Pastrami is made by smoking a cut of meat after in has been “corned”. This can be done to most any cut of meat, but beef brisket is generally used most often. This recipe uses the packages of corned beef you see in the supermarket, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. We like to stock up on the sales right after the holiday, freeze them, and then pull them out months later when I get tired of seeing them taking up space in the freezer.
You can use either point-cut or flats for this recipe. The point cuts will be fattier and shrink more, so it really comes down to personal preference. Or whatever the store happens to have.
Once you have a corned beef brisket on hand, open up the bag and toss out the spice mix. Rinse the meat real well in cold water, then put it in a large pan and cover it completely with cold water. More water is better than less water, and cut up a potato and throw it in the soak mix. It will help absorb the ridiculous amount of salt that most of the brands contain. Soak the brisket for at least 16 hours, changing the water completely at least 3 times during the soak. Feel free to let it soak longer; I’ve know some folks that have done this for 48 hours to reduce the amount of sodium.
Once the soaking is almost done, mix up a batch of the following spice rub:
- 4 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoons Montreal Steak seasoning or Santa Maria rub
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves (dried)
- 1 tablespoon paprika
Grind the peppercorns and onion flakes in a spice grinder. (Hint: you can use an old coffee grinder for this, but I don’t recommend using the one you use for your coffee every morning.) Stir in all the other ingredients and mix well.
Remove the meat from the soak water, drain thoroughly, then cover all sides with a liberal amount of the spice rub. Put on a smoker over an indirect fire at about 215-225°F. Use a mild smoke wood (I prefer apple) for additional flavor.
Remove the meat from the smoker when the internal temperature hits about 150-160°F. Loosely wrap in a double layer of foil, adding about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of beef broth (water or beer are also acceptable). Seal the foil and return to the cooker for another 3-4 hours, or until the meat passes the “tender as butter” test. The “tender as butter” test is accomplished by sliding a thermometer probe into the meat, and if it slides in and out like it would in butter, you know the meat is done perfectly.
Remove from the smoker and let the meat rest (while still wrapped in the foil) for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Wet pastrami like this can be served on a sandwich or as a main meat with potatoes, carrots, sauerkraut, or cabbage on the side. The juice from the foil makes a great au jus, although I highly recommend using a fat separator to remove as much grease and fat as possible.