Everybody’s done it, okay maybe not you or you wouldn’t be here, but if someone loves to smoke meat they will eventually try to make their own pastrami. What is pastrami anyways? Wikipedia has gathered a fairly straight forward history lesson on it here. It is Jewish in origin and typically made from beef, sometimes from pork, turkey, and other meats. Here in America we typical use beef brisket and maybe sometimes you’ll see the beef plate used as well. Go to the deli in the grocery store and order pastrami, it’ll likely be a beef round which will be sliced thin. Nothing like a brisket. The down side of a brisket, is it is a muscle that is worked a lot in the animal. As such it is tough. But with some slow love, you can make a piece of meat that makes everyone’s head turn. Another great win concerning this delectable meat treasure is it comes from a need of preservation. So the meat keeps well.
Below I’ll walk you through my cheat version (buying already “corned” beef). This particular run of doing this I went with a very peppery blend. No sugars, just black pepper, coriander, and garlic powder. We’ll discuss other blends in a minute. But first, what part of the cow are we eating here anyways?
The brisket is what we are going after. The brisket is then broken down into mainly two sections. The Point muscle, where the girth and fat layer reside. Then the Flat muscle which is the thinner section with the “tip” and a little section of the fat layer.
I have tried the grocery store pre-packaged corned beefs a ton of times. (there are two types, I am talking about the UNcooked version) They are either the Flat OR the Point muscle. I was doing pretty good with them for a while. They cook pretty quick and make decent pastrami’s. Then a good friend of mine hooked me up with a deal from restaurantdepot on one of their corned beef packages. They offer Whole Packers Cut Corned briskets. The big boy. Great layers of fat. 17-18 lbs each. I haven’t looked back, I can’t remember the last time I used a grocery store corned beef package. ha!
Above is what I got. A 17lb hunk of cow, waiting to get peppery smoking love. So this hunk is full of salt. Pink curing salt in fact. The big hunks of meat like this get injected every inch with a curing solution. Sodium Nitrate. So we need to get this guy into a clean water bath and soak for a day (refrigerated while it is soaking) to remove all of that salt. I like to change the water out once at 12 hours. This will draw the salt out. If you don’t do this the meat will be incredibly salty when you go to eat it. INCREDIBLY salty. Soak this guy in water! Smaller corned briskets, maybe 15 hours. Big ones like this one, 24 to 48 hours. Oddly enough this water bath will work so well you may find that you need to salt your pastrami sandwich once you are ready to eat. That’s fine, salt away. Just remember you daily allowance. (2400 milligrams) hehehe
Pat this thing dry. No leaking water. As dry as it can be. Now this is when you need to put your signature pastrami rub on the brisket. Pay attention to the fat side. You’ll need to reference this later when you put it in the smoker and in the cool down stage. After liberally rubbing it down with the a rub concoction of black pepper and coriander you’ll let it sit in the fridge for a day. At 17lb’s, I went for two days. You’ll want to flip it every 12 hours or so. Did you remember which side was fat side? As mentioned earlier, I went with a super simple rub this time. I wanted a black pepper wallup! Here’s my rub mixture on this particular cook.
4 TBSP Crushed Black Pepper
2 TBSP Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
2 TBSP Garlic Powder
2 TBSP Ground Coriander
That’s it. Now the big boys, like Katz’s run with a more complex mixture which I highly recommend. This is how you blow your family and friends away with the flavors. Seriously the below, goodness.
4 TBSP Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
2 TBSP Ground Coriander
1 TSP Mustard Powder
1 TBSP Brown Sugar
1 TBSP Paprika (just for color)
2 TSP Garlic Powder (I am a garlic lover, I’d go with a TBSP)
2 TSP Onion Powder
All in all, experiment with what you like or you think will work. The only two spices that are mandatory are black pepper and coriander for pastrami.
Something I thought of but didn’t picture is using parchment paper in the bottom of the Tupperware holder. The brisket will get moist and sometimes the rub clumps off or rubs off on the container. I put parchment paper in the bottom and on top of it so when I flipped the brisket every 12 hours the rub didn’t come off. You can use a bag or any type of container, just make sure it is sealed and you flip it every now and again (the weight of the meat will help the rub adhere) Now cover it up and put in fridge for 24 hours for anything up to 10 lbs. Up to 20 lbs go for two days. Flipping every 6-12 hours.
Let’s smoke! Get it out of the fridge and put in the (pre-heated) smoker FAT SIDE UP. You are going to want to aim for a maintained smoker temp of 225*. The time of the cook will be determined by the thickness of the brisket, not the weight. My size brisket warranted about 12 ounces of wood. Pastrami can handle smoke so don’t be worried about over smoking but after about 3-6 hours (depending on size) you don’t need to worry about it much if it doesn’t smoke anymore. I used hickory. I know I know, personal preference. Most experts like cherry or fruit tree wood when it comes to red meats. I like hickory. A lot. But there are so many flavors in a pastrami, the last thing you’ll notice is what smoke I used. You are shooting for internal temps of 190* to 200*. And don’t worry about not seeing smoke rings. You won’t. The meat was cured already with pink curing salt which has the same contents as the smoke you are hitting it with, nitrate. I used an electric smoker in this case as I can set it up and go to my day job and not worry about maintaining temps. I prefer charcoal. But since this cut of meat (mainly thickness of meat) has so much cooking/smoking time I am not too worried about it not forming a good bark. NOTHING beats charcoal smoking. NOTHING. Shhh, don’t argue, just accept that charcoal is the best smoke you’ll ever have. Charcoal mixed with other things like wood you say? Okay fine, that’ll work. Wood only? Okay, obvious that’s true “smoking” but you can’t have the fire too close. But man, charcoal will turn the bark on this meat into pure magic. Anyhoot, moving on.
Now get this hunk of love into the kitchen. I know I know, go ahead, cut a piece, I did. 🙂
Your taste test may say it is a little dry (if you chose the point end) or chewy, that’s alright. Hurry up and get it wrapped in aluminum foil. You want to remember where the fat side is and also wrap it so no juices run out of your foil wrap. Make about 3 or 4 wraps. Now wrap that aluminum bundle of joy up in towels. Large towels. (Fat side, where is it?) Two towels is what I used. Now, again remember fat side up and put in a cooler and close cooler. With the fat side up the meat is still going to finish cooking and the fat renderings will still run down to the no fat side which will bath in the juices. FORGET about this hunk of meat for 2-4 hours.
After being in the cooler for the allotted time there are a couple routes you can take. If you timed this right and it’s time to eat, well get to it, steam and slice or slice and fry. If you are looking for New York style goodness, cut a large chunk and steam it until the internal temp is around 200* to 205*. 203* to be NY Deli specific. BUT this should be a very slow process. Go at it slow. In fact some great advice over at amazingribs.com on how to steam pastrami (Step 6). Don’t steam it after you sliced it and remember to ALWAYS cut it perpendicular to the grain of the meat. You are looking for a slice as thin as possible, no more than 1/8″. Me personally, I like it sliced and fried in a touch of EVOO on toasted rye bread with brown mustard. MMMM MMMM MMMMM!!!
If you don’t plan to eat it right away, with the foil still on it stick the whole hunk in the fridge. Once it is fridge temp take it out and cut it into large chunks that are more manageable and if you have a vacuum sealer, seal each chunk. It freezes just fine (once vacuumed seal) and keeps in the vacuum seal in the fridge for a good bit. I have never been able to test out how long it can last, I eat it all. I used a machine to slice it while it is still cold and then heat in pan with EVOO to make it a little crunchy. Otherwise slicing with a machine is laughable when pastrami is warm.
There ya go folks. Homemade Pastrami. Of course we cheated a little and let someone else cure it for us, but eh, it’ll be alright. If you want to cure it yourself, get some big pots and a lot of time and go at it. Go here and follow their instructions. Awesome website, they talk about the design and science of it all and show you how to do it. Either way…eat on and remember, life is too short to always follow the recipe, mix it up. Put this on pizza, make hash (some of the best hash you’ll ever have), or cut it up and put into a stew. You’ll be happy.