It’s an old method, so you may not have heard of it. But smoking meat with corn cobs can be an effective way to boost flavor.
If you’re the type of grilling enthusiast who enjoys a good experiment, try using corn cobs in addition to—or instead of—wood chips the next time you fire up the smoker. Here’s how to do it.
Smoking Meat With Corn Cobs
Dried corn cobs can be used to flavor meat during smoking the same way that chunks of hardwood might. Fresh cobs don’t have quite the same effect and may lead to flare-ups, but they can be substituted in a pinch. If you can find corn cob pellets, these work best of all, particularly for cold smoking.
Smoking Meat: The Basics
What’s the purpose of smoking meat in the first place?
While the process is time-consuming, it imbues the meat with rich flavor. The smoky taste brings out the natural sweetness of beef and pork and lends complexity to white meats like poultry.
Depending on the size of the cut and the smoker temperature, smoking meat can take several hours—even as long as a whole day in some cases. A whole packer brisket, for example, can weigh 15 or 16 pounds. Smoking it low and slow could take over 24 hours.
Flavor isn’t the only reason it takes so long. Many of the cuts that people select for the smoker—like pork ribs and brisket—are naturally tough. The extended cooking time allows the fat and collagen in the meat to break down, so it turns out juicy and tender.
A perfectly smoked cut of meat tastes delectable on its own, but you can enrich the flavor even more by pairing it with barbecue sauce. Try not to overdo it, though—you don’t want to overwhelm all that smoke-tinged goodness, or the natural taste of the meat.
About Smoking Meat With Corn Cobs
This method isn’t as popular now as it was back in the day, but some aficionados still swear by it. The process requires only a couple of simple steps, and corn cobs are easy enough to procure, particularly in the summer months.
Corn has a sweet flavor on its own, so it stands to reason that the cobs could be used as an enhancement for your favorite smoked meat products. If you don’t have any on hand, try to find corn cob pellets (see separate section below).
Do You Use Fresh or Dried Corn Cobs?
It’s best to use cobs that have fully dried, especially if you’ll be putting some in dry storage. The moisture from fresh kernels will lead to mold growth. Of course, you can offset this by storing them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.
Fresh corn will still work, but adding excess moisture to the smoker environment can prevent the meat from browning. This is a particular concern if you’re hoping to get an impressive bark on a pork butt or beef brisket.
In point of fact, it’s not necessary for the cobs to still have kernels on them at all in order for the process to work. You can use shucked cobs—a method that comes in handy for farmers who use corn to feed their livestock.
When you’re ready to start cooking, just toss the corn cobs directly on the fire. You can also lay them on the cooking grate alongside the meat, but the flavor won’t be as pronounced. Besides, you might run out of room on the grate.
Finally, smoking meat with corn cobs doesn’t have to be restricted to the summer. There are retailers who sell pure corn cob pellets, though they might be labeled as horse feed or even horse bedding.
Look for “Best Cob Premium Horse Bedding” at Tractor Supply. This product is made of 100 percent dried corn cobs and is perfect for the smoker. If you have any doubts about a product, just check the label to make sure it’s only made of corn, with no filler.
What Types of Wood Pair Best With Corn Cobs?
If you’re really hoping to play up the sweetness factor, try using apple or maple wood chips (or pellets). Both will complement the corn flavor without being too overwhelming.
Since corn has a relatively mild taste, you can amp things up by using a robust wood like hickory. Try to steer clear of this wood when smoking poultry, though—the intense flavor can turn bitter if you’re not careful.
Cob Smoked Bacon
For this process, you’ll be cold smoking the pork. That means using a much lower temperature than you normally would. The goal is to flavor and cure the meat without thoroughly cooking it.
In order to make cob smoked bacon, you’ll need to buy a cut of pork belly. Don’t make the mistake of buying actual bacon—you want raw pork belly, not a product that’s already been smoked.
For every 5 pounds of pork belly, combine 1/4 cup kosher salt, 2 teaspoons curing salt, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 cup real maple syrup in a small bowl. It’s important not to use imitation maple syrup, so be sure to check the label.
Spread the salt mixture on the pork belly, taking care to coat both sides. Transfer the pork belly to a container large enough to hold the entire thing, then put it in the fridge. Let the salt solution do its work for 7 days, turning the pork over once per day.
Remove the pork belly from the container and use paper towels to remove as much of the salt solution as you can. Set the pork on a rack over a large sheet pan and put it back in the fridge to dry overnight.
After adding the corn cobs or cob pellets to the smoker, set the temperature to 90 degrees. If your smoker runs on the hot side, err on the side of caution and choose a smoker temp of 75-80. You don’t want it to go above 100 degrees.
Lay the pork belly flat on the cooking grate, or hang it from a hook if your smoker is configured that way. If the pork is lying directly on the grate, note that you’ll need to flip it over roughly halfway through the cooking process.
Smoke the bacon at this temperature for about 6 hours, turning it over after 3 hours as directed above. The bacon is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees.
Let the bacon cool completely before you carve it into slices.
The Bottom Line
Corn cobs aren’t made of wood, but they make a fine alternative when it comes to smoking meat. We would suggest mixing small amounts in with other types of wood if you’re worried that the sweetness will be too overwhelming.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!