Imagine being able to make your own smoky and delicious pastrami at home?
The truth is that the process is simple and yet takes about a week. Thus, it requires some patience, but you will be more than satisfied with the results once you are done.
Here is a step-by-step guide on making homemade pastrami. The process includes four main steps: curing, rinsing and rubbing, smoking, and steaming.
What is Pastrami?
Even if you think that you have never tried it before, chances are you have if you have eaten a Reuben sandwich which often includes pastrami instead of corned beef.
Pastrami is traditional dried meat originating from ancient Byzantine and Anatolia, imported in the USA by the Romanian and Bessarabian Jews who immigrated to New York back in the 1870s.
Famous kosher butcher Sussman Volk from New York was the first to produce and introduce the pastrami sandwich in the USA. The sandwich became so popular that Volk converted his butcher shop into a restaurant offering the American Jewish delicacy.
Beef brisket, turkey, or lamb were used to make the first pastrami. It served as a method of meat preservation before the refrigerator was created.
Salmon and beef ribs may also be used to make pastrami, although corned beef makes up the majority of the products sold today.
The term “preserved meat” refers to meat that has been cured, smoked, or even steamed.
Making corned beef
In order to prepare pastrami at home, you will first need to make corned beef. Corned beef is salt-cured beef brisket.
While it is readily available in stores, you can easily make your own corned beef to use as a basis for the flavorful homemade pastrami.
Despite its name, corned beef does not refer to corn but to salt “corns” used for the curing of the meat.
By choosing a fresh and high-quality beef cut, you can make sure that your pastrami is made of the perfect piece of meat, which has been properly cut and trimmed.
Please note that salt curing the beef brisket to make corned beef does require about 5 to 7 days.
Here are the steps for choosing the best cut of meat for making your own corned beef.
1. Choosing the best beef cut and preparing it for curing
Corned beef is traditionally prepared from beef brisket. While you can use any part of this beef cut, the flat is the most common choice for corned beef due to the fact that it can easily be sliced up into equal-sized slices.
The brisket point section is a piece of meat with more connective tissue and fat, resulting in tenderer corned beef.
Another suitable cut for corned beef is the one that is closer to the belly, next to the brisket, and referred to as the navel or plate. It is considered a rare cut.
While it is up to you to pick the perfect cut for your corned beef, our recommendation is to opt for the brisket flat, which is easy to slice and is rich in marbling.
Even if you can’t find a high-quality beef brisket in your area, you can order a cut or more of your choice from the leading online butcher shop – Snake River Farms or another one of the reputable online stores for meat.
If your beef brisket needs trimming, then you will need to do it yourself. First, remove the thick white fat layer, leaving about 1/8 inch, and then trim the other side from any fat.
2. Curing the beef
Curing has been used for centuries as a way to preserve meat and fish before the invention of refrigeration. But not only is curing a great way to keep meat from spoiling, but it is also a great way to make delicious foods.
Traditionally, corned beef is wet cured with salt. For our homemade corned beef, you will need some pink curing salt (Prague #1 Powder), salt, sugar, and water.
But we have added some additional ingredients to the cure to boost the meat’s flavor. You can see the complete ingredient list for the wet cure at the end of this article.
For the purposes of this recipe, we are using a whole brisket flat cut, but you can adapt the recipe and cure proportions according to the piece of meat you are using.
Here is a useful wet curing calculator which will help you scale down or up the right amount of curing salt depending on the size of the meat you are using.
You will need to find a container, such as a bucket, which will easily fit the beef brisket and allow it to be submerged entirely in the wet cure.
Plus, you will need space in a refrigerator or a cool space where the container with the meat can sit for about 5 to 7 days.
During the wet curing process, the beef needs to be flipped daily for even and proper curing. To prevent the meat from floating above the water level, you can press it down with a bowl.
In a few days, the meat will develop a pale gray tone, which is expected.
After the meat is cured, you should make sure that you remove as much salt from it as possible. The desalination of the cured beef brisket is done by submerging it in a bucket filled with fresh cold water and letting it sit for about 8 hours in the fridge.
If you are in a hurry, you can rinse the meat off from the salt under running water thoroughly.
Once you have desalinated the cured beef, you can proceed to make the corned beef by placing it in a large pot of water and turning the heat to medium-low. Then bring the water to 190 degrees Fahrenheit and let the meat simmer in it for about 30 minutes. You should be careful not to bring it to a boil in order to preserve the texture and flavor of the cured meat.
After half an hour, throw out the hot water, cover the meat with some clean hot water and then simmer it at low heat for about 3 hours, or until the internal temperature of the brisket reaches 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
After that, you will end up with corned beef, which is ready to be made into mouthwatering pastrami.
Preparing the pastrami
1. Making the dry rub for the pastrami
While there are various pastrami rub recipes, all of them include two main ingredients, namely coriander powder and freshly cracked (not ground) black pepper. You can purchase coriander powder from the store or make your own fresh powder with the help of a suitable spice grinder.
To make true pastrami, you should use freshly cracked black pepper and not finely ground pepper. This can be done by cracking and smashing the pepper seeds, but without turning them into powder.
Mix the pepper and the coriander well, and then spread some mustard on all sides of the corned beef. This will act as a binding agent for the dry rub.
Sprinkle the dry rub generously on all sides of the corned beef. You can rub the mixture in the meat using your hands to ensure that it sticks to the surface.
After you have applied the dry rub, you need to let the meat rest in the refrigerator for another 1-2 days.
2. Smoking the pastrami
Yes, there is yet another step before you can enjoy that lip-smacking pastrami sandwich. You will need to smoke the corned beef first.
To do it properly, set your smoker to a temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Follow the instructions of the manufacturer to ensure that it holds this temperature consistently. You may want to use a suitable Wi-Fi thermometer as well as a meat thermometer in order to keep an eye on the temperatures of the smoker and the internal temperature of the meat.
The best smoker to make smoky and flavorful pastrami is a charcoal smoker. But you can use any other smoker or a grill with a two-zone cooking setup.
You can use whatever smoke wood chips you have or prefer.
When the smoker is ready, you can place the corned beef in it. Make sure you place it with the fat side up.
After that, you can proceed in one of the following three ways to ensure that your pastrami is smoked and ready to be sliced and served:
- Smoke the meat until it reaches an internal temperature of 205 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that the pastrami is ready to be eaten.
- Smoke the meat until the internal temperature is 155 degrees Fahrenheit until it develops a beautiful dark bark. After that, wrap the meat in aluminum foil and smoke it until it reaches the recommended internal temperature of 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Smoke the corned beef to an internal temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit, and then steam it.
Steaming the pastrami is the traditional way to finish the process. You can steam it if you have a suitable metal or bamboo steamer or with a wire rack and a baking pan. The meat needs to be steamed at medium-low heat for 1-2 hours or until it reaches the temperature of about 203-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
The steaming can soften the bark, which is why some pitmasters prefer to skip this step altogether.
For a firm and smoky bark, you should follow the first smoking method on the list and leave the meat unwrapped until its internal temperature at the center of the cut is 205 to 210 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Slicing and serving the pastrami
When the pastrami is ready, remove it from the smoker, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving it.
In order to get the finest taste, texture, and results from your hard work, you should take the time and use a suitable knife to slice the pastrami properly.
Take a look at the texture of the meat and then slice it against the grain, which means slicing it perpendicular to the direction of the grain. Try to cut even thin slices using a sharp and long slicing knife.
As for how to serve the pastrami – the options are endless. While pastrami is famous for the Reuben sandwich, this delicacy can also be served on slices of rye bread, with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing or mustard. You can also serve the pastrami as a topping for your favorite salad made of lettuce, veggies, pickled olives, and vinaigrette dressing. Pastrami can be added to a pizza topping, or in an omelet, in pasta, tacos, and even cheese soup.
You can store the pastrami in the refrigerator for about 3 to 5 days or freeze the leftovers in a vacuum pack or zip lock bag for months.
Homemade smoked pastrami recipe
Beef brisket flat – 12
Yellow mustard – 2 tablespoons
For the brine:
Cool water – 1 gallon
Kosher salt – 1 ½ cups
Pink curing salt (Prague powder #1) – 4 teaspoons
Sugar – 1 cup
Crushed garlic cloves – 6 pieces (optional)
Pickling spice – ¼ cup
Ice – 8 ½ lbs. to cool the heated brine (optional)
For the pastrami rub:
Whole black peppercorns – 2 tablespoons
Freshly crushed ground black pepper – 2 tablespoons
Coriander whole seeds – 1 tablespoon
Brown sugar – 1 tablespoon
Paprika – 1 tablespoon
Garlic powder – 2 teaspoons
Onion powder – 2 teaspoons
Mustard seeds – 1 tablespoon
Mustard powder – ½ teaspoon
For the pastrami pickling spice:
Black peppercorns – 1 tablespoon
Coriander seeds – 1 tablespoon
Mustard seeds – 1 tablespoon
Red chili flakes – 1 tablespoon
Whole allspice berries – 1 tablespoon
Cloves – 1 tablespoon
Ground ginger – 1 teaspoon
Ground mace – 1 teaspoon
Cinnamon stick crushed – 1 small
Bay leaves broken in pieces – 2 pieces
Step-by-step instructions for preparing pastrami at home
1. Making the pickling spice
Toast the whole seeds (peppercorns, coriander, and mustard) in a dry pan at medium heat, and keep them moving.
Fold the toasted spices in a napkin and use a rolling pin or pan to smash them and crack them open.
Mix the cracked seeds with the rest of the ingredients and store them in an airtight jar or another container.
2. Making the corned beef
Combine all of the spices and dry ingredients from the recipe for the brine in a large pot. Bring them to a boil while stirring them until the salt and the sugar have dissolved completely.
Cool down the brine by adding the ice or more cold water and letting it get cold in the fridge.
Trim the brisket flat by removing the layer of white fat, trimming it down to just 1/8 inch, and removing all fat from the other side of the meat.
When the brine is cold enough, place the brisket inside the solution until it is completely submerged. If necessary, press the meat down with a bowl to keep it submerged in the brine.
Place the container in a refrigerator for the next 5 to 7 days. Make sure that you flip the meat around every day. The thicker the cut – the longer it will need to be cured.
3. Making the pastrami rub
Crush the peppercorn, mustard, and coriander seeds using a clean cloth and a rolling pin, and mix them with the powdered ingredients. Make sure they are mixed properly before applying the rub.
4. Making the homemade pastrami
Remove the meat and place it in a bucket of cold water when it has been in the brine for 5-7 days and developed a pale gray color. Allow it to desalinate in the refrigerator for about eight hours, or thoroughly rinse it under cold water to get rid of as much salt and remaining brine as you can.
Before generously sprinkling the meat with the pastrami seasoning, spread yellow mustard over the whole surface. To make sure the rub stays on the meat’s surface, use your hands.
Set your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and use a wood of your choice for the smoking (we find that apple and cherry chips work well for pastrami).
Place the meat in the smoker with the fat side up, and let it smoke until the internal temperature of the brisket reaches about 155 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take it out, wrap it in aluminum foil, and increase the temperature of the smoker up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (you can skip this step if you want darker and smokier bark).
The pastrami should be cooked until it is tender and reaches an internal temperature of 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you are planning on steaming it, remove it from the smoker at 155 degrees and then steam it on medium-low heat for about 2 hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Allow the meat to rest for 30-60 minutes before slicing and serving it.
Slice it in thin slices against the grain for the best results.
Enjoy your homemade pastrami!