Hey, welcome to March!
Such a great month – winter is starting to go away (at least in southern/central regions), we’ve got March Madness and … St. Patrick’s Day!
And what’s the one food that is associated with St. Paddy’s? Corned Beef!
Given that this is a barbecue blog and all about smokey meats, let’s talk about the magic that happens when you take tasty Corned Beef, and you apply barbecue techniques of rubs, low and slow heat and smoke to it.
They call that magic Montreal Smoked Meat!
So exactly what is Montreal Smoked Meat (MSM) and why do we love it so much? It is cured brisket (aka Corned Beef) that is then smoked with an amazing (and spicy) coating that forms the bark on the outside.
It is a specialty of restaurants in Montreal (hence the name), and in fact THE place to get it in Montreal is Schwartz’s deli. MSM is like a brisket takes a trip to a New York Deli, on the way through Texas. It is similar to pastrami, only smokier and because it’s brisket (pastrami is a different cut), tastier! It’s got peppery spice, cured meat flavor and barbecue smoke! Pure heaven!
What makes “MSM” unique from regular barbecue brisket is the curing process. This chemically preserves the meat and gives it a unique flavor, versus raw brisket. The difference between Montreal Smoked Meat and regular corned beef is that corned beef is wet cured in a brining liquid (“pickled”) with peppercorns. The peppercorns are the primary spice (hence “corned” beef) while MSM is dry cured with a curing rub full of spices.
Making MSM is not a quick process – it takes about a week in total, but the results are amazing and worth your time. The only special thing you’ll need is curing salt – also known as “Prague Powder #1” or “Pink Salt” or “Pink Cure.” It is 6.25% granulated sodium nitrite and 93.75% table salt. The reason it’s pink is because it’s dyed that color so you don’t mistake it for salt and put it on your food like a seasoning. And don’t freak out about nitrates and nitrites in your food. You’ll eat more nitrate in a serving of spinach than you will in a serving of MSM.
The Montreal Smoked Meat Process
The process for making this is very straightforward:
First you cure the meat for 5-6 days with a rub that contains the Prague Powder #1. Then you rinse off that rub, rub it again with a peppery rub and you smoke the meat.
Finally, an hour or two prior to serving, you steam the meat to finish the cooking. Then you slice it thin against the grain and enjoy!
Because you only partially smoke the meat, this is an easy brisket to make. The smoking takes between 5 and 7 hours, then you steam it to finish it. You can also smoke it one day and steam it the next, making it very flexible around dinner plans.
Now, if you’re in a bit of a hurry, and want to shave some time or you think the whole curing thing isn’t your jam, you can make MSM from … commercial corned beef!
It’s a huge shortcut, and while you won’t wind up with truly authentic Montreal Smoked Meat, only a deli man in Montreal would know the difference. If you want to make it that way, skip forward to Step 3 in this post.
Montreal Smoked Meat – The Recipe
- A brisket. We have done these with just brisket points (ohh yeah!), brisket flats (just as good, but leaner), and whole packer briskets. Regardless of which you’re doing, you’ll want to trim it out well. We suggest checking out one of the gazillion videos on YouTube for advice on that. For the fat cap though, shave it down until it’s only ¼” to ⅛” thick. You want the rub and cure to flavor the meat. Our most recent effort was done using only a 3 ½ lb brisket point that we had separated from a large packer and used the flat for a braised brisket dish.
- Prague Powder #1 – the curing salt
STEP 1 – CURE:
The first step is to dry brine it for a week in the curing rub.
You’ll need to be able to keep it in the fridge, flat, for a week, so if your fridge is anything like ours, well, eat your leftovers and clear some space! For a curing container, we like to use those big 2.5 gallon zip closure bags. The meat will give up liquid as it cures, so we like to put the meat in the bag, squeeze out the air, zip it up and put the whole thing in a foil roasting pan just in case the bag leaks.
A note about the curing rub – the amount of curing rub you put on the meat is based on the weight of the meat, and that’s because there’s a specific ratio of meat to the Prague Powder#1 that you’re supposed to follow – 1 teaspoon per 5 lbs of meat.
Therefore, the recipe below is for 5 lbs of meat. If your packer brisket is 10 lbs, then double this – if it’s 12 lbs, make roughly 2 ½ x this recipe, etc.
- ⅓ cup kosher salt
- 1T ground black pepper
- 1T ground coriander
- 1t Prague Powder #1
- 2t granulated table sugar
- ½ t ground bay leaf (or take 3 bay leaves and smash them up)
- ½ t ground cloves
After trimming your brisket, apply this rub all over the meat, covering every part of it, and be sure to use all the rub. Slide the rubbed brisket into the big ziplock, squeeze out the air as best you can and close it up. Put that in the big pan and slide it into the fridge. Let it cure for at least 4 days and up to 6 days (we always do 5) – flipping it over once a day.
Step 2 – Rinse and Soak:
The day before you’re going to smoke it, take it out of the bag, flop it into the sink and rinse it well to get the curing mixture off as best you can – we use a clean dish brush (make sure it has NO soap on it!) to help persuade the mixture off the meat. Some pepper bits will stay stuck in the meat and fat – that’s fine, but you’re clearing the way for the next rub.
After rinsing, fill a large roasting pan or other container with enough cold water to fully cover the meat and soak it for at least 2 hours, changing the water every 30 minutes or so while it soaks. This helps take the salt out of the surface of the meat, which is important so that the next rub can do it’s thing!
STEP 3 – Rub #2 and Smoke
Fill your pellet smoker with your favorite Griller’s Gold pellets – for this we recommend either Smokeshack Blend or Fruitwood Blend, but really they will all work great. Fire it up and preheat it for at least 20 minutes at 275 degrees.
While the grill heats up, mix up the next rub (and again this is for every 5 lbs. The difference with this is you don’t have to use all of it, so we actually make this in a larger quantity as it is fantastic on steaks – ever hear of Montreal Steak Seasoning? This is a homemade version.)
- 1 T coarse ground black pepper
- 1 t ground coriander
- 1 t paprika
- 1 ½ t garlic powder
- 1 ½ t onion powder
- ½ t dry ground mustard
- ½ t celery seed
- ½ t crushed red pepper
Optional ½ t ground Worcestershire powder (We make this optional as this is kind of hard to find, although it is very available online. This is great for a lot of things and gives a really great umami-boost.)
Spread this generously over the meat and pat it to make it set into the surface of the meat. Again, be sure to do all the surface area of the meat – edges too!
Ok, meat ready, grill hot, let’s get this on!
If you have a probe thermometer, place the probe in the thickest part of the meat with the tip in the center. If you’re doing a full packer brisket, we recommend placing the meat on the grill with the thickest part away from the chimney of your pellet grill. Smoke the meat until it hits an internal temp of at least 160F in the center – you can go a bit higher, but there’s really no need to. And if it stalls at 155 or so, that’s fine too. Depending on how big your brisket is, and what cut (full packer, point only, flat only), this could take anywhere from 2 ½ hours to 6 hours.
Take the meat off the smoker, bring it inside, put a layer of foil over it and a folded towel over that and let it rest for an hour.
LAST STEP – Steaming and Serve!
This is the kicker step for this – and it really makes great meat. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F (or increase the heat on your pellet grill to that level if your oven is busy).
Prepare a roasting pan with a rack in the bottom that will allow for at least ½” or so of water without touching the meat. Lay the brisket on the rack, then seal the whole roaster up with foil, tightly, so the steam doesn’t escape. If you are using a probe thermometer, poke the probe through the foil and into the center of the thickest part of the meat. Try to keep the hole as small as possible. Slide it into the oven and let it steam for between an hour to 2 hours. You’re going for at least 185 internal temp although it can safely slide as high as 205. Once you’re at 185 though, you’re done.
Remove from the pan, put it on a board and slice it thin across the grain.
It makes amazing sandwiches on rye bread with spicy mustard, and also is just great plain – no sauce needed. And since we’re talking St. Patrick’s day – this kicks the whole “corned beef and cabbage” thing to a new level since this meat is a flavor bomb! You’re not going to be making the cabbage in with the corned beef, but serving this with a side of boiled potatoes and cabbage is very very tasty. Especially when you pair it with a classic St. Patrick’s day beer like Guinness, Smithwicks, or Harp Lager.
Montreal Smoked Meat sounds complicated, but really, it isn’t. But what you will have is a dish that will blow away your friends and family when you serve it.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day and March everyone!