Slicing Hot Pastrami/photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

I’ve written about pastrami short ribs, and love them because they’ve got the perfect meat-to-fat ratio. But ever since the arrival of a Big Green Egg (planning a review soon), I’ve wanted to do a proper pastrami, which is essentially a corned beef brisket, coated with pepper and coriander and smoked (the result above was perfect—look at that awesome fat).

While I’ve published the corned beef recipe from my book Charcuterie, I haven’t really talked about smoking strategies at home. I recommend two different methods: stove top and in a kettle grill. Stove-top smoking is easy with an inexpensive ($43) Cameron smoker. I bought one a few years ago and it works great for bacon and would work great for this brisket. Briskets require long low heat though, and this is tricky on a stove top smoker. So this is what I do when I want both smoke and long slow cooking. I smoke the meat for a couple hours. Then I transfer it to a 200 to 250 degree oven to finish. With this pastrami, I would cook it in the oven for 30 to 60 minutes to bake the smoke on, and then cover it with foil and 1/2 cup of water and cook it for another 2 to 4 hours till it’s tender (the water is to make sure there’s plenty of steam).

What’s more fun, when the weather is good, is to smoke them in a kettle grill.  For this, you need wood chips (sawdust is fine for stovetop smokers, but for coals, chips are by far the best, giving long steady smoke).  Soak the chips well, build a medium fire on one side of the grill, put your sodden chips on the coals and put your brisket on the cool side of the grill. Cook it covered for a few hours, adding coals and chips as needed. Or finish it as above in a low oven, covered. (OpenSky is offering a deal on wood chips today, four different kinds, including olive and cherry. I swear this was total coincidence because I’ve been planning this post for a while!)

Smoking is a great and fun way to flavor foods. I love the cherry or any fruit wood for bacon, and a hardwood like maple for this brisket.

Home-Cured Beef Pastrami

  • 6 ounces or 3/4 cups Morton’s kosher salt (or 200 grams if measuring water in liters)
  • 3 ounces or ½ cup sugar (100 grams)
  • 2 teaspoons pink salt (sodium nitrite), optional
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spice
  • 1 5-pound beef brisket, the more fat it has the better

Rub

  • 1 tablespoon peppercorn, toasted and ground (or as needed)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed, toasted and ground (or as needed)
  1. In pot large enough to hold brisket, combine 1 gallon/4 liters of water with kosher salt, sugar, sodium nitrite (if using), garlic and 2 tablespoons pickling spice. Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.
  2. Place brisket in brine, weighted with a plate to keep it submerged; cover. Refrigerate for 2 days if it’s thin, a third day if it’s thick.
  3. Remove brisket from brine and rinse thoroughly.  Refrigerate it for another day uncovered (this is best, to let cure equalize, but if you can’t wait, that’s ok too).
  4. Combine the pepper and coriander and coat the brisket with it.  Smoke and cook the brisket, till tender, as described above.  Slice thinly to serve.  This will keep for a week in the refrigerated.  Steam it to reheat or reheat covered in a microwave (gently).

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Pickling Spice

  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon ground mace
  • 2 small cinnamon sticks, crushed or broken into pieces
  • 2 to 4 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  1. Combine peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a small dry pan. Place over medium heat and stir until fragrant, being careful not to burn them; keep lid handy in case seeds pop. Crack peppercorns and seeds in mortar and pestle or with the side of a knife on cutting board.
  2. Combine with other spices, mix. Store in tightly sealed plastic or glass container.

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© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.