Homemade Pastrami

For this homemade pastrami, beef brisket is brined (or corned) in a pickling mix for 5 days. The now-corned beef is rubbed with black pepper, coriander, and smoked paprika, and baked in the oven. If you must smoke it, see the variation.

A partially sliced homemade pastrami on a wooden board.

Delicatessen aficionados might cringe at the idea of homemade pastrami cooked in the oven since wood smoking is supposed to be the customary cooking method—at least, that’s what they think. In truth, some of the most lauded pastrami and smoked meats involve no wood smoke at all. In his must-read chronicle, Save the Deli, writer and deli aficionado David Sax reveals that the smoky flavor in commercially produced pastrami comes from fat dripping down and sizzling on the gas element of the ovens that are used.

This recipe begins with the same cured (“corned”) beef brisket as in our Backyard Barbecue Pastrami (see variation below). But here, the brisket is steam-roasted until tender, avoiding the more complex process required to make the barbecued version. Smoked paprika adds its elemental flavor without getting in the way of the traditional coriander and black pepper seasonings. The process to create this deli classic is time-consuming—5 days to brine plus 3 to 4 hours to cook. But trust us, your patience will be rewarded. Originally published March 10, 2014.Nick Zukin and Michael Zusman

Homemade Pastrami

  • Quick Glance
  • (10)
  • 45 M
  • 5 D, 7 H
  • Makes 3 to 4 pounds
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Ingredients

  • For the brine
  • For the spice rub

Directions

Make the brine

Fill a large stock pot with 3 quarts (12 cups) cold water. Add the kosher and pink curing salts (it’s essential to weigh the kosher salt for accuracy rather than go by a volume measure, trust us), granulated and brown sugars, honey, pickling spice, coriander and mustard seeds, and garlic. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often to fully dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Immediately remove the pot from the heat once the brine boils.

Add the 3 quarts ice-cold water to a 2-gallon (or larger) food-safe container that will fit in your refrigerator. Pour the brine into the container and place the container, uncovered, in the refrigerator until completely cool.

Trim the excess fat from the brisket until the fat layer remaining on the brisket is about 1/4 inch thick. Submerge the brisket in the cooled brine. (It may be necessary to cut the brisket into 2 pieces to submerge it.) Refrigerate the brisket for 5 days, stirring the brine and flipping the brisket once a day. Make sure that if any of the brisket sides are touching one another that you regularly turn them away from each other to expose all the brisket to the brine.

Make the spice rub

Mix together the coriander, pepper, and paprika in a small bowl.

Roast the pastrami

Remove the brisket from the brine and pat it dry. Rub 1/4 cup spice rub evenly on the nonfatty side of the brisket, then flip the brisket and rub the remaining spice mixture onto the fatty side. Let the brisket come to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 300°F (149°C). Pour 4 cups cold water into the bottom of a 12-by-15-inch roasting pan. Set a wire rack inside the pan.

Place the brisket on the wire rack, fatty side up. Tightly cover the brisket and roasting pan with a double layer aluminum foil. Bake until the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 200°F (93°C). This should take about 1 hour per pound or 3 to 4 hours total. Let the meat rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

Without trimming the fat, carve the pastrami against the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices—or, to be less exact, into slices as thin as possible without the meat falling apart. Keep the meat tightly wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 6 months.

Print RecipeBuy the The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home cookbook

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    Tuxedo Variation

    • Backyard Barbecue Pastrami
    • Tux variation

      While this pastrami takes more time to produce than the Homemade Pastrami, the resulting depth of flavor makes it worth the extra effort. With the wide variety of smokers and barbecue grills available on the market, we can only offer general instructions on how to perfect this superior pastrami. But as with all successful meat smoking, the key is low and slow.

      Prepare the Homemade Pastrami recipe as directed through step 5, omitting the paprika in the spice rub. In an outdoor smoker or barbecue grill, smoke the meat, fatty side up, at 225°F (107°C) for 6 to 8 hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) to 175°F (79°C). Oak, maple, pecan, hickory, or fruit woods may be used, depending on availability and preference. (Avoid mesquite, as it gives a harsh flavor to long-smoked meats.)

      Preheat the oven to 300°F (149°C). Place the brisket in a roasting pan and tightly cover the brisket and pan with a double layer aluminum foil. Bake until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 200°F (93°C), 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    Wow. Who knew it could be so easy to make your own high-quality homemade pastrami? This recipe made a lean, slightly spicy, smoky-tasting (from the smoked paprika) pastrami that certainly could hold its own with anything I've ever mail-ordered from New York. At less than $11/pound, it's fairly economical, too (Katz's Deli charges $12.50 a pound, unsliced, plus shipping). I purchased a 3 1/2-pound flat-cut brisket from Whole Foods and mixed up the brine mostly with ingredients I already had in my kitchen. The only unusual ingredient is the pink salt or Prague Powder #1, which is salt and 6% sodium nitrite. I got it online from The Spice House. I brined the meat in a large ceramic bowl (it wasn't quite 2 gallons, but it was close enough) and weighted the meat with a plate. The brine is rather pungent and I was glad to get it out of the fridge after the five-day brining period! After removing the meat from the brine, I coated it with the spice mixture and, after 2 hours—during which time the meat came to room temperature and my daughter made 3 batches of cookies—I put the brisket in the oven, fat side up (not sure why the instructions would say fat side down), and cooked it for 3 1/2 hours, or exactly 1 hour per pound. At this point, the thickest part of the meat was 200°F. The result was sublime: tender, spicy, and delicious. My only critique is that I found it a touch too salty and wonder if you could cut back a bit on the kosher salt. A tip: The meat is much easier to cut after it has cooled in the refrigerator. I would recommend cutting it no thicker than 1/8 inch. I made a deli-style sandwich with Polish rye bread, deli mustard, melted Swiss cheese, and, of course, the pastrami.

    It's pretty hard to believe that we cooked up homemade pastrami. Really. We made pastrami. Pastrami is something that you buy at a deli. But we really made pastrami. Now it’s not something that would be easy for just anyone to make. You need time, and, if you want to smoke it like we did, you need a smoker. And patience. If you have all of those things, and if you like pastrami, this is the recipe for you. We liked slicing it far thinner than the recipe called for. We made an assortment of different sandwiches with the pastrami. Pastrami on rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing (where I grew up, this was called a "Pastrami Special"). And then there's our version of a Reuben, with pastrami, sauerkraut, Comté cheese, and Dijon mustard on rye, grilled till golden with melty goodness. The recipe makes quite a lot of pastrami. We're going to seal the rest in packages and freeze them so that the pastrami can be enjoyed in the future. I'm looking forward to it.

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    Comments

    1. Hello there pastrami and corned beef lovers,

      How does one ascertain the precise quantity of pink curing salt [6.25% sodium nitrite]?

      There seems to be a fair degree of variation between different recipes and the instructions on the packet I purchased provide the following ratio: for a 4 liter brine and 2kg meat, add 12g of the cure plus 2g for each additional kilogram of meat.

      Your recipe requires 1/4 US cup of cure [34g] for a smaller piece of meat [1.3 -1.8kg] and less water [2.8 litres], which is almost 3 times the recommended amount.

      I am writing from Australia and wonder if there are variable standards, however, there seems to be quite a disparity for such a poisonous substance.

      Look forward to hearing from you.
      Nick

      1. Thanks so much for this, Nick. I agree that there is likely some variability here. The directions on a package of Instacure #1 here call for 1/2 cup Instacure #1 per 1 gallon of water. In this recipe, we only use 3 quarts water, so the 1/4 cup of Instacure #1 is safe. I would suggest that the safest practice would be to follow the directions on your package for making the brine.

    2. Tried this recipe for the first time and had excellent results. My first go was not quite as good as pastrami from Harold’s NY Deli in Edison, NJ or Sarge’s Deli in NY but it came in a close second. I could only find a flat portion of the brisket but will try a point with a little more fat next time.

      I smoked the pastrami with cherry on my cheap propane grill. It was 42°F out with some wind so I made a number of trips outside to adjust the grill temperature. A ThermoPro remote thermometer with two probes made it possible to closely monitor both the grill temperature and the temperature of the brisket.

      Definitely a winner with a repeat planned in the near future.

      1. That’s fantastic, Jeff! Your pastrami looks amazing and we couldn’t be more pleased at how well it turned out for you. Thanks for sharing!

    3. Hello! Sorry if this has been asked before but while the brisket is in the brine in the refrigerator should it be covered? Thanks in advance!

      1. No, it doesn’t need to be, Robert. Just make sure your pastrami is submerged in the brine.

    4. I am confused with steps 4-5.

      The spice rub is:
      1/4 cup ground coriander
      2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
      2 tablespoons smoked paprika

      Making a total of 1/4 cup + 4 T of rub

      “Rub 1/4 cup spice rub evenly on the nonfatty side of the brisket, then flip the brisket and rub the remaining spice mixture onto the fatty side.”

      This would leave 4T for the fatty side…most pastrami I have seen has the bulk of the rub on the fatty side. Will be brining in about 12 hrs….so that gives you about 5 days to reply 🙂

    5. I took a whole brisket and cut the point off and made burnt ends on a Friday. I then took the flat and brined it for 5 days and made the tuxedo version using this recipe and it turned out fantastic. I did everything exactly as the recipe said. We ate the pastrami sandwiches the night I smoked it and everyone loved it and thought it was great. I had about 1/3 of it left unsliced and I wrapped it in plastic and put it in the fridge. Two days later I sliced it really thin and warmed it up by steaming it on the stove. As good as it was the first day, it was better 2 days later steamed. Next time I will just smoke it, wrap it and put in the refrigerator and then steam it a day or two later for sandwiches.

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