How to make Pastrami from Scratch

We got our first smoker more than three years ago, and it changed how we view purchasing meat from the grocery store.  Why buy pastrami from the deli that is filled with who knows what types of chemicals, and costs an arm and a leg, when we can learn how to make pastrami from scratch in our own in the smoker?  Especially since we can control what goes into our meat when we make it ourselves.  Plus, it’s fun and easy to do once you know how!  What I also found out while researching how to make pastrami is that you can also cook it in your oven if you don’t have a smoker, so for those of you who don’t have smokers, have no fear, you can still use this recipe and make Pastrami from scratch!

How to make pastrami from scratch, you will need the following ingredients:

  • Beef Brisket (mine was 4.75 lbs)
  • Morton Tender Quick
  • Brown sugar
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • black pepper
  • Crushed Coriander (if you can’t find crushed, you can crush the seeds yourself!)
  • Meat Thermometer(s)

The first thing you’ll want to do is cut your brisket to size.  This means… making sure it will fit in your smoker – some briskets are rather large, so I chose to cut mine in half.  This can also allow you to freeze half if you want – but we’ve never had it last long as it’s a favorite in our household!  I also prefer to remove any “fat cap” if there is one.  Luckily this brisket already had the fat removed, so it was ready to go!

Once your meat is cut to size you will want to liberally coat with the following ingredients – in the below order (Morton Tender Quick must be first)! Be sure to cover all surfaces including sides of brisket.

  1. Morton Tender Quick
  2. Brown sugar
  3. Onion powder
  4. Garlic powder
  5. Black pepper
  6. Crushed Coriander

Once your brisket has been rubbed with the brining ingredients, it can be placed in a large zip lock baggie and put into the fridge for 6-7 days.  You will need to be sure and flip the meat over once each day during this process to ensure all sides of the brisket get the chance to soak in the brine evenly.  I like to put my bagged up briskets in a disposable aluminum tray to prevent any leakage/spillage within my fridge – much easier for clean-up if that happens!

After the 6-7 day brine – don’t forget to flip each day!

After the 6th or 7th day, take the brined brisket out of the refrigerator and rise off all brine thoroughly.  Then, submerge the briskets in cold water (can use ice if necessary) and soak for 4-5 hours, changing out the water every 30-45 minutes.  I put the brisket(s) in the disposable aluminum trays while soaking and keep them in the fridge to keep them cold.  You will not want to skip this step, otherwise your meat will taste like a block of salt!  The water will turn a light yellow from all the salt and brine (hence, changing it out each 30-45 minutes), and the brisket will have a grey color – this is normal and will turn red again after smoking.

Use COLD water – add ice if necessary!

Keep in fridge to keep cool – don’t forget to change out water every 30-45 minutes for 4-5 hours!

Don’t Panic if the meat looks Grey – this is normal!

Once you’ve soaked the brisket(s) for the 4-5 hours, prep and pre-heat your smoker (oven instructions below) to 200 degrees.  Pat the meat dry with paper towels prior to applying the rub.  Liberally coat the brisket(s) with the following:

  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Black pepper
  • Crushed Coriander
  • Insert meat thermometer(s) in thickest part of the brisket to monitor temperature while cooking/smoking
how to make pastrami from scratch

Ready to Rub!

When it comes to wood chips/chunks/pucks/pellets (which we’ll reference as “wood” from here on out), I used a mix of Hickory & Applewood, but you can use any type you’d prefer.  Place your rubbed brisket into your smoker and continue to add your wood for the first 2 hours or so.  You know your smoker, so use your own discretion on this one.  Mine is pretty “seasoned” so I could go lighter than someone who might have a brand new smoker. Once the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, you’re done smoking!  Take it out and let it rest on your counter/room temperature for 1-2 hours, then you must refrigerate overnight.  You will want to take a piece for a taste, but you must resist!  Cutting into it at this point will dry it out and it won’t be a wonderful as it should be!

Unfortunately, you won’t want to slice and eat it cold out of the refrigerator either,  it will be very hard and you’ll want your meat tender and juicy!  To reactivate those juices and heat and serve, you will need to steam for 1-2 hours.  Once you have steamed, you can then refrigerate the leftovers (if there are any!).  You will not need to steam again to eat unless you want it heated up vs cold.  The Pastrami only needs to be steamed once to re-activate the juices!  If you don’t have a steamer, you can use a pan with a little water in the bottom (covering the bottom) – put the meat in the pan with the water if you don’t have a wrack to put above the water and cover very tightly with tin foil.  Check every 30 minutes or so to make sure all of your water has not evaporated and re-fill additional water if necessary.  If you do have a wrack, you can fill the water higher to make sure it doesn’t all evaporate prior to completion of the 1-2 hour steam.  Put in the oven on a very low temperature to steam, otherwise, use steamer on your stove top.

How to make pastrami from scratch in your oven

Oven cooking:  If you don’t have a smoker and will be using your oven, you will set your oven to 200 degrees, or the lowest setting if over 200.  Insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the brisket to monitor the temperature while cooking.  If your oven does not go as low as 200 degrees, you can crack the door to keep it as low as possible.  Follow instructions above after internal temperature reaches 165 degrees:  remove from oven, rest 1-2 hours at room temperature, refrigerate over night, steam 1-2 hours before serving.

So that is how to make pastrami from scratch!

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