Corned beef has a reputation for being a classic Irish dish, but overseas, you're more likely to see boiled bacon and cabbage. Irish-Americans, however, have taken on corned beef as a beloved dish that's become synonymous with St. Patrick's Day.
Corned beef is a beef brisket that has been salted and seasoned for preservation. In fact, the term “corned” comes from the very coarse salt used long ago in this process. In the Old English, "corn" referred to grain that was about the size of the coarse salt used — hence, “corned” beef.
The secret to cooking corned beef is to get that salt back out to flavor the dish, and it's traditionally done by boiling it with potatoes and other vegetables, including cabbage. Those who are willing to buck tradition, though, will be rewarded with grilled corned beef, which will be more flavorful and have a much better texture than the boiled version. The secret to grilling a corned beef is to make sure you've soaked it well enough to pull out the salt before you put it on the grill.
Soak the Beef
Soak the raw corned beef for about 30 minutes per pound, letting it sit for no less than 2 hours. This soaking needs to be done with warm water, or the salt will not dissolve effectively. Change the water every hour, rinsing the corned beef when you change the water.
Season With a Rub
Corned beef often comes with a spice package that you use as a rub on the meat. You can also mix up your own rub by combining four parts cracked black pepper and cracked coriander seeds to one part onion powder, thyme, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne. Rub the spices into the meat, so the meat takes on the flavor. What you don't need in the rub is salt — despite the soaking, there's still plenty of sodium left for flavor in the meat.
Grill the Meat
Low and slow is the name of the game for a cut of beef such as corned beef. Charcoal and hardwoods will give you better flavors, but a gas grill will work just fine. Heat the grill on low, around 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius), where you'll cook the beef for one to two hours by indirect grilling. Place a drip pan under the corned beef. Grill until the internal temperature of the meat reached more than 145 degrees F (63 degrees C). The goal: Corned beef that has lightly crusted on the surface but hasn't dried out. Watch the meat closely, especially after an hour.
Finish by Basting
During the grilling process, baste the corned beef every 30 minutes with the previously used rub that's been mixed with equal parts of water, oil, and vinegar. This will keep the meat moist and continue to add flavor to the meat during the long cooking process.
The Side Dishes
Corned beef is traditionally served with cabbage and potatoes, both of which can still be made when you grill the beef separately. Saute the cabbage with the drippings from grilling the meat until it's just tender, making sure that you don't overcook the vegetable. Go traditional and boil the potatoes until they're tender enough to smash and sop up the extra seasoning on the plate.