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

Smoked Pastrami - Pt 2

First Image
In PART 1 of this blog entry the pastrami had been brined for 2 weeks and then a dry rub was applied the night before the cook. After many weeks of thinking about it and 2 weeks of prep, I was ready to have some home made smoked pastrami. Part 2 will describe the cook, the results on the first day and the very different results with the leftovers on day 2. Both were not what I expected.

Second Image

The brisket with two temperature probes inserted and ready to go

I fired up my charcoal chimney around 6:15 and added the coals to the CharGriller at 6:30 and had hit 225 (110 C) by 7:00. Many times I will throw the meat on the smoker when I add the lit coals. It gives the meat some extra time to get some smoke flavor. Where this meat had been curing for 2 weeks, I didn’t want to risk it not reaching the safe temperature of 140 (60 C) within 4 hours. I added the meat as soon as the CG hit 225 (110 C). The meat hit 140 (60 C) in 3.5 hours. I used two remote read thermometers for this cook: One to measure the grate temperature and one with two meat probes to measure the brisket. I was glad I used two probes, one began to run high by about 12 degrees (6.6 C) very quickly. I based my temperature readings on the lower of the two readings.

The pastrami about four hours along

Because the brisket had been brined, it did not need to be taken up to 195 (91 C) to tenderize it. The target temperature here was 165 degrees (74 C). This meant I didn’t have to start it the night before and pull an overnighter. This was also an interesting temperature in terms of guesstimating the total cooking time. Some briskets I’ve made have plateaued in the low to mid 150’s (66 C), some around 165 (74 C), and some even higher. If it plateaued anywhere below 165 (74 C) the cook could be extended by 2,3,4 or more hours. If it plateaued higher the cook would be over in 4 or 5 hours. Fortunately where this meat was being turned into sandwiches, having a lot of side dishes that needed to be ready at the same time was less of an issue. The brisket was going to be rested in foil for 2 hours so I could use that time to prepare the side dishes. With my 7:00 AM start I would either be eating around 1:00 or 5:00. Once the meat temperature started rising it was very steady, rising about 12 degrees (6.6 C) every thirty minutes. The readings started slowing down in the high 140’s (64 C) and the brisket ended up plateauing in the mid 150’s (66 C). Based on hitting the plateau below the 165 (74 C) mark, I guessed it would be pastrami for supper. This proved to be the case.

The pastrami is at 165 degrees (74 C) & ready to come off the smoker

Ready for a 2 hour foil wrap

For a side dish I picked Doctored Bush beans (see Picture Entry). This was the perfect side dish as the 2 hour smoke time was identical to the rest the brisket needed. This meant when I pulled the brisket, I could add the beans. The brisket ended up finishing in 8 hours at around 3:00 PM. The two hour rest meant dinner around would be around 5:00 PM. It took the brisket 4 1/2 hours to climb the last 20 degrees to 165 (74 C). I added the beans and pulled the brisket, wrapped it in foil and stored it in the cooler for its 2 hour rest.

Doctored Bush beans after 2 hours on the smoker

I began carving the brisket around 5:00 and pulled the beans when the brisket was done. I was tempted to use my electric food slicer to get real thin slices. But one other time when I tried it on brisket this food slicer cut the meat but tore of the tasty outer bark in the process. My electric knife doesn’t do this. So I traded off thin slices to maintain a tasty bark. As soon as I cut into it I noticed that this meat did not slice quite as easily as some other briskets, and I was a bit concerned. The brining was supposed to tenderize the meat allowing you to take it to just 165 (74 C). As it turned out when thin sliced for sandwiches this was not really an issue.

The brisket was more brownish than pinkish in color

The second thing I noticed was that the color was indeed closer to normal brisket color and not the reddish pink of pastrami or corned beef. I’d mentioned in Part 1 of this entry that I was concerned about the color when I removed the meat from the brine. After doing some research on the Web, I found that this was to be expected as this recipe did not use sodium nitrate. When pastrami is cold smoked at 175 degrees (79 C), it takes a long time to cook and the sodium nitrate keeps the meat from spoiling. At 225 degrees (110 C) this recipe was considered a “hot” smoke and the meat would hit 140 (60 C) in less than 4 hours. Therefor the sodium nitrate was not needed to control bacterial action. The meat certainly did not look like traditional pastrami, but it sure smelled like it. The smell in the Kitchen was wonderful when I took the meat out of the foil. I finished cutting the meat and it was with great expectations I sat down to enjoy a hot pastrami sandwich I’d been anticipating for 2 weeks plus.

The first sandwich, marbled rye bread, imported Swiss cheese & smoked pastrami

I must admit to being a bit surprised and somewhat disappointed with my first bite. The first bite was in an area with only a single slice of pastrami. The tasty marbled light/dark rye bread and the dijon mustard were competing with the meat for taste supremacy. I could barely taste the pastrami. The next bite was a bit more promising I’d hit several stacked layers of meat and it tasted somewhat stronger. This was more like it. However after having smoked pastrami at Paul Kirk’s R.U.B. restaurant in N.Y.C. I was expecting more. I’d purposely gone all day without eating so I could treat myself to a second sandwich. For the second sandwich I decided to heat it in the microwave for a minute. I wrapped the sandwich in paper towel and heated it. The first bite was a whole different experience. The pastrami flavor came through bold and clear. I have no explanation for why there was such a difference, but there it was.

Day 2: Slicing the pastrami on a food slicer

After the first sandwich I wasn’t so sure I ‘d be in a hurry to make this again. Two weeks of prep for something that wasn’t really that different from what I could get at the store. Based on the second sandwich I would certainly do it again. The following day I decided to try the food slicer to slice up the remaining meat. I wanted to see if the thinner slices would taste any different. I also wanted to see if the food slicer could cut the meat without ripping off the bark. When I unwrapped the meat and began to slice it, I noticed a change in the color. While the meat was still somewhat brownish in color, it had taken on more of a pink hue than the day before. I also noticed a smoky smell as I unwrapped it too. I started thin slicing the pastrami and noted with satisfaction that the bark was staying put even on thin slices. I couldn’t wait until the meat was all sliced and the sandwich I was going to make. I had to take quality control” samples along the way. I was pleasantly surprised that the flavor was more intense. Now this was more like it! This was the sort of experience I was hoping for the first day. While the micro-waved sandwich the first day wasn’t bad, the taste of this on day two guarantees I will be making this meat on a regular basis.

All sliced up

So what have I learned?

  • First my large plastic container is perfect for brining the brisket.
  • I need to keep the ring around I made from a CoolWhip container to help keep the meat from floating to the surface.
  • I think I’m going to see what a 2 day de-brine in cold water does to the taste. After a one day soak in water, this pastrami was a tad salty. I want to see if this is the nature of this recipe or if a second day in the cold water will help this.
  • The cook time is probably going to a big question mark every time I do this. Unless the brining process somehow breaks the fat down, each brisket will plateau at a different temperature. A low plateau will equal a long cook and an above 165 degree plateau will equal a short cook.
  • The length of time the brisket takes won’t matter too much if I’m serving it the following day.
  • I really don’t care what color the meat takes on as long as it tastes like this.

Day 1 slices


Day 2 slices-note the color change

Bottom line: Pastrami is my favorite sandwich meat and if I knew I could make it myself and have it taste this good I would have bought a smoker years ago. Try some yourself!!

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







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