Making Your Own Pastrami

Learn to make your own pastrami and reward yourself with a smoky, succulent meal that’s both sweet and spicy.

Brisket In Brine

1. Cure the brisket in brine for 5 days, then replace the brine with a sweeter mixture — equal parts sugar and salt dissolved in water — for a further 5 days. Remove from the brine.

Photo by Nick Pope

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Curing and Smoking (Firefly Books, 2012), by Dick and James Strawbridge, offers encouragement and practical instruction on how to transform fresh meats, fish, seafood and even eggs and cheese into flavorful treats. The authors show you all the key methods and give you ideas on making your own creations with your homemade products as the star. The following excerpt from “Pastrami” instructs you how to make pastrami.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Curing and Smoking.

Pastrami is actually cured beef brisket cooked in spices, hot smoked and then steam cooked. Making your own pastrami is a fairly time-consuming process. However, once you’ve tasted the homemade version, you’ll find that store-bought pastrami just doesn’t compare. Our recipe gives a pastrami that is both sweet and spicy, smoky and succulent.

​A Spice Rub for Pastrami

For 2 pounds beef brisket
• 3 tablespoons coarsely ground black peppercorns
• 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
• 2 tablespoons ground coriander
• 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Crush the peppercorns, garlic and coriander seeds with a mortar and pestle, keeping the texture coarse. Add the paprika and chilli flakes.

Preparing the Brisket

Follow the brined brisket process and soak for 5 days. Then replace the brine with a sweeter mixture — 13 ounces each of sugar and salt dissolved in 7 pints of water — for another 5 days. Remove the brisket from the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Vigorously massage the spice rub mixture into the brisket, trying to get as much to stick to the meat as possible.

Hot Smoking the Brisket

Hot-smoke the brisket to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is too hot to comfortably touch, you know you are on track, but if you want to be extra careful you can use a meat thermometer. You can smoke the brisket by cooking it in any covered barbecue. Try to keep the temperature low and steady so that the cooking takes as long as possible, and keep adding handfuls of sawdust or wood chips to the fire to keep it smoky. Arrange the brisket on a piece of heavy-duty foil to reduce direct heat and still allow smoke to circulate. Turn regularly and cook for 2-3 hours with the lid on.

Finishing it Off

Put the smoked brisket on a rack over a deep roasting pan with about an inch of boiling water in the bottom. Build a foil hat around it and pinch the edges together. Keep as much free space around the meat as possible for the steam to circulate. Cook in a preheated oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 hours. After the allotted time, you should be able to easily slide a fork into the brisket. Once ready, slice the meat thinly across the grain while it’s still hot and serve warm, sandwiched between slices of rye bread.

More from Curing and Smoking:

Getting Started with Smoked Foods
How to Brine Beef
Preserve Your Food with Cold Smoking


Used with permission from Curing and Smoking: Made at Home, by Dick and James Strawbridge, Firefly Books 2012. Buy this book from our store: Curing and Smoking.