How to Make Pastrami

Jason Webster
Written by
Last update:

What is Pastrami?

Pastrami is a thin, dessicated, seasoned, and smoked meat. It is one of the world’s most popular cold cuts and can be usually found in any deli.

It got its name from the Romanian city of Iasi, where it was originally made in the mid-19th century. Because it’s a cured meat, pastrami can be easily stored for longer periods of time.

It’s served in sandwiches with pickles. Pastrami is most often eaten at breakfast, but it can also be served for lunch or dinner with potatoes or with noodles.

Preparing your corned beef

Remove the corned beef from the packaging and place it in a large pot (6-quart) with enough water to cover. Add the bay leaf and peppercorns to it. Cover the pot and bring the contents to a boil on medium high heat. Boil it for 10 minutes. Remove the corned beef from the pot and allow it to cool. You can rinse the beef with water. Set it on a wire rack to dry while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Choosing the right cut and prepping the beef

For pastrami.

You can make pastrami from any beef roast cut. Some of the most popular choices are flank steak, brisket, and flat roast. I prefer to go for the flat roast cut. Depending upon where you live, you may need to special order it from your butcher.

The cut needs to be 1/8–inch thick and about three inches longer than desired length.

You want to look for a roast with a fat cap on it with a layer of fat on top.

The fat on the top helps the pastrami achieve its signature fatty flavor.

You can also ask your butcher to leave some fat on the sides of the roast for a longer smoke time and better flavor.

The roast also needs to be tied to keep it compact.

Curing the corned beef

Once the corned beef is fully brined for 10 days, remove it from the brine and rinse the brine off.

Separate the corned beef into even, approximately 3-pound, pieces. Trim the chunks if they are uneven.

The cut up corned beef pieces placed into fresh brine in a tightly sealed large container. Mix the brine and refrigerate it for 7 days. After 7 days flip the corned beef pieces and replace them in the brine liquids for an additional 7 days.

Stop there or cure both sides for a total of 14 days.

Making the Pastrami

After the brisket has brined, the meat has to be dried using a paper towel. It is also important that the brisket is very dry, so that it cooks evenly.

The meat should also be rubbed with mustard and then with lots of pepper.

Making the Pastrami rub

To create a rub for the pastrami, they first use coriander and pepper and baking soda. Mix this well until it has a really coarse texture. Then you take a teaspoon and add some salt to this mix.

The second ingredient that you will need is sugar and the third and final ingredient is garlic powder. This is all mixed together and put into a container. You can now go ahead and combine this mixture with any pastrami you have.

After you have made this rub for your pastrami, you can go ahead and open your pastrami container. You will notice the four corners and will now take a small corner and place it at the end of the pastrami.

After you have placed it on the end, you will now want to roll your pastrami and then continue to do this until you have rolled out your pastrami.

You will now want to place it in the oven for a short time. You should sprinkle some water onto the oven.

You should then let it warm to the ideal temperature which you will need to get use to.

All that will be needed is once your pastrami is ready, you will want to take it out and cut it as you would any other meats.

Smoking the Pastrami

When it comes to smoking meats, pork is top of mind for most people. However, beef has similar properties and requires similar methods.

To begin with, you need to start with a high quality piece of beef brisket. There is nothing quite like pastrami when it is done right. It’s a beefy, salty, dry-cured offering that is the perfect vehicle for the pastrami spices and flavors that comes after that.

Unlike pork, you will need to cure the beef brisket before smoking it. This process adds flavor to the meat and, most importantly, alters the texture in a way that allows you to slice it thinly and easily for the sandwich.

Curing the beef is relatively easy and depending on the space you have for curing, you can age the beef overnight or a few days. For the quickest cure, you can cure the beef in one hour.

The process for the cure is called as brining. Cook the brisket and place it in a non-reactive container, such as a zipper bag. Cover it with a salt rub, Dijon mustard, a little bit of anise and fennel seeds. Add water, cover it, and you have brining done!

Slicing and serving

There are two schools of thought when it comes to serving pastrami. Some say the meat should be sliced thin and served on brown, rye or French bread with some of its original fat, and some say that it should be sliced between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick and served on plain rye or white bread. As I have done both ways, I believe you can do whichever you prefer for your sandwich.

Smoked Pastrami

Combine brine ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Place pastrami in the brine, press out any air with your hands, seal the bag, then place in a dish in the refrigerator. Brine for 3 days, turning bag over every day.

Remove pastrami from brining bag, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels.

Coat corned beef completely with dry rub, pressing to make sure rub adheres to meat, then letting rest an additional 30 minutes.

Place pastrami on a smoking rack, suspended about 4 inches from the coals of a hot fire in a grill (you may need to begin on the cooler side of the grill and bring the heat down once pastrami has been placed on the grill).

Cover grill with lid and let cook until pastrami reaches desired doneness; meat should be pink.

If desired, place in oven to finish cooking until desired doneness is reached.

Slice and serve with mustard and rye bread.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs beef brisket (the point, not the flat)
  • 2 cups of sea salt
  • 1 cup of coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of mustard powder
  • 1/2 cup of pickling spices
  • 1 tbsp of whole cloves
  • 1 tbsp of garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp of ground ginger

Instructions

  • Buy a fresh brisket with a thick fat pad on it. Don’t buy a corned beef.
  • Brine the brisket for a week.
  • Remove the brisket to soak for an hour in some water.
  • Make a paste from white pepper, coriander seed, caraway seed, whole mustard seed, crushed garlic, and onion and par boil the pot of the brisket in the paste.
  • Let the brisket cool then put the paste on the outside and refrigerate overnight.
  • Next day rub the mixture of black pepper, salt, paprika, garlic and onion all over the brisket.
  • Smoke over hickory for at least five hours. Add a few chips of hickory in the middle if it’s going to be 5 hours.
  • Wrap in aluminum foil and put in a 250 degrees F. oven for at least another few hours (longer is better) with a couple of more hickory chunks if you have them.
  • Slice thin across the grain once its cool enough to handle.

How to setup a Kettle charcoal grill for smoking

The first step is to prepare your grill for smoking. Here are some instructions for: Weber Kettle, Weber Smokey Mountain, Primo Oval XL, and Big Green Egg.

For each:

  • Set up your charcoal in a pyramid shape in your grill.
  • Put a small piece of aluminum foil ball on each pile of charcoal. This creates a space between the heat source and the charcoal.
  • Place a few wood chips in the center of the charcoal pyramid.
  • Light the charcoal in the middle.

For the Weber Kettle:

Once the charcoal is fully lit, push it to one side of the grill and place your food on the other side.

For the Weber Smokey Mountain:

Fill the water pan with enough water to cover your steam probes. The water will keep the temperature even.

For the Primo Oval XL:

Fill the water pan inside the Oval XL with enough water to fill it to about the middle. The water will keep the temperature even.

For the Big Green Egg: Fill the firebox to the top with enough charcoal to fill it to about the middle.

Your grill is now prepared for smoking!