The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Smoked Pastrami - Pt 1

First Image
My favorite sandwich is a hot pastrami sandwich on dark rye with Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard, The last couple of times I was in New York City, I tried the smoked pastrami at Paul Kirk’s restaurant R,U,B. (Righteous Urban Barbecue). Ever since that time I have been looking for a recipe for smoked pastrami. One of the members of the Barbecue Bible website posted pictures of his smoked pastrami and links to the recipe. I have been itching to make one ever since seeing that post. Part 1 of this blog entry will describe the 2 week prep portion of this recipe. Part 2 will describe the cook itself and the end results. I will post all of the various links at the bottom of this page.

Second Image

The 5.25 pound flat cut brisket

The pastrami is brined for one to three weeks. The brine required some new ingredients that I didn’t have on hand, so step 1 was to order them from Penzy’s spices. The brine called for pickling spices, juniper berries and bay Leafs. Penzy’s has a store in Arlington, MA but I was feeling lazy and was short on time so I ordered them online. I was impressed with the service. I received a message on my answering machine thanking me for my order and telling me when it would ship. When my order shipped on schedule, I received both an email and a follow-up phone call. Once the spices arrived it was time to buy a brisket and make the brine.


The fragrant pickling spices

I bought a 5.25-pound (2.33 Kg) brisket at Whole Foods and was a bit mystified about what container I could use to brine it. My Rubbermaid brining dishes would have been perfect since they are meant to be flipped without having to open the lids. Unfortunately these containers were too small. I finally settled on the big covered plastic container I use to soak or hold rubbed ribs in the refrigerator. I decided to check if the 4 quarts of brine and the brisket would fit in the container. I kept the brisket in it’s cryovac wrapper and began adding the water. I soon found out that to cover the brisket I would need 6 quarts (5.66 L) of water not 4 (3.75 L). I had to bump up all of the ingredient quantities fifty percent. This was unexpected to say the least. The 6 quarts (5.66 L) of brine covered the brisket by about 3/8” (1 cm) and was just barely under the top rim of the container. This would require great care taking in an out of the refrigerator to flip the meat, but I felt it was doable.

The finished brine

I began the prep on Saturday April 7. The first step was to get the 6 quarts (5.66 L) of water boiling. I figured boiling 6 quarts (5.66 L) of water would take a while and I cold do the rest of the prep while this was in progress. I don’t know if it is the new range top or the new Calphalon pans but it took no time to get the water boiling. I added the 6 cups (1.5 L) of salt and stirred it in to mix. And then set the pot aside to cool. Meanwhile I chopped and pressed 18 cloves of garlic, gathered 12 Bay Leafs and measured out the Pickling Spices and Juniper berries. I refrigerated these items while letting the brine cool down. This took nearly three hours.

The salty brine caused the brisket to float to the top

I unwrapped the brisket, and set it into it’s home for the next 2 weeks. I poured in the brine mix and it filled the container just like the test run. An unexpected problem surfaced (literally) at this point. The brisket began to float to the top. This told me I had plenty of salt, but need to be fixed so that the meat would be covered. The solution proved to be cutting the bottom off an empty Cool Whip container and using the top to hold down the brisket. I cut 2 v-shape wedges out, one on each side to let the brine flow into the area inside the Cool Whip container. The lid pushed down the Cool Whip container, which in turn pinned down the meat. I sealed the lid and put the brisket in the refrigerator.

Four days into the brining process. The top of a Cool Whip container helped hold down the brisket

At this point the only work that needed to be done was to flip the meat every few days so that the brine would penetrate the meat evenly. For the next 10 days this was the only work being done on the brisket. It was pretty uneventful except for one day where the lid popped of the container when I was pulling it out of the refrigerator. The surge of water from moving the container dumped all over me and all over the floor. At this point I had to whip up a fresh quart of brine to replace what I had lost. I am including some progress pictures of the brining process, but I warn you there isn’t much difference. What the pictures don’t convey is the wonderful smell every time you opened the lid. The aroma of the spices filled the Kitchen for nearly two hours. I noted on the last day that the meat was starting to smell like corned beef or pastrami.

Seven days along

Nine days along

Twelve days along

On Thursday April 19 I took the brisket out of the brine and replaced the brine with cold water. I was a bit concerned because the color of the meat was not pink like corned beef or pastrami. After I put the brisket back in the water and returned it the fridge to de-brine for 24 hours. Now I had made sure the brisket remainder covered on all sides with the brine, so what was up with the color? After doing a little research I found that I didn’t need to worry. The item that gives the meat the pink color is Sodium Nitrate. This recipe did not call for the sodium nitrate as it was hot smoked at 225 (110 C) versus cold smoking at 175 (79 C).

The brisket after an overnight soak in plain water to remove excess salt

On Friday night it was time to make the rub and apply it to the brisket for it’s last overnight session in the fridge. The ingredients call for coarsely ground White & Black Peppercorns as well as coriander & mustard seeds. I could have used my mortar and pestle but I decided to buy a Spice Grinder. After reading up a little bit on spice grinders I bought a Krups Coffee Grinder. Many people on various BBQ boards spoke highly of them. Using the grinder was a bit like using a food processor: A short continuous burst followed by additional short pulses to finish the job. I combined all of the dry ingredients too make the rub. Next I slathered the outside of the brisket with 2 jars of Grey Poupon mustard. This mustard slather was not called for in the original recipe but tends to help keep the rub adhered to the meat. It was off to the refrigerator for one last overnight rest.

The dry rub ingredients


The finished dry rub

Part 2 of this blog entry will describe the cook and the final verdict on my inaugural smoked pastrami. It is smoking now as we speak and I can’t wait to try it.

The brisket slathered with mustard & ready to receive the dry rub

The brisket is rubbed & is off to the refrigerator for one last overnight stay prior to the cook


  HOMEMADE PASTRAMI Web Link - This was the picture post that got me started






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