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Last Updated July 10, 2021

Skip the brisket and make homemade chuck roast pastrami. It’s more tender and juicy. Recipe includes brine, rub and smoking instructions.

The term corned beef and pastrami are often used interchangeably. There is no shame in not knowing the difference. I was in that camp not too long ago. This website is all about teaching you the things I learn, and what I’ve learned is that corned beef is basically pickled or brined beef. While pastrami is when you take that beef and smoke it.

Probably, the most famous pastrami in the U.S. comes from Katz’s Delicatessen in New York — If you’ve seen When Harry Met Sally and the “booth scene,” you know Katz’s.

They not only corn (pickle) their beef, they smoke it, boil it and steam it. The process takes weeks.

Choosing the Right Cut

At Katz’s, they use beef navel. This is a cut of beef near the brisket, but closer to the plate ribs. You know…those dinosaur bones I’m always sharing on Instagram. Beef navel is not an easy cut to get at the grocer, and trimming the bones off of dino bones is pretty expensive, so I opted for a different cut.

Recently, I flew to San Antonio, Texas, for Chef Jason Dady’s Titans of the Tailgate. Amazing chefs from around the country come out and show off their one dish and try to woo the crowd. My favorite by far was the pastrami sandwich by Chef Jeff Bekavac.

After one bite, I stalked his tent to try to understand what made this pastrami so different from others I’ve had in the past.

I eventually learned that they corned and smoked a chuck roll. If you haven’t heard of a chuck roll, you’re not alone. It’s not a cut you find in the meat case. The chuck roll is the entire subrimal cut of beef that is broken down into things like chuck steaks, country-style beef ribs and the ever-popular chuck roast.

When I got home from Texas, I called up my butcher and asked for a chuck roll. Mind you, I didn’t really know what that meant, but sure enough I had a nearly 20 lb. slab of meat to play with. After watching multiple YouTube videos, I figured out how to break it down.

In the end, I had a lot of cuts and a few 3-pound chuck roasts, which were much more familiar.

Trimming the Chuck Roast

To mimic what Chef Jeff did in Texas, I broke down the chuck roast even further. Meat gives you a road map on how to butcher it. Generally, you just follow the fat lines.

For the chuck roast, I sliced it right down the line – like pictured above – and removed any fat that I knew wouldn’t be tasty after it was cooked.

I ended up with two narrow cuts of beef. You should be able to tell from the picture above that the grain of the meat runs in different directions. This is another reason to separate it. In the end, you want to cut the slices against the grain. By separating it, that makes this process much easier.

Separating it also gives you more surface area for maximum bark coverage.

I want you to take another look at the picture above. Do you notice anything else? You should see the marbling. Chuck is what we use for pot roast and hamburgers. It’s a flavorful cut that doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

You can also use this recipe with brisket, but let’s be honest, brisket is a little daunting. You have to commit to more than a few pounds, it requires a lot more trimming, and after all the work, it can still end up dry.

This is why, from here on out, I’ll make my pastrami with chuck roast.

Making Corned Beef

To make corned beef, you basically just need to make a brine with water, salt, sugar, pink curing salt and pickling spices.

Pink curing salt or sodium nitrite is the magic ingredient that turns the beef that rosy red color. It’s been used for years to cure meats, so they can be preserved. It helps stop the reproduction of bacteria, which is important since this process takes a few days.

As for the pickling spice, feel free to buy a bottle of the pre-made stuff. I on the other hand like to mix up my own blend. I make a pretty big batch, so when I’m not corning beef, I can use it for homemade pickles and pickled red onions.

All of the brine ingredients will get cozy in a gallon of water for a while. You want the salt and sugar to dissolve and the spices to steep. Then, let it cool.

Place that beautifully trimmed up beef in a zip-top bag, and pour in the cooled brine.

As an extra precaution, I always put the bag in a large bowl, because inevitably that darn bag is going to leak. You don’t want beef juice and brine all over your fridge.

Let the beef get acquainted in the brine for 5-7 days. Most people tell you to toss the meat around every now and then for even coverage, but if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world.

Pastrami Rub

After the week of brining, you’ll rinse the beef off and get it ready for the rub.

This rub has similar flavors to the brine, but you don’t need to add any more salt. It starts with a base of black pepper, coriander seeds and mustard seeds. I like to toast them in a skillet to release their essential oils.

Then, add some sugar, smoked paprika and fresh garlic, and pulse them in food chopper for a quick grind. For the sugar, I use coconut palm sugar in my rubs because I like the texture and its slower melt factor, but you can also use granulated, brown, raw or turbinado sugar.

Take those spices and rub them all over the corned chuck roast. Place the beef on a baking rack on a sheet pan and let them rest in the refrigerator overnight, uncovered. This is essentially a dry brine.

Turning Corned Beef Into Pastrami

At this point, you could boil the chuck roast and make corned beef, but instead we’re going for pastrami.

Fire up your smoker to 250F degrees. Place the rubbed beef on the grates and smoke for 2 hours.

As I mentioned earlier, the pastrami at Katz’s Deli is smoked, boiled and steamed. We’re skipping the boiling, but we will add a bit of steam. After the second hour, add small pans of water to the grill grates. The water will let off steam that will fill the smoker, helping the meat become even more tender and juicy.

I wait until after the second hour for this step, because I want the smoke to be the star at first.

Smoke for another 30 to 90 minutes, until the internal temperature registers between 205-210F degrees. The smaller pieces will be done first.

Once they hit the mark, remove them from the smoker, cover them with foil, and let them rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

As with all beef cuts, it’s important to slice the beef against the grain. I slice the larger piece in half and then slice it lengthwise.

For a true deli slice, try to aim for an 1/8-inch thickness or less.

I was so pleasantly surprised by how juicy the chuck roast pastrami was. Usually, I hide my pastrami brisket in mustard, cabbage or Russian dressing, because it can be a little dry, but all this needed was some rye bread and a slice of Swiss cheese.

I honestly doubt I’ll ever make pastrami with brisket again.

Want to know my melty cheese trick? Go ahead and make a grilled cheese sandwich with rye bread and Swiss cheese (without the meat). Once it’s nice and melted, remove it from the griddle. Wait a few seconds, and then separate the slices of bread and pile on the pastrami. It results in perfectly melted cheese and toasted bread every time.

Homemade Chuck Roast Pastrami Recipe

Skip the brisket and make homemade chuck roast pastrami. It's more tender and juicy. Recipe includes brine, rub and smoking instructions.
4.34 from 21 votes
Prep Time 7 days
Cook Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Servings 24

Ingredients
 

  • 2 3-pound chuck roasts
  • corned beef brine
  • pastrami rub

Corned Beef Brine

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pickling spice
  • 1 tbsp pink curing salt

Pickling Spice

  • 2 tbsp whole allspice
  • 2 tbsp cardamom pods
  • 2 tbsp whole cloves
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp whole peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp red chili flakes
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 cinnamon sticks broken
  • 3 bay leaves crumbled
  • 1 tsp ground orange peel

Pastrami Rub

  • 1/4 cup course ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp coconut palm sugar
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic

Instructions
 

  • Slice each chuck roast in half along the fat seam. Remove any silverskin. 
  • Place the chuck roast in a plastic bag. Fill with cooled brine. Close the bag, and place it in a large bowl. Refrigerate for 5-7 days. 
  • Remove the beef from the brine and rinse under cold water. 
  • Rub thoroughly with pastrami rub. Place on a baking rack on a sheet pan. Refrigerate uncovered overnight. 
  • Heat smoker to 250F degrees. Place the brined and seasoned beef on the smoker. Smoke for 2 hours. The beef will develop a mahogany bark.
  • Place a disposable pan of water on the smoker. Continue smoking for about 30-90 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 205-210F degrees. The smaller pieces will likely be ready in 30 minutes, while the larger ones may take 90. 
  • Let rest 30 minutes. Slice and serve on toasted rye bread.  

Corned Beef Brine

  • Heat the water in a large pot. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the sugar and salts are dissolved. Cool.

Pickling Spice

  • Combine all of the ingredients. Store in a sealed container. 

Pastrami Rub

  • Place the black pepper, coriander and mustard seeds in a skillet over medium heat. Toast for a few minutes to release the essential oils. 
  • Place in a food chopper with the remaining ingredients. Pulse to roughly chop the seeds and garlic.

Nutrition

Calories: 241kcalCarbohydrates: 8gProtein: 22gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 78mgSodium: 5116mgPotassium: 450mgFiber: 1gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 210IUVitamin C: 1.2mgCalcium: 64mgIron: 3.1mg
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ST. PATRICK’S DAY RECIPES

2021-07-10T13:35:10-07:00

34 Comments

  1. Jeanette Armstrong March 17, 2019 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I am six hours into smoking the chuck roast and I wasn’t sure how you were able to get the pieces up to 203 degrees in 3 or even 4 hours at 250 smoker temp. I have cranked my grill up to 300 degrees in hopes of reaching the 203 finish point in the next two hours. Obviously, like brisket, chuck roast will go through the “stall” at 150-160 degrees internal. That is where I am now.. I’ve used chuck roast before to make “Poor Man’s Burnt Ends” and it has always taken 6 or more hours. I love the recipe and I hope the taste is all you said it will be, I’m just disappointed in the fact that your time just doesn’t seem possible to reach in a three hour or slightly more time.

    • Christie Vanover March 17, 2019 at 8:39 pm - Reply

      I’m sorry to hear yours is taking longer. I can understand your frustration. Mine definitely only took a few hours. The smaller pieces were actually done sooner. Perhaps your roasts were larger or you’re at a higher elevation. I hope you enjoy it once it’s ready.

      • Anonymous December 30, 2020 at 2:38 pm - Reply

        I wouldnt worry about how long it takes my 12 pound brisket took me 10 hrs at 225 deg it turn out great

    • John G July 6, 2019 at 10:20 am - Reply

      It could very well be due to a larger number of factors – namely the size of the meat (especially if they’re all one piece or different chunks as in the pictures above). I usually end up more than a few hours. Be sure that you are not using your grill temperature gauge but instead, use a meat thermometer placed centimeters above the grate. That’s where you want to measure your grill temp – at grate level. The thermometer on the hood will differ about 20 degrees C.

  2. AL May 12, 2019 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    Great recipe! However, At 250 degrees I had to cook this for at least 6 hours to get the meattemperature even close to to 200 degree mark. Both roast were just under 3lbs each.
    Still a great recipe!…tasty as all get out.

    • Christie Vanover May 12, 2019 at 2:15 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the feedback. It seems others are having a similar experience. I’ll make it again in the near future and test out my times again. I’m glad you enjoyed the flavors.

  3. ALFRED..Tyler Texas July 8, 2019 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    A buddy gave me some venison loin, and I used your method to make venison pastrami. The only thing I did different was soak it in water for 8 hours after brining it to get a bit of the salt out. After smoking it in applewood, it was utterly amazing. Do you have any recipes for Prociutto?

    • Christie Vanover July 10, 2019 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      That’s awesome! I haven’t tried prosciutto yet, but it’s on my bucket list.

  4. Brad July 21, 2019 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    Goooood Gaaaaawd! This was some killer chuck roast! I started with a prime chuck roast from Costco. I think it was a little under 6 pounds. I didn’t cut or trim mine. Cured it for 7 days and there were a few spots that didn’t get cured but, that is fine. Smoked it for 3 hours at about 150 and turned up the heat to 250. I smoke with a trawler. Using a mix of pecan and hickory. Smoked at 250 for 6 hours. Was in the smoker for a total of 9 hours.

    Let it rest for about 10 minutes then sliced about 1/8 inch. Griddled some rye with melted Swiss. Kraut, and Russian dressing. Might have been one of the best sandwiches I have ever had. Meat was tender and juicy. Fat had rendered very well. What was left was simply melt in your mouth delicious! The crust on this was dark, full of flavor, and I couldn’t get enough.

    You could seriously smell this on the smoker all over my neighborhood. Even had one of my neighbors come over and see what I was coming because he could smell it three houses down. Haha!

    Thank you for the recipe Christie!

    • Brad July 21, 2019 at 11:36 pm - Reply

      Meant to say that I smoked this on a Traeger

  5. Nate August 12, 2019 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Freezing….

    After brine can I add rub and freeze then thaw when I want to smoke? Or should I smoke then freeze. It is really good but I would like to do smaller amounts more often and think I cools just throw one on when doing other things.

    • Christie Vanover August 14, 2019 at 7:41 am - Reply

      I recommend going through the whole process of smoking it. Then freeze slices and pull them out when you want them.

  6. Chad August 25, 2019 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    I always kick myself for not reading the comments first. Its at 158 now and is taking about 20 minutes to move up 1 degree. It’s gonna be a while for sure. But it sounds like it will be worth it.

  7. Ben January 15, 2020 at 8:40 am - Reply

    I have some McCormick pickling seasoning blend already from a vension pastrami I did. Do you know how much I would use of that instead of sourcing all the ingredients for the pickling?

    • Maggie Slyh April 9, 2021 at 10:15 am - Reply

      Sugar alternative for those of us living low carb?

      • Christie Vanover April 9, 2021 at 1:44 pm - Reply

        I’m really not sure. I don’t eat low carb, so I haven’t experimented with a substitute. But this is just the brine, which gets thrown away after it soaks. You won’t get a lot of that sugar in the end.

  8. Kimberly Weidler February 1, 2020 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Can I do this in the oven?

  9. Daniel Rogers March 15, 2020 at 4:46 am - Reply

    I cannot wait to make this! I do have a question, would you use the same process for turkey? I was going to substitute a boneless turkey breast for the chuck roast.

    • Christie Vanover March 19, 2020 at 7:46 pm - Reply

      That sounds awesome. I’ve never tried it. Let me know how it turns out.

  10. Anonymous May 17, 2020 at 5:42 am - Reply

    Like most everyone else mine took a lot longer than a couple hours. My biggest problem was the salt it came out way too salty, so much that I could not even eat it. The flavor and texture were good just way too salty

    • Tom Norris October 5, 2020 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      Mine was salty too. I recommend soaking the meat in water for an hour to get more of the salt out. I’ve done this with buckboard bacon before and forgot to in this recipe.

  11. Joyce July 19, 2020 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    If the chuck roast has to stay in the fridge for essentially one week plus one day (or at least 5 days plus one day), wouldn’t the ‘sell by’ date on the meat be expired? Wouldn’t that be a concern?

  12. Mike T July 26, 2020 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    Smoked the “pastrami” today, after pickling for 5 days, smoked for 2 hours at 250, hit about 160 degrees, placed pan of water smoked another hour and 30, hit 180, removed from heat, wrapped in foil for about an hour, came out great, grilled rye with mustard and Swiss, will definitely make again

  13. jerry November 18, 2020 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    aren’t you concerned about consuming sodium nitrite.I know the the U.S. govt allows it but its been banned in some countrys?
    I believe the amount of salt you add and refrigeration is fine until its cooked

  14. Wisconsin-B November 29, 2020 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    I sure hope you can provide some guidance. I followed this recipe by the book. 2 roasts, about 3lb each. I am 6 hours into my smoke and am at 170 degrees. At this point I’m convinced that this is the most expensive pastrami favored beef jerky. Meat is not tender and is taking easily 3x as long as recipe outlined.

    I have a pellet smoker that runs temp very consistently so I simply can not believe that my situation is unique. So sad. $40 in meat, $18, in pellets, $40 in ordered pizza because of this garbage meal. So sad.

    • Christie Vanover December 4, 2020 at 7:47 am - Reply

      I’m sorry to hear you’re having these results. Others have commented that the time of the cook varies, as well. That can depend on temperature outside, altitude, humidity, size of the meat slices, etc. But in the end, the meat should still be juicy. If you live in a dry climate, you may need to add more water to the smoker. I hope in the end by the time it reached 205, you were pleasantly surprised.

    • michael March 17, 2021 at 10:10 pm - Reply

      you can speed up the cook by wrapping the meat tightly in foil once it stalls in temperature gain its a shortcut for sure but even the pros do it but it will soften the crust thats formed by that point its called the Texas Crutch its still the easiest way to beat a stall

  15. Debby March 25, 2021 at 6:57 am - Reply

    Amazing! This pastrami turned out so well, way beyond my expectations! I also took your idea about making the grilled cheese then splitting it apart and putting my pastrami on it. Genius. Can’t believe I never thought about doing this??? Anyhow, I am an armature griller/smoker and had no problems making this recipe.

  16. Francisca Gabarro April 12, 2021 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    You mentioned that the brine could be used for veggies, but I understood that using curing salt (Prague Powder) should not be used for vegetables. I am curious about how safe it is to use this brine with vegetables. Thanks in advance!

    • Christie Vanover April 22, 2021 at 6:42 am - Reply

      I honestly have never heard that before. I have used it on cauliflower, and it was great. It only needed to soak for 12-24 hours.

  17. SheilaAnn September 19, 2021 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    What if you forgot the pink salt? The roast was a little slimy, I rinsed it well. It simply smelled like season fresh beef. I realize I won’t have that “pink” color. I’m not going to get us sick am I? LOL

    • Christie Vanover September 25, 2021 at 12:20 pm - Reply

      It all depends on how long the meat was in the fridge. USDA recommends 3-5 days max. When you use the curing salt, that preserves it, so it can refrigerate longer. If I have doubts, I toss it out. It may be safe…but if it’s not, food poisoning is not worth it.

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