Sunday, January 8, 2012

Homemade Pastrami

I'm writing this post with a heavy heart. I prepared this recipe in the hopes that the Cincinnati Bengals would be progressing though the playoffs and that I would be writing this in a state of jubilation. Well, sometimes life just isn't what you want it to be.

On to the food though!

Pastrami is essentially corned beef that has been heavily smoked. I got the majority of this recipe from  Charcuterie by Polcyn and Ruhlman, but I added my own twist to it. My main change to their recipe is their brine, or corning solution. I personally see no need to season brines. I have never experienced much flavor difference between a seasoned brine, like the one in the book, and a plain brine, like the one I used here. To me, seasoning your brine just makes for expensive salt water. My brines only consist of water, salt and sugar. I am also going to go into some serious detail on smoking. While I love the book, I do think they need a little more detail in the smoking directions. That said, the directions given in the book are more than sufficient to make this recipe, I am just being picky here.

In my opinion, the only way to eat pastrami is on some rye bread, unadulterated by anything else. Obviously some people will disagree with that statement, and that's fine. Add what you like to it, but make sure you have some chips and a pickle to go with it if you're making a sandwich with this.

If you have leftover pastrami, which you probably will, here are some ideas on how to make use of it:
  • Dice it up and scramble it with some eggs and onions.
  • Put it on a pizza
  • Chop it and use as a garnish for salad.
  • Cut into slices and serve it on crackers with cream cheese
  • Cut into large chunks and add it to a beef stew
Homemade Pastrami:
Corn the Beef:
Around 5 pounds beef brisket or beef plate
1/2 hot tap water gallon water
1/2 gallon cold tap water
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 clean plastic bucket, large enough to hold the beef

1. In the bucket, dissolve the salt and sugar in the hot water. Add the cold water to this and let it sit a few minutes to reach room temperature.
2. Add the beef fat side up and cover with a heavy plate to fully submerge the meat.
3. Put the bucket in the refrigerator for 3 days.
4. When the beef is corned, remove the beef from the corning solution and rinse well. Pat the beef with paper towels until it's dry. Reserve beef in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
5. In a dry sauce pan add the peppercorns and coriander seeds and heat over medium. Lightly roast them until the coriander seeds begin to brown. Crush and grind the seasonings in a mortar and pestle, or roughly grind in a coffee grinder.
6. Remove the beef from the refrigerator and evenly coat it in the seasonings. Return the beef to the refrigerator overnight to dry and form a pellicle.

Smoke the corned beef:
Charcoal smoker
Wood chunks (a mix of cherry and hickory works well), do not use chips
Chimney lighter

1. Prepare your smoker for smoking. (Clean, fill water pan, etc.)
2. Fill a chimney lighter with wood chunks and get them burning for about 10 minutes.
3. While the wood chunks are burning, place the chimney in the center of your smoker. (Where the charcoal goes.)
4. Fill your charcoal holder with charcoal briquettes around the chimney lighter.
5. Once the wood chunks have been lit and have burned for about 10 minutes (as stated above), pour out the wood chunks into the middle of the smoker where the chimney used to be. (This way of starting your smoker is known as the Minion method.)
6. Assemble the rest of your smoker and get it to a stable temperature of 200F to 210F.
7. Smoke the beef for 3 to 4 hours, or until it registers 150F in the thickest part.
8. Remove the beef from the smoker and let it cool to room temperature in the fridge, about 2 hours.
9. To reheat the pastrami, get a pot of water simmering and preheat an oven to 275F.
10. Add the pastrami to an ovenproof stock pot and add about 1 inch of the simmering water to the pot.
11. Place the pot in the oven for 2 to 3 hours, or until fork tender.
12. Slice thinly and serve on light rye bread with your desired toppings.


  1. Two things.

    1) You are too kind to suggest that people top pastrami with their "desired toppings". The right answer is brown deli mustard, if anything. Should you be making a Rachel that is another story, in which case you are allowed the traditional accompaniments for that dish. But "desired toppings" is a slippery slope.

    2) I'm all for moderation, but that sandwich you show is all bread. Bread! In a post about pastrami? In my mind a pastrami sandwich has nothing to do with moderation, and a proper one should look like the meat is trying to escape from the clutches of the bread. And really, it should be served with more bread on the side to catch those precious pieces of meat and fat that get away.

    That said, you pastrami looks beautiful (if maybe a little lean).

  2. I fully agree that a handmade mustard is the only thing people should be adding to this sandwich.(To be honest I put desired toppings becuase I wanted to make the recipe more accessible to the average joe, but I am totally on the same page with you.) During my pastrami party I allowed people to top this sandwich with my homemade mustard and some onion confit, but that was it. I personally made a heaping sandwich of pure meat drizzled with reserved fat, but other people did their own thing.

    The picture of the sandwich came from the morning after as I didn't have time to snap a picture during the party. Sadly this was all that was left of my 5 pound brisket, hence the half sandwich shot with a meager amount of meat.

    As for leanness, I have to say that the brisket was not up to par for me. The distribution of fat was irregular and not what I wanted. Some pieces were rife with a line of fat running through it and some pieces were completely lean. I plan on using a beef plate next time I make this just as Polcyn recommended. Hopefully this will yield an optimal result.


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