britches, so I’m sharing my smoker screw-up with you to help you make sure you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

In honor of St. Patty’s Day, I decided to try out a new twist on smoked brisket and come up with a fun recipe that would make you smile. I asked several friends – all of whom have a great deal of experience with barbecue, and especially brisket – for their opinions and all of them had pretty much the same answer: “Why?”

Why not?

When I spoke to my butcher, he gave me sage advice about the steps necessary to prepare a corned-beef brisket for cooking on the grill or smoker. I also consulted a trusted online resource for grilling, Derrick Riches, who had a step-by-step recipe for grilling corned beef.

Brimming with confidence, I set out to find quality hard-wood chunks. For this cook, I knew I wanted a wispy blue smoke to gently surround and permeate the meat. I try to get my hands on the Char-Broil bags of wood whenever I place an order online. Since I was out, I visited the local camping galore store and bought a bag of the commercial prepared compressed wood biscuits (Mistake No. 1) that you can find at every convenience store and super market. While these are perfectly fine for many uses, they were the wrong choice for this cook.

Note the location of the brisket near the front chest of the beef.

Using the advice I collected from my sages, I soaked the corned-beef brisket for about two hours in warm water – changing the water several times. I chose not to boil the brisket, as this was not something universally recommended by my advisers. Mistake No. 2.

I set up my The Big Easy® Smoker Roaster & Grill by Char-Broil®, figuring on two to three hours to properly smoke my five-pound corned beef brisket, and then a finish at low temp until tender. By the way, brisket prepared this way is excellent if you get the internal temperature to as high as 190°F so all the connective tissue and collagen breaks down to flavor and tenderize the meat.

I also filled a water pan with a mixture of about 4 cups of water and English-style dark brown nut ale, to add flavor to the moist air, and continued to add more as it cooked down. You don’t have to do this, especially with an electric smoker – but it’s a nice flavor touch if only for the aroma of ale mixed with wood smoke out on the patio!

This technique is called a hot smoke. That simply means we’re adding some smoke flavor to an already cooked corned beef. I kept the smoke at a consistent thin blue wisp – creating a perfect aroma. At about three hours, when the smoke began to peter out, I prepared a glaze of ½ cup of apricot marmalade and another 12-ounce bottle of the dark ale, brushing it on the already smoky surface of the brisket. I repeated this a couple of times during the last hour while also wrapping the brisket in foil to help cook.

This is a photo I “borrowed” from Smoker Pete – a link to his post is at the bottom.

When my friends arrived, I told them to be patient since the internal temp hadn’t quite achieved 190°F and I wanted to make sure we got there. (Often when smoking a larger cut, the internal temp will hit a plateau and you just have to be patient; don’t panic and add more heat – just keep it consistent and it will begin to rise on its own.)

Finally, after more than four hours of smoking, plus two hours of roasting, and 20 minutes of resting, I was ready to slice. As I dug in my carving knife, I noticed it felt just a little too resistant. I checked to make sure I was cutting cross grain and then thinly sliced more. I plated the brisket with the side dishes and let my friends dig in.

Sam proclaimed the smoke flavor perfect and particularly liked the glaze in combination with the smoke. Dan didn’t say much but made his way back to the cutting board for seconds. Henry had thirds going before I got to take my first bite.

I confess — I was disappointed. The flavor was there, but the texture of the meat was a bit rubbery to my way of thinking. I like my brisket to be tender with just the right amount of resistance to my teeth. This was not what I wanted.

Smoker Pete did his corned beef right.

There are several reasons why I think this happened. First, I didn’t soak it long enough to draw out the salt that was brined into it during the corned-beef process. While brine is a favorable contribution that can improve the texture and taste of pork, game, fish and foul – brine with beef it isn’t a good idea, and corned beef is usually cooked using a braising technique, so the salt continues to be drawn out.

Another preparation method for corned-beef brisket is boiling with cabbage, carrots and potatoes, which helps to draw out the salt. In hindsight, I should have boiled this piece just a bit to soften it and draw out the salt. I also think my thermometer reading may have been off due to a persistent cool wind blowing – cooling down the chamber so there wasn’t a constant temperature for the full three hours. Low & slow barbecue and smoking requires a very consistent temperature to help you gauge cooking time.

Finally, I think purchasing a pre-cooked corned beef was a huge mistake. I was thinking “ham” that I can add smoke to and just warm up. This was not the case, and the results were poor. My friends said they liked it – and they did go back for thirds – but they are both bachelors, so not necessarily the best judges, if you know what I mean.

Since that mistake is still in my craw, today, I’m slow-smoking a beef brisket point-cut that I ordered from the meat counter at my grocery store. I’ve invited the fellas over to enjoy the results later this evening, and plan on serving it with sides of corn bread, baked beans and steamed greens with bacon fat. I wish I could share it with you.

Well there you have it…sometimes it’s a feast and sometimes, uh…not so much! Welcome to the Cookout!

— Barry CB Martin

Lessons Learned:

  • Use a corned beef that hasn’t been already precooked.  This should help to get a smoked corned beef brisket that isn’t dried out, chewy, or too salty.
  • Be sure to soak the corned beef for at least 2 hours prior to cooking to draw out some of the salt in corned beef.  We recommend letting it soak 30 minutes for every pound.  Change the water and rinse the beef every hour to keep the water fresh and working the way it should.
  • Consider boiling the corned beef before smoking just to further help that salt come along.  It might even be a good idea to put the corned beef over low heat while for the time it is soaking (as in the step above).
  • Choosing the right wood: Use high quality wood chips that will compliment and even enhance the flavor of the corned beef.  A chart of wood chip flavors can help you decide which variety will be most appealing to you.  Cherry, hickory, and mesquite are a few great options for cooking beef with fire wood.
  • Place your smoker or grill in a shaded spot that won’t be affected by wind to ensure that the temperature reading is accurate.  If this isn’t an option, just keep the weather conditions in mind while checking the temperature of the beef.

More Smoked Corned Beef Tips:

  • Smoke for about 2-3 hours and finish at a low temperature.  You want the internal temperature of the beef to reach 190ºF before removing from the heat.
  • Place a pan with about 4 cups of water mixed with English-style dark brown ale in the bottom of the smoker while cooking to add flavor and moisten air. (optional)
  • Prepare a glaze of 1/2 cup of apricot marmalade and a 12 ounce bottle of the same dark brown ale and brush onto the smoked brisket in the last hour of cooking.  Brush a few more times  before the brisket reaches 190ºF and you take it out of the smoker.
  • Let rest for about 20 minutes to let the juices soak in.  When ready to slice, go with the grain of the meat to carve large, whole slices.
  • Because traditional corned beef is served with a stew of cabbage and potatoes, adding a side of roasted cabbage would compliment your smoked beef nicely (and gain a little forgiveness from the corned beef traditionalists).




17 thoughts on “Smoked Corned Beef Tips

  1. Hey CB—I have smoked corned beef many times & they come come out just fine. I have a offset firebox smoker & I use a Smoke Daddy smoke generator using dry wood chips. I maintain a temperature of between 225 & 250 degrees in the smoke chamber.
    I simply purchase a standard pre-packaged corned beef. I do soak it in water for maybe four hours, changing the water every hour. I then it with paper towels, rub on a thin layer of yellow mustard, sprinkle it sparingly all over with my favorite rub. Put it on the smoker with a thermometer probe inserted in it. I’ll smoke the meat until the internal temp. reaches around 165 deg., then wrap it in foil with a little water & continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 200 deg. I usually put it in the kitchen oven for this so as not to waste charcoal for just this final heating. I’ll pull the meat & let it rest for about 20-30 minutes. Remove the meat from the foil pouch & slice it about 1/8″ thick across the grain. It has always been very tender, not salty, & can be eaten just as slices or made into sandwiches which are just awesome.
    Instead of using a BBQ rub & make it more like a pastrami, you could mix up a rub of 1/3 cup + 1 tsp. crushed dry juniper berries, 1/4 cup coarsely ground black pepper & 1 Tbs. whold black peppercorns. I haven’t tried this yet but plan to with my next corned beef.
    The smoked meat will not be “fally aparty” like it is when cooked in a crock pot all day but it will be tender. Personally, I don’t see the need in par-boiling the beef prior to smoking. We have never experienced a strong salt taste & we are very careful not to use much salt on anything we cook.
    I always cook by temperature but as a rule of thumb, a 3-4 lb. corned beef usually takes about 4 hours to smoke plus the time in either the oven or on the smoker(w/o the smoke)in the foil to get it up to the 200 deg. mark.

  2. I disagree with the idea of “not” using wet or dampened wood chips. I used selected wood chips for years, 30 plus, and discovered ealier on that wet or dampened chips smoke more over hot coals. The worry about steam is nonesense! If you have a controled (closed to open) chamber, then you can use dry chips, otherwise dry chips will burn very quickly and not leave much smoke! If you want to add chips every five minutes and raise your temp, go for it!

    1. Mike -My #1 motto is this: “If it works for you – it’s the right thing to do!”

      Here’s a tip…if using charcoal – place the chips or chunks beneath the coals so as they burn (minion method for example) the wood will be smoking, not burning. If you use a smoker box or foil “smoke bombs” the fewer air holes the less combustion (as Mike points out.) I surveyed top Competitive BBQ teams and not one of them uses wet wood. BUT I differ to the # 1 motto. ~ Barry ‘CB’ Martin

  3. Barry, I ran into that same prpoblem with trying a baked corned beef with cloves and dijon mustard glaze receipe. Even though I placed the corned beef into water and let it boil then drained the water and repeated twice as the recipe called for I still had a very salty croned beef. The ressult was OK due to the salt. the rest of it tasted fine. I will repeat the recipe, but will definitly boil out the salt first.

  4. After reading your article I had to share my smoked corned beef recipe. My husband being born on St. Patrick’s Day is a corned beef fanatic so there is always a big dinner party. I always do traditional boiled (5-6 5#er’s) and 5-6 5#er’s smoked and there is never any smoked left over. I have to admit to you though that I don’t cook it in my Char-Broil Red or my Char-broil Oiless Turkey Fryer (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it!)I cook it in my Orion smoker/steamer. But here goes anyway –
    1 – 5# corned beef brisket – flat cut, yellow mustard, 1 Tbsp sea salt, 1 Tbsp cracked black pepper, 1 tsp granulated garlic or garlic powder. Reserve the spice packet from the corned beef pkg. Rub brisket with the slat, pepper, garlic mixture, then coat in mustard. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, in the drip pan add 1 can beer, spice packet from brisket,1 Tbsp peppercorns, 1 Bay Leaf, 1 tsp minced garlic, and water to fill pan 1/2 full. I add mesquite chips to the smoker ring then cook for 2 hours, 15 minutes. (That’s right only 2 hours! The convection steamer/smoker cooks it that fast! and tender! Wow!) You will never get me to EVER trade in my Char-Broil products, but the Orion is wonderful for brisket, pork , etc.

  5. barry my method is to boil it in water, put your carrots in when you think they will be done when the meat will be done, do the same for the spuds and the cabbage. and the best corn beef i have had is baileys. it does not have a packet the meat is already been in it marinating. put all of it in the pot. bob

  6. Thanks Mel, Jody & Bob for sharing your experiences and good ideas…wow!

    Larry – not sure what you are asking…This post and several comments give some pretty good advice and tips…the variable is the grill folks own. You can certainly use these tips to prepare the corned beef for cooking and by using an indirect cooking method you should end up with a roasted piece of meat. YOU can, of course, experiment with any of these suggestions and develop your own technique….

    Not sure if this is helping you sir! Barry “CB” Martin

  7. Hi CB,
    Great post! I loved smoked corned beef, but have always cooked it from raw. At the restaurant this St. Patty’s Day, we smoked it almost just like we do brisket, slow and low. The difference is we smoked it for only 8 hours, then finished off the (flat, not whole packer) in the oven for about 3 hours with stock and cabbage. If doesn’t “fall apart” but I don’t want my brisket to completely fall apart either. It makes for a nice, tender slice. Thank you for sharing. I think we learn more from mistakes than when everything comes out perfectly.

    1. Thanks Julie! I gotta come over and get some lessons at Smoken’ Pete’s Barbecue Joint in Ballard.

  8. I have cooked entirely on mesquite for many years, no gas, no charcoal, only dry chunk mesquite. It is hard to get a good fire going with it. I recommend a chimney and after you dump it use a fireplace bellows to get it going good. Using only dry mesquite, will not give you a very intense mesquite flavor, but if you add soaked mesquite chunks to the mature fire, the flavor will become very intense; so be careful not to overdo it.

  9. If I smoke a corned beef brisket should I soak in water or should I soak and beer smoke that last time and it was a little bit on the rubbery side please help wanna try again. Was really good

    1. Are you referring to soaking the meat or the wood chips? If the meat, try soaking it in water to draw out the salt.

  10. I have to first admit that I do not own a Charbroil, I have a traditional looking wood / charcoal bbq, resembles a built in gas bbq.
    I’ve been making corned beef on the barbie for 16 years. I soak mine in cherry juice, but not tart cherries, usually black cherry. I do this for about 3 hours. Then take out, pat dry, apply regular yellow mustard, then I use either Raspberry Chipotle, Cherry, or Apple rub, I kinda favor John Henry’s products and they’re accessible to me.
    I use lump charcoal to start my fire, then use either cherry or apple wood chunks for about 2 hours, then I go back to lump charcoal.
    It’s about 1 1/2hour per #. Once thermometer hits 150°, I wrap it in foil and let it cook until 165°.
    I remove from barbie, let rest about 20 minutes. All the while, I’m making a glaze from corn starch, ginger ale or 7 up, the rub I used, and turbinado sugar, ( you can use white or brown also) sweetend to your liking. Going for a consistency like a ham glaze. Enjoy, making one right now

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