Homemade Pastrami

October 31, 2012

Home Cured Pastrami

My wife introduced me to Pastrami a while ago. It was something I never had back in the UK. My mum would make a spiced beef round every year, which I guess is somewhat similar (only not smoked). That was as close as I ever got to Pastrami. Back Then.
Then Michael Ruhlman’s charcuterie book got me to make it. His recipe calls for wet brining the meat, then smoking. Before eating you can steam it till ridiculously tender. I have made this a few times, and it is pretty good. Me being me however, decided to do things my own way, and really like the result.

You might say this isn’t traditional pastrami. I know a lot of people would. I use my own spice mix based on flavors I like in cured meat. I dry cure it, instead of wet curing. Not because I think it is any better, but just because I find it easier. Besides I like rubbing salt in to meat. Just dumping meat into a pot of spicy water doesn’t have the same tactile experience if you ask me, and I know you didn’t.

I don’t have much to say about it really. It is easy, cheap to make, and rather tasty. It is also a rather nice way to while away a lazy afternoon by the smoker. Even if you don’t have a smoker, you could just slow roast the bloody thing in the oven, not to any detriment really. It would taste different, of course, but that isn’t a bad thing. You could smoke it in a wok for a bit if you wanted, then finish it in a low oven too, if that takes your fancy.

The whole thing starts with a nice piece of brisket. You can use other cuts here if you want, a round would be fine, but I like brisket. It gets rubbed with salt, spices, cure #1 (more on that in a minute), and then dumped in the fridge for a week. Then you smoke it, very slowly. Before serving you steam it gently to help break down the connective tissue further. Frankly I hardly ever bother. I eat it straight out the smoker. The left over chunk keeps for ages in the fridge, where you can slice very thin slices (hello meat slicer my old friend), and warm them through by steaming. I am not picky. I will just slice a bit straight out the fridge and eat it that way too. Ghetto style.

So have a go. Pastrami is the gateway meat. Next up you will be curing salami, just you see.

Homemade Pastrami Recipe

NOTE: Instacure #1: Want Botulism? No? Me neither. So use it. Instacure #1 is a mix of salt and nitrite. It is used for curing bacon, pastrami and so forth. The reason we use it is because you can make an environment devoid of oxygen in a smoker if you smoke is really thick. This can lead to the germination of botulism spores, producing the well known toxin. Lets not do that. Please do not use Instacure #2, or anything with nitrATES. They are generally not considered safe for smoked meats that are cooked. The plus side is that it is totally harmless (and some recent studies have shown nitrites as being very good for you) in the quantities shown, and gives the meat a lovely flavor and color.

Beef Brisket
salt – 2% of meat weight
instacure #1 – 0.04oz per 1lb of meat
4 juniper berries per 1lb of meat
1/2 tsp fennel seed per 1lb of meat

rub before smoking:
corriander seed – 1/2 tablespoon per 1lb of meat
black pepper corns – 1 teaspoon per 1lb of meat

Grind the juniper and fennel seed to a fine powder in a spice grinder. Mix with the remaining cure ingredients. Rub in to the brisket, place in a sealable bag and pop it in the fridge. Leave it there for 5 to 7 days. Every day, rub it through the bag, turn it over.

Remove meat from the bag, and rinse off the cure. Coarsely grind the corriander seed and pepper together, and press it in to the meat.

Preheat smoker to 225F. I like to use apple wood for smoking, but hey, use what you want. Smoke at 225F for 4-5 hours, or until internal temperature of the meat reaches 200F.

Allow to cool, then wrap and put in the fridge for a day. The next day, steam the meat for an hour before serving to make it incredibly tender. (Honestly, I hardly ever do the steaming bit, I just slice it really thin and enjoy it more like a cured meat).

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  • Mark October 31, 2012 at 5:21 am

    Brisket is great but when I want to cure up a more moderate amount, I’ve had great success with boneless short ribs. Sometimes I can get the whole piece before it’s cut into ‘ribs.’ It has similar marbling and I don’t have a ton of leftovers.

    Love the blog – can’t wait to see more salumi posts from you. My version of your fennel coppa gets rave reviews from my friends and family. Thanks!

  • Brooke (Crackers on the Couch) October 31, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Hmmm… I don’t have the meat or the smoker or whatever the heck instacure #1 is, but otherwise, I actually have everything else… If I were to say, go crazy and try to cook it in the oven, would I keep it at 225? I know a husband who might be very, very,very happy if I managed to pull off homemade pastrami.

  • Pensfordjames November 27, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I’ve done rhulman’s pastrami a few times, although from his website rather than the book. I use a Cameron smoker to hot smoke it for about an hour and a half. I find that the smoker placed on top of a griddle plate stops the smoker from getting too hot. Then in the oven to roast for 30 mins and then steamed for 2-3 hours.
    I’ve found that if the meat is ‘too good’ then the end product is a bit crap, brisket from my old man’s dexters is too tender so the cure doesn’t seem to flavour it enough. Or it may be that is was hung for too long. However, a farmer down the road raises some kind of European hybrids which were perfect.

    Matt, what kind of smoker do you use? Unfortunately it seems to have been raining for about a year here in Somerset (uk) so smoking outside is hit and miss.

    Great site by the way!

  • MariannaF December 3, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Matt I’ve been wanting to comment on some of your other posts but for some reason it doesnt allow for it? I just wanted to let you know I love, love your work. Ive actually been following your blog for years now! Your recipes are always exciting and your words are a pleasure to read!! Keep up the good work!!!