Homemade pastrami uses similar smoking and brining techniques as DIY bacon and corned beef. First a whole beef brisket is coated with a mixture of spices, sugar, and salt and cured in the refrigerator for a week. Then the meat is oven-smoked using a simple process the CHOW Test Kitchen developed that requires only wood chips, foil, a roasting rack, and a roasting pan. The final “steaming” is really just braising the pastrami in a little water to make it moist and tender. What you get is beefy pastrami with a subtle balance of salt and smoke that can be used in recipes from a classic Reuben sandwich to breakfast hash, a savory pie, or pastrami-topped latkes.
Special equipment: You will need a roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack that sits at least 1 1/2 inches above the bottom of the pan. You can try flipping the roasting rack over (like we did) if it sits too close to the bottom in its traditional orientation. Or use a wire cooling or steaming rack.
Giant resealable storage bags, like these jumbo 2-gallon bags, are the perfect size to use for the curing process. If you can’t find these bags, you can cure the pastrami in a roasting pan covered with foil.
To smoke and steam the pastrami, you will need around 4 yards of 18-inch-wide heavy-duty aluminum foil.
And you’ll need a very clean coffee or spice grinder for this recipe.
What to buy: It’s especially important that you use kosher salt here to ensure your quantity is correct. We prefer the Diamond Crystal brand, available in most grocery stores. If you use Morton kosher salt, you will need 1/4 cup. If you have another brand, weigh out 55 grams.
Curing salt, also known as pink salt or saltpeter, contains 6.25 percent sodium nitrite. It is colored pink so as not to be confused with regular salt. Curing salt is available at Butcher & Packer online.
Game plan: The entire curing, smoking, and cooking process takes at least 10 days, so plan accordingly. Since the smoking and steaming steps each take a few hours, we’ve added instructions on how to stop after smoking, and then proceed with steaming the next day.
This recipe was featured as part of our How to Make Oven-Smoked Pastrami project.
- Yield: About 2 1/2 pounds
- Difficulty: Medium
- Total: 1 hr 30 mins, plus 10 days curing time and 9 hrs smoking and steaming time
For the cure:
- 1/3 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt (about 1 3/4 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, toasted and finely ground
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon curing salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 (4- to 5-pound) beef brisket
- 2 (18-inch-by-4-1/2-feet) sheets heavy-duty aluminum foil, plus more for steaming
- 4 cups apple wood or hickory smoking chips (about 9 ounces)
- 10 cups water
For the cure:
- Combine everything except the brisket in a small bowl.
- Place the brisket fat-side down on a work surface. Sprinkle it evenly with half of the curing mixture and gently pat the mixture onto the meat. Let it sit until the curing mixture hydrates, darkens in color, and adheres to the brisket, about 25 minutes. Flip the brisket over and sprinkle it evenly with the remaining curing mixture. Let it sit until the curing mixture hydrates, darkens in color, and adheres to the brisket, about 15 minutes more.
- Place the brisket in an extra-large (2- to 2-1/2-gallon) resealable plastic bag. (Alternatively, you can place it in a roasting pan and cover it tightly with aluminum foil.) Refrigerate for 7 days, flipping the brisket every 2 days.
- On the eighth day, fit a wire rack over a baking sheet. Remove the brisket from the bag and gently pat off any excess moisture with paper towels. Place it on the rack fat-side up and refrigerate uncovered overnight.
- Let the brisket sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Meanwhile, remove all of the racks from the oven except one arranged in the lowest position. Heat the oven to 200°F.
- Line the inside of a roasting pan crosswise with the foil, overlapping it in the center of the pan by about 1 inch. Make sure that the bottom and sides of the pan are completely covered and that the excess foil extends over the long sides and slightly up and over the short sides of the pan.
- Scatter the wood chips in an even layer over the foil in the bottom of the pan. Fit a roasting rack over the chips. (The roasting rack should sit at least 1 1/2 inches above the bottom of the pan. You can try flipping it over if needed. If your roasting rack still sits too low, use a wire steaming or cooling rack that sits at least 1 1/2 inches above the bottom of the pan.) Place the brisket on the rack fat-side up. Bring the long edges of the foil up to meet in the middle. Fold the foil down three times and crimp it to close tightly, making sure it’s not touching the brisket so that the smoke can circulate around the meat. Bring up the foil on the sides to meet the top seam and crimp, making sure the entire rack and brisket are completely surrounded with foil and there are no gaping holes.
- Place the roasting pan across two burners over medium-high heat until a steady stream of smoke pours out of the top seam of the foil bundle, about 5 minutes. (This step doesn’t produce a ton of smoke, but you still may want to open a window or turn on the fan above your range.)
- Place the pan in the oven and smoke until the pastrami reaches 140°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 4 to 6 hours.
- Remove the pan from the oven and carefully open the top seam of the foil. Remove the rack and pastrami to a baking sheet or heatproof work surface; set aside.Discard the foil and smoking wood chips. (You can immediately proceed with the recipe and steam the pastrami, or cool the meat to room temperature and refrigerate it tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 24 hours.)
- Increase the oven temperature to 325°F and keep the rack in the lowest position. Place the pastrami fat-side up in the empty roasting pan; set it aside.
- Place the water in a large saucepan, cover with a tightfitting lid, and bring to a boil over high heat. Place the roasting pan on the oven rack and pour enough boiling water to reach halfway up the thickest side of the pastrami, being careful not to pour it directly onto the pastrami. (You may not need all of the water.)
- Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil. Steam the pastrami in the oven until knife tender, about 3 hours.
- Remove the pastrami to a cutting board and let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing against the grain.