Back to Basics: 4 Easy Steps to Perfectly Smoked Pastrami


Back to Barbecue Basics



Back to Basics - Pastrami

Looking for a gratifying barbecue project for January or the other cold months of winter? Look no further. We nominate pastrami.

Picture this: The exterior of the brisket as black as coal. The interior a bright shade of pink. Stunning striations of meat and fat rendered iridescent by curing salt. The bite of black pepper and coriander seed overlaid with the intoxicating scent of wood smoke. That’s before the taste—garlicky, beefy, salty, and supremely satisfying. And you’re about to make it at home. It won’t be difficult, but it will require a little bit of patience.

It’s so worth the time, though. (Just a few minutes—less than 30—are hands-on.) The first time you cut into a home-cured, house-smoked pastrami, you’ll feel immense pride, deep satisfaction, and extreme gustatory pleasure!

Before you get started, you’ll need a piece of brisket, preferably with the flat and point. But a flat (which is leaner) will work fine, too. Invest in fresh spices: whole coriander seeds; yellow mustard seeds; celery seeds; black peppercorns; and gin or juniper berries. You will also need curing salt, often called Prague Powder #1, or InstaCure. You may have to purchase this online. (A little goes a long way.) Without curing salt, your brisket will be an unappetizing grey, and not alluringly pink.

4 Easy Steps to Perfectly Smoked Pastrami

Step 1: Trim the brisket with a sharp knife, leaving a 1/4 inch thick layer of fat. Prepare the brine (see the recipe here), then submerge the brisket. Refrigerate for 12 days. Turn each day. On Day 12, drain the meat, rinse thoroughly under cold water, then drain again. Blot dry with paper towels.

Step 2: Toast the spices (again, fresh) in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, shaking the skillet or stirring the spices, until fragrant. Coarsely grind in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Generously season the brisket with the rub.

Pastrami

Step 3: Early in the day, heat your smoker or grill to 250 degrees. Place a pan or bowl of water in the smoker or grill; the humidity will help the smoke adhere to the meat and keep your brisket moist. Add wood or wood chips as recommended by the manufacturer. Place the brisket (fat side up) in the grill or smoker. Cook until the meat is darkly browned and the internal temperature when read on an instant-read thermometer reads 175 degrees, 7 to 8 hours. (Refuel your cooker as needed.)

Step 4: Steam the brisket (optional). In his book, The Brisket Chronicles, Steven describes four ways to rig up a deli-style steamer at home: in a Chinese bamboo steamer; in a round pot or Dutch oven; using a steaming basket; or using your oven. But if desired, you can skip this step. After steaming (or not), let the brisket cool, if desired, then slice with a sharp knife, as they do at the famous Katz’s deli in New York City. (Where Meg Ryan had an orgasmic experience in the movie When Harry Met Sally.) Or chill, then use a meat slicer.

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