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Once you master this homemade pastrami recipe, you’ll be able to take any cut of meat and cure it to perfection to make the best pastrami you’ve ever tasted.
What is Pastrami?
When people refer to pastrami, they are almost always referring to beef that’s been cured and smoked with bold spices that form an extremely flavorful crust.
The most popular cuts include beef brisket and beef navel, but I’ve been making beef chuck roast pastrami for years.
Pastrami doesn’t have to be beef. In fact, “The Taste” published a fascinating article about the history of pastrami that discusses how Turks and Eastern Europeans made pastrami out of goat, mutton and geese.
I’ve made pork shoulder pastrami and pork belly pastrami, and I’ve tasted duck pastrami. The possibilities are really endless. What meat will you use to make homemade pastrami?
- Meat: Start with 5-7 pounds of any cut of meat. Beef brisket is an obvious starting point, but you can get adventurous here.
- Corned Beef Brine: This brine contains water, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, Pickling Spices and pink curing salt #1, also known as prague powder.
- Pastrami Rub: Use a pastrami rub with traditional pastrami spices like mustard seeds, coriander seeds and black pepper. Make sure it has zero salt. There is no need to add salt since the brine already adds plenty to the meat.
See the full recipe card below for servings and a full list of ingredients.
How to make pastrami
When making good pastrami, it’s important to get the meat-to-brine ratios correct. That’s because corned beef brine includes pink curing salt #1, which is sodium nitrite.
Too much nitrite can be harmful, and if you don’t use enough, you don’t create a proper curing brine.
My homemade corned beef brine recipe includes 2-3 teaspoons of pink curing salt. It’s combined with 1 gallon of water and is appropriate for 5-7 pounds of meat.
- STEP ONE: Start by trimming your meat like you would for any standard cook. If you’re using a beef brisket, trim the brisket to remove inedible fat. The same goes for pork shoulder. If you’re making pork loin pastrami or pastrami ribs, remove any excess silver skin.
PRO TIP: Remember, once you trim a brisket, it will weigh substantially less. To make corned beef brisket pastrami, start with a 10-11-pound whole packer brisket. Once it’s trimmed, it will weigh about 6 pounds.
You can also buy a pre-trimmed brisket flat or brisket point. The point will have much more flavor but is harder to find.
- STEP TWO: Once your meat is trimmed, place it in a brining bag. I use large oven bags because they’re big enough for a brisket. Place the meat inside and set it in a large tub.
PRO TIP: If you buy a package of beef that says corned beef on it, skip the brine step, because that means it has already gone through the brining process.
Check out my recipe for Smoked Corned Beef Brisket that’s made using a pre-brined brisket.
- STEP THREE: Then, pour the corned beef brine into the bag. Add enough so you cover all of the meat. Press out as much air as you can by twisting the top of the bag. Tie the bag in a knot and place the meat in the refrigerator to cure.
Pastrami Curing Times
These times are based on using 5-7 pounds of meat and 1 gallon of brine.
- Large Cuts of Beef Like Brisket: 5-7 Days
- Large Cuts of Pork or Poultry: 3-5 Days
- Smaller Pieces of Meat or Seafood: 1-2 Days
- STEP FOUR: After the appropriate amount of days, remove the meat from the brine. You may want to rinse it in the sink under cold water to remove the pickling spices and excess salt. Then, pat it dry with paper towels.
- STEP FIVE: Then, evenly apply pastrami dry rub to all sides. Plan on using 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons of rub per pound of meat. I generally use a little less on delicate meats like poultry and seafood.
- STEP SIX: Place the seasoned meat on a wire rack on a sheet pan and refrigerate uncovered for 1 more day. This is the dry brine process and allows those spices to really enhance the meat flavor.
- STEP SEVEN: The final step for turning cured meat into homemade pastrami is to smoke it. The good news is that you can follow any basic smoking method for the type of meat you have. Just cook it to the appropriate internal temperature.
I recommend setting the temperature of the smoker to 225-275F degrees and using a digital instant-read meat thermometer to measure the meat temperature. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.
Best Internal Temperatures for Smoked Meats
- Beef Brisket: 205-210F degrees
- Pork or Lamb Shoulder: 200-205F degrees
- Pork Loin, Pork Tenderloin or Lamb Loin: 145F degrees
- Poultry: 165 degrees
- Seafood: 145 degrees
How to smoke homemade beef brisket pastrami
Since most people are going to make brisket pastrami, I figured I’d finish this article by explaining my homemade brisket pastrami technique. I smoke it on my Hasty Bake Suburban Charcoal Grill.
- STEP ONE: Heat your grill or smoker to 225-275F degrees with an indirect heat zone. Place seasoned brisket on the smoker over indirect heat. Spritz every 30 minutes with apple cider vinegar.
- STEP TWO: Once the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 160-170F degrees and develops a nice bark, remove it from the grill. Place it on two sheets of butcher paper.
PRO TIP: A 6-pound brisket will take around 4 hours to reach this point when smoked at 250-275F degrees. If you’re smoking at 225F degrees, it will take a little longer.
- STEP THREE: Spritz the brisket with more apple cider vinegar. Then, top it with a couple of tablespoons of beef tallow. Wrap the brisket tightly in the paper.
- STEP FOUR: Return it to the smoker and continue cooking it until it reaches an internal temperature of 205-210F degrees.
- STEP FIVE: Remove the brisket from the smoker and wrap it in a towel. Place it in a cooler without ice. Close the cooler and let it rest for 1 hour before slicing.
How to serve homemade pastrami
If you made brisket pastrami, you want to be sure to slice the flat end of the meat against the grain. You can cut thick or thin slices. Thin slices work best for sandwiches.
The point meat can be pulled apart and shredded. If you made smoked pork shoulder or lamb shoulder pastrami, it’s best to pull or shred the meat, as well.
If you want super thin slices, chill the meat for about an hour. Then, use a meat slicer set to a thin setting to get those shaved pieces like you would find at a deli.
A pastrami sandwich is made on rye bread with slices of pastrami, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. It’s also great on its own with a side of cabbage and potatoes. My family enjoys pastrami with a big bowl of sticky white rice or served cold on a charcuterie board.
No matter what meat you use, delicious pastrami can also be incorporated into a breakfast hash, macaroni and cheese, stir fried rice or topped on a pizza. Let your pastrami creativity take you to new places.
Because pastrami has been cured and cooked, the USDA says it can be stored for up to 40 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Personally, if I’m not going to eat it within a week, I freeze it. You can keep pastrami in the freezer for several months.
GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips
- Corned beef brine and pastrami spice rub can be made in advance
- Get adventurous and try to make pastrami using different meat cuts
- Use 1 gallon of brine per 5 pounds of meat
- Follow curing timelines and cooking temperatures outlined
Frequently Asked Questions
The main difference is the cooking process. Corned beef is meat, usually brisket, that’s been cured. Then it’s cooked without smoke either in a pot on the stove or in the oven or in a crock pot or instant pot. Pastrami is meat that has been cured that is cooked on a smoker.
The health benefits of pastrami vary, depending on what cut of meat you cure. Meats high in fat like pork belly or brisket will be less healthy than poultry or lean pork loin. Additionally, pastrami contains high amounts of sodium, so it should be eaten in moderation, especially for those who are monitoring their blood pressure.
If your dog eats a couple of small pieces of pastrami, you should’t need to rush them to the hospital. However, it’s best to keep pastrami out of a dog’s diet because it contains a lot of salt and fat. It’s best to consult your vet for the best nutritional advice for your pet.
More St. Patrick’s Day Recipes
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Homemade Beef Brisket Pastrami
- Brine: Place the trimmed brisket in a brining bag. Cover with corned beef brine. Remove the air, close the bag and refrigerate for 5-7 days.
- Season: Remove the cured beef from the brine. Rinse if you prefer less salt. Season all over with pastrami rub. Place on a rack on a baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered for 1 more day.
- Smoke: Heat the smoker to 225-275F degrees. Place the brisket on the smoker fat side down. Smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of around 160-170F degrees. This will take around 4 hours. Spritz every 30 minutes with apple cider vinegar.
- Wrap: Remove the brisket from the grill. Place it on two sheets of butcher paper. Spritz the top with more apple cider vinegar and drizzle on the beef tallow. Wrap tightly.
- Finish Cooking: Return it to the smoker and cook until the internal temperature reaches 205-210F degrees. This should take another 2 hours.
- Rest: Wrap the brisket with a towel and place it in a cooler without ice to rest for 1 hour.
- Slice: Remove it from the towel and paper. Slice the flat meat against the grain. Slice or shred the point meat.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.