There's a certain mystique to making your own pastrami. From the wonderful aroma of spices mingling with the delicate smoke to the sheer satisfaction of slicing into a homemade pastrami sandwich. Homemade pastrami is special. In this recipe, we will create this culinary masterpiece and unlock the secrets to making homemade pastrami in a smoker. The result is excellent. Get ready to elevate your smoking game and savor the irresistible taste of homemade smoked pastrami made from Prime Wagyu brisket!
I love pastrami. I grew up in Los Angeles where there were many terrific NY style delis to get a great pastrami sandwich. Fast forward 40 years. I have since lived in Seattle, Washington where there is no good pastrami to be found, anywhere. Now I live in Austin, Texas where there is, surprisingly, some pretty decent pastrami.
Good rye bread, however, is still hard to find in Austin. So, I decided to bite the bullet and make both homemade pastrami and homemade rye bread. While it was a tasty project, the pastrami was far easier to make than the rye bread. Let's just say I have tremendous respect for a good Jewish bakery.
Take a look at my posts on How to Trim a Beef Brisket, Homemade Kosher Dill Pickles, and Do Pickles Go Bad? How Long Do Homemade Pickles Last?
Pick the Right the Brisket
Good pastrami begins with a great brisket, which is an odd piece of meat. A packer brisket (aka whole brisket) is the pectoral muscle and it gets quite a workout. As a result, it can very tough. It is also very flavorful and is perfect for smoking low and slow. A packer brisket has two very distinct sections, the flat and the point. The flat is the larger of the two and tends to be lean. The point is a much smaller area that runs perpendicular to the flat and is much fattier. The point is where the meat for burnt ends come from. Pastrami is made from the flat so there is no reason to buy a packer brisket. Your local market or butcher chop will gladly sell you just the flat that has been separated from the point.
- Brisket (flat, not the point)
- Brown sugar
- Kosher salt
- Curing salt
- Pickling spice
- Bay leaves
- Coriander seed
See recipe card for quantities.
Trim the Brisket
One side of the brisket will have a layer of fat that should be trimmed down to about ¼" thick. Remove any hard pieces of fat (they will not render) and grayish areas of fat that resemble skin. At the bottom of this article is a link to my YouTube video on how to trim a brisket. That video involves trimming a full packer brisket but it will be helpful to watch for the parts about trimming the flat.
Brine it for a Week
Brining is perhaps the most important step in the whole process. The brining process will create pastrami that is both tender and juicy. Simply place the brisket in a non-reactive tub with a tight fitting lid add the brining solution, and place it in the refrigerator. I used a dough tub, but any large plastic storage container with a tight fitting lid would work.
Place the brisket in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid.
Mix the brine ingredients and stir until the sugar and salt is dissolved. Pour the mixture over brisket, cover and refrigerate for 6 - 7 days.
Smoke the Brisket Low and Slow
Making pastrami requires a two-step cooking process. First, smoke the brisket at 225˚F until the internal temperature reaches 165˚F. This low and slow method allows the pastrami to absorb the smoky flavors gradually, resulting in a mouthwatering final product.
While smoking, keep a close eye on the internal temperature of the brisket. Aim for an internal temperature of 165°F, as this ensures that the meat is cooked thoroughly. Once it reaches this point, it's time to take the next step.
Wrap the brisket tightly in two or three layers of heavy aluminum foil, ensuring it is sealed securely. Return it to the smoker and continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 185°F. This additional step ensures that the pastrami achieves the perfect texture and tenderness that we all crave.
I am often asked if the brisket can be smoked directly on the grate inside the smoker. The answer is yes, it can. Just make sure your smoker is setup for indirect heat. Also remember that the cooking time can be rather long, just like a regular brisket. Cooking time is a function of both the thickness of the meat and the weight. Therefore, it is essential to gauge the doneness of the brisket based on its internal temperature, rather than relying solely on a set cooking time.
After brining, remove the brisket, rinse and pat it dry. Discard the brine. Coarsely grind the peppercorns and coriander in a clean coffee grinder. Coat the brisket all over with the peppercorn and coriander mixture. Place it in the smoker.
After the brisket is done smoking, cover it with foil and return it to the smoker.
Let it Rest Then Rest Some More
Remove the brisket from the smoker and wrap it in a bath towel (foil and all). Place it in an ice chest to rest for two hours. This step is extremely important to help the pastrami reabsorb all that juice. If you carve it too soon, the juice will all run out and you will be left with dry pastrami.
After a two-hour wait, it's time to savor the rewards of patience. Remove the rested pastrami and slice it into thin, succulent slices, cut across the grain. Buy some fresh seeded rye bread, and stack the pastrami high, really high. Don't forget the mustard, it adds the perfect zing to complement the rich flavors. With every bite, you will experience delightful indulgence in a sandwich that is nothing short of extraordinary.
After resting two hours the pastrami is ready to cut.
Cut the pastrami into thin slices and pile it high onto fresh rye bread.
For a real treat, add a slice or two of Swiss cheese.
A smoker is essential to making homemade pastrami. The key is being able to control the temperature and cook low and slow. This recipe was made in a Kamado Joe, but I have also made it in a Big Green Egg and a Yoder stick burner.
Store cooked pastrami in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It reheats well in a microwave, just don't overdo it. It's better to do multiple 30 second bursts and check it than dry it out with one long burst.
Watch your cooking temperature carefully. A temperature control device, like a Fireboard, is essential to successful long, slow cooking times. Look at the video below on using a Fireboard.
By following these guidelines, you can confidently smoke your pastrami to perfection, achieving a delightful balance of flavors and succulent texture. So fire up that smoker and make some delicious, homemade pastrami Enjoy!
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
These are my favorite dishes to serve with this recipe.
Homemade Pastrami Recipe
- 4-5 lb brisket preferably prime Wagyu
- 3 qts water
- ¾ cup brown sugar packed
- ⅔ cup kosher salt
- 1 tbs curing salt Prague Powder
- 3 tbs pickling spice
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tbs peppercorns whole
- 1 tbs coriander seed whole
- Place brisket in a tub with a tight fitting lid. Mix all brine ingredients and stir until sugar and salt is dissolved. Pour over brisket, cover and refrigerate for 6 - 7 days.
- Remove brisket, rinse and pat dry. Coarsely grind peppercorns and coriander in a coffee grinder. Coat the brisket all over with the peppercorn and coriander mixture.
- Smoke at 225 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Then wrap the brisket tightly in two or three layers of heavy aluminum foil and return to the smoker. Continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 185 degrees.
- Remove the brisket from the smoker and wrap it in a bath towel (foil and all). Place it in an ice chest to rest for two hours. Carve and serve.