Posts Tagged ‘smoking’

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef, but it’s not difficult to do. Doing it yourself gives you a better quality product than that nasty slab from the supermarket that is full of chemicals and preservatives.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both corned beef and pastrami usually start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed  with more spices and smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!

Step two: making Pastrami…



Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels

1/4 cup Kosher salt

1/4 cup paprika

3 tablespoons coriander seeds

2 tablespoons black peppercorns

2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds

1 tablespoon white peppercorns

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place in a bowl. Add salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

In the past, whenever I reached for the smoker, it was always for a slab of meat: brisket, pork shoulder, ribs. I’m surprised it took me this long to finally smoke some fish. What have I been waiting for?

Brining and smoking fish, in this case a hunk of wild-caught Alaskan salmon, is really not difficult to do at all: you brine the fish in a simple salt, pepper and sugar solution for a few hours, let the hunk of fish dry, then throw it in a smoker for a couple of hours. It’s really that easy. This method is called hot smoking, not the cold smoking you often see described on packages of store-bought salmon. Cold smoking is a process that takes days and requires equipment that most homeowners don’t have, and don’t need.

About the fish: I’m not a fan of traditionally cooked or poached salmon. I like it raw or I like it smoked. I never buy Atlantic salmon or any other farm-raised salmon because of the way they raise them: in large pens out in the ocean, fed food pellets and antibiotics, over-crowded and diseased, polluting the waters around them with waste.

Wild-caught fish are just that: they eat their natural food sources. They are not crowded so they don’t need antibiotics. And you can tell the difference when you look at the beautiful bright orange flesh. Does the good stuff cost more? Of course. Worth every bit.

Though I try to make sure all the small bones have been removed from my fish, I like to keep the skin on the filet, because it helps hold it together in the smoker. I always keep the fish cold in the fridge until it is ready to be brined.


For the brine:

1 gallon water
1cup Kosher salt
1cup organic raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the ingredients in a large pitcher made of glass or plastic and refrigerate until very cold.

When the brine is cold, remove the fish from the fridge and place it skin down in a glass or plastic container that will hold the filet without folding it over. Carefully pour the brine over the fish and make sure the fish is covered completely with the brine. If the fish filet starts to float, place a dish on it to push it down and then put the lid over the container. Place the container back in the fridge and brine for anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. (I always go for less than more. I’d rather have less salty than too salty.)

Once the fish has been brined, remove it from the container and rinse it well under fresh water. Pat it dry with paper towels and place it where it will get air circulating all around it. I use a small rack that stands an inch over a sheet pan. If you leave the fish out at room temp, do it for no more than an hour. Otherwise, it can stay in the fridge for up to 3 hours.

As the fish dries, it will form a shiny coat on the surface called a pellicle. This will actually help the smoke molecules adhere to the fish.

Start up your smoker. I use a digital smoker that runs on electricity, so I pre-heat to 220 degrees. When the fish has dried, I place it in the middle of the smoker and then add hickory chips to the smoker. I smoke the fish for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature of the fish is about 140.

Once it is smoked, I let the fish cool to room temp before I wrap it tightly and place it in the fridge for storage. Eat it within a few days…that should not be a problem!

There are so many cool things you can get your foodie father (or yourself) this Father’s Day. Here are a couple more gadgets that have become indispensable in my grilling arsenal…

BBQ timer: Even someone that has barbecued all their lives runs the risk of burning or undercooking a roast or a large bird. Opening the grill and jabbing the meat with a thermometer several times causes the juices from the meat to run out, leaving it dry…and every time you open the grill, you lose precious heat. This is the better solution: You stick the needle into the roast or bird and leave it in there the entire time it cooks, so no juices leak out. You plug it into the monitor which then calls you when the meat is ready (from as far as 100 feet away!) You set the time or temperature, and then get to join your guests for the party. Redi-Check Remote Cooking Thermometer:

Smoking Gun: This is a fun toy. There are times when you don’t need a full-on smoker. All you want to do is smoke a small piece of fish or a hunk of cheese.  You simply take some of the finely ground wood chip powder (comes with the gun) and place it in the pipe-like bowl. Light it, and the Smoking Gun will blow that smoke through a hose into the Ziploc bag where your piece of fish is waiting for its magical transformation to smoky deliciousness. (Thanks to chef Rizwan Ahmed of the Hourglass Brasserie in Bristol, RI, who introduced me to this very cool device.) You can get it at Williams Sonoma.

smoking gun


Posted: December 1, 2012 in bacon, Food, pork, smoking, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

There are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest sandwich ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the most amazing treats on planet Earth.

And it all depends on the bacon.

For so many years, I’ve bought my bacon on line from Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that not only sells some of the best bacon I’ve ever had (get the thick-sliced country bacon—my favorite), but also smoked turkeys, pork, beef, chicken and more. The prices are very fair and they include shipping, so you know exactly what it’s going to cost you right from the start. (

But it was time to take the next step: I had to make my own bacon!

My favorite source of heritage breeds of pork, pasture-raised with tender loving care, is Caw Caw Creek, based out of North Carolina. They raise only a handful of pigs in an area that other pig farms would jam in hundreds. The pigs are allowed to roam freely and forage for their food. And as a result, the pork is some of the most flavorful you will find anywhere. ( Tell Emile I sent you.

Bacon comes from the pork belly. So I bought a couple slabs from Caw Caw Creek, and followed the simple curing techniques outlined in a great book about making all kinds of prepared meats (sausages, salamis, and of course, bacon): “Charcuterie,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

If there is a skin on the belly, I choose to remove it before curing, but that’s a personal preference. I don’t eat it, so why have it? And it’s so thick, it blocks the cure.

To cure bacon, all you really need is some salt, some sugar, a little pepper, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like you would find in a basic spice catalog. Pink salt is bright pink—to let you know that this is special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. And the reason for that is because it contains nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help preserve the flavors of spices and smoke. That’s good. But nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this.

Once you rub the pork belly with the salt and sugar mixture, place it in a Ziploc bag, squeeze the air out of it, and seal it well. Place in the fridge for about a week, flipping it over a few times to let gravity do its work. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there.
Once the pork belly has been cured, wash the brine off the meat, pat dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, or do what I did: place the pork belly in a digital smoker, cooking it at 200 degrees for 1 hour, then adding hickory chips and smoking it at 200 degrees for another hour.

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

Bacon, straight out of the smoker.

Bacon, straight out of the smoker.

Let me tell you…that first slice you cut off that bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite of bacon you have ever had in your life!
The reward is so worth the effort. If you don’t want to bother going online to buy your pork, simply go to your favorite butcher and ask for pork belly. It’s usually available. And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!


Sliced, and ready for frying.

Sliced, and ready for frying.