The corned beef report
A week ago, I wanted to know what methods work for cooking corned beef. I got lots of great responses. The most intriguing was Applehome's method for making pastrami. It sounded like the very thing I was looking for, even though it would take a few weeks to complete the process.
Then I found out at the last minute that my little dinner party had suddenly become a bigger dinner party. I didn't have the time to turn the corned beef into pastrami. So, I grilled it. The flavor was quite delicious. It looked better, and had more flavor, than the boil-with-cabbage method. The only drawback was that the meat could have been more tender. However, it was still delicious.
Here is what I did. First, I corned a 4-pound flat cut of brisket in a plastic zip-loc bag with salt and spices (pepper, bay leaf, allspice, coriander). It sat in the fridge for 7 days.
Then, I patted it dry and rubbed it with more spices (English prime rib rub from Penzey's and some chili powder), and set it on the grill at about 275 degrees, along with a foil tray of wood chips that had been soaked in water for an hour. After two hours, I wrapped the meat in aluminum foil and put it, fat side up, on a 300 degree grill for 4 or 5 hours. It exuded almost two cups of liquid, which stayed trapped inside the foil. (This is the cooking method for grilled brisket from Cook's Illustrated Best Recipes.)
I let it rest before carving into thin slices. It tasted great. But, I really wanted a falling-apart texture, which this did not have.
I hope to try Applehome's method next time I'm in the mood for brisket. Maybe then I'll get the texture I'm seeking.
Thanks for the followup! I'm intrigued by the idea curing my own corned beef, without nitrites, etc. Can you post the proportions you used for your 7 day brine?
As far as being more tender: I think that leaving it to cook longer will make that happen with your method, especially as you've got the sucker sealed with its own juices in foil. I usually take my smoked brisket to 190 F internal, then let it rest for an hour before carving.
Each brisket is different, and two specimens of the same weight and dimensions might vary as much as an hour or more to reach this point. So go by internal temp, not by cooking time.
re: Professor Salt
I'm going to paraphrase the instructions from Cook's Illustrated Best Recipes.
Mix 1/2 cup kosher salt, 1 tbsp. cracked black peppercorns (I do mine with a mortar and pestle), 3/4 tbsp. ground allspice, 1 tablespoon dried thyme (I used several sprigs of fresh thyme), 1/2 tbsp. paprika, 2 crumbled bay leaves. I added some cracked coriander to the mix, and maybe one or two cracked cloves. I may have also used some Penzey's Prime Rib Rub--I really love the flavor of that stuff on beef.
Rub a 4 to 6 pound slab of brisket with the mixture, and put it in a 2-gallon zip-loc. Press out the air, seal the bag and put it in a pan. I used a 9x13 pan. I put another 9x13 pan on top, and weighed it down with heavy items, such as bricks of cheese. You can use cans of soup--anything that's heavy enough to put pressure on the meat. Turn the meat once every day for 5 to 7 days.
When you're ready to cook it, scrape or rinse off the spices and dry the meat. Then cook, using your preferred method.
re: Professor Salt
Professor Salt, I forgot to say thank you for the tip about measuring the brisket's doneness by internal temperature. Next time, I'll have my thermometer handy. And, I'll allow myself plenty of time to cook it, without worrying about guests arriving as I'm pulling it off the grill!
re: Professor Salt
I made my corned beef, too. The recipe I was following called for a 3-10 day soak in the brine. I just did 3. I found, as you did, that the meat could have been a bit more tender. Maybe a longer brine-bath would have helped? The flavor was great. I used my grass-fed, organic beef, which as usual gave a deeper meatiness to the flavor than I find in regular beef. It wasn't too salty, which I liked, because generally I like things very lightly salted and most corned beef is ruined for me by the salt. I think it was applehome's method I used to cook the brisket: first tightly covered, in water just halfway up the side, with the final hour uncovered and basting. I used the spice mix from Schwartz's in Montreal to rub on the beef before cooking, and to sprinkle on when I uncovered and flipped the meat.
All in all, very easy; definitely worth the effort to do it myself, considering that I can avoid not just nitrates (and it is true that gray corned beef is pretty easy to find in New England), but also hormones, antibiotics and so on. And tasty.