How to Make Homemade Pastrami

Featuring homemade pastrami using brisket flat.

Transform brisket into a flavor-packed Homemade Pastrami, perfectly cured, coated with a coarse spice rub, and smoked for culinary perfection. Read along for the entire process from curing to smoking a brisket flat, giving you the tools for the ultimate pastrami sandwiches piled high on rye bread with all of the fixings.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the detailed process of making smoked homemade pastrami from start to finish. From selecting the right cut of meat to curing and smoking it to perfection, all of the steps are covered in detail. So click those tongs and fire up your smoker, let’s GO!

One of my all-time favorite things to prepare is homemade pastrami, right off the smoker. This is my FIRST published recipe on Chiles and Smoke (Feb 9, 2019), simply because I love the craft and process that goes into it.

What is Pastrami?

You’ve likely tasted it at the deli or at a restaurant, but let’s briefly discuss what it is. Understanding the process will make it very clear.

Pastrami is a popular delicatessen meat originating from Jewish cuisine. It is made from beef, usually brisket flat, that is salt-cured, seasoned with various spices, and then smoked. The most common method of preparation involves first brining the meat in a mixture of salts, sugar, and seasonings for several days. After the brining process, the beef is rubbed with a mixture of more spices, primarily black pepper & coriander, and then smoked and steamed to create extremely tender slices.

Pastrami has a rich history dating back to the late 19th century in Romania, where it was originally made from mutton (sheep, a mature lamb). Jewish immigrants brought the dish with them to New York City, where it became a staple in Jewish delis and evolved to be made from large cuts of beef. One of the most famous restaurants would be Katz’s Deli, piling ridiculous amounts of juicy pastrami on rye bread with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing.

Pastrami is cured beef, smoked and steamed to a tender perfection.

What’s the difference between Pastrami and Corned beef?

Both are cured cuts of beef, but there is a distinct difference between corned beef and pastrami.

Corned beef is made from brisket that has been salt-cured for several days and then boiled or slow-cooked. It has an extremely tender texture and a salty, slightly sweet flavor.

Pastrami starts out the same way, but instead of boiling the meat it is rubbed with spices, smoked, and steamed to create a more complex flavor profile. Pastrami has a bold, smoky, and spicy taste and more densely textured meat compared to corned beef.

If you love all things brisket, be sure to read through our guide for Smoked Brisket, or Brisket Burnt Ends. Jump in and fire up the smoker!

Use a trimmed brisket flat for a delicious homemade pastrami.

Choosing the Best Cut of Beef

The best cut of meat to use for making homemade pastrami is beef brisket. Brisket is a cut of beef that comes from the chest area of the cow and has a good balance of meat and fat, making it perfect for pastrami. The meat has a large enough surface area to absorb the spices, and the fat content helps to keep it moist during the long smoking and steaming process.

When selecting a brisket for pastrami, look for a well-marbled cut, which will help to keep the meat tender and flavorful.

Our homemade pastrami recipe sticks with the traditional brisket flat, but don’t let that stop you. Use the same process to cure and smoke other meats to make pastrami pork belly, pastrami jerky, or even pastrami beef plate ribs.

Combine the pickling spices together and pour boiling water over them, dissolving into a pickling brine.

Curing the Brisket

Now that you’ve got your beef picked out, let’s get started with the cure. The brisket will need to be cured for about 4-5 days in a brine that uses a pink curing salt, giving it the ruby red color.

Ingredients for the Pastrami Brine

  • 3 quarts ice water
  • 1-quart boiling water
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ cup pickling spices
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 ¼ cups coarse kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Prague #1 curing salt
Place the pastrami in a large container with the brine and allow it to cure for about 4-5 days.

Preparing the Brine

Combine all of the spices, salts, and sugar in a large bowl or saucepan. Boil 1 quart of the water and pour it over the contents, whisking to dissolve the sugars and salts. This can take a few minutes as there’s quite a bit to dissolve.

In a large container with 3 quarts of ice water, pour in the 1 quart of dissolved brine solution and mix the two. You should be left with 1 gallon of brine.

Place the brisket flat in a large container that can hold the brine as well. You can use a meat injector to inject the brine into the brisket to ensure it’s deeply seasoned.

The brisket flat needs to brine for 5 days. I recommend flipping the brisket once a day and using a weight or a heavy plate to keep it submerged.

Prauge #1 curing salt is required to make pastrami.

The Correct Curing Salt

Let’s stop to chat about the unique ingredient Prague #1 curing salt. Sometimes this is referred to as “pink salt” or also “Prague powder”. You must use Prague #1 curing salt for making pastrami. There is no substitute.

You might wonder where pastrami gets its bright red color from. That’s because this pink salt does have a trace amount of red dye to differentiate it from table salt, which could be a dangerous mistake. This pink salt has sodium nitrite, which is meant to prevent the growth of unwanted bacteria during the curing process.

There is a Prague #2 curing salt which is designed for dry curing cuts such as salami. This pink salt has a different composition from #1, and will not work for pastrami.

Our recipe uses 2 teaspoons of Prague #1 curing salt per gallon, for up to about 5 pounds of meat. If you’d like a helpful calculator to determine how much pink salt you’d need for a larger cut, use this Wet Curing Calculator.

This is a homemade pickling spice blend which works well for pastrami or anything cured.

Pickling Spice Recipe

The simple brine requires pickling spices, which can easily be picked up in stores or also purchased online.

Making a homemade spice rub gives complete control over the flavors. Toasting the spices briefly also brings out more intense flavors. Here is our recipe for homemade pickling spices:

  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seed
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seed
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seed
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 6 bay leaves, crumbled
It's recommended to desalinate the brisket prior to smoking, so it's not overly salty.

Desalinate the Brisket after the Cure

Pastrami can be really salty if you skip this step. It seems weird, but you’ll want to soak the brisket in water after the brining phase.

After 5 days of curing, remove the pastrami from the brine. Discard the brine, and place the brisket in fresh water to soak overnight.

Corned beef does not require this step as it’s often braised, so the excess salt escapes into the water. Homemade pastrami will need to go through this process, otherwise, you’ll be turned off when you bite into the smoked slices.

Season the cured brisket generously with the freshly ground rub.

Season the Cured Brisket

After soaking in clean water, remove the brisket from the liquid and discard the water. Pat the brisket very dry with paper towels.

Grind up the spices for the rub and generously coat all sides of the brisket. It’s finally time to smoke this!

Pastrami Rub Recipe

You can customize this by adding other aromatics such as mustard seeds, chile flakes, or more. This is the base rub that I start with, which is very typical for authentic pastrami:

  • ¼ cup black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Grind everything up in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. You can keep it a little coarse, rather than a fine powder. If you do grind it very fine, the bark will be darker but not as pronounced with texture.

Using a coarse spice rub will provide a stronger smoky flavor, as there is more surface area for the smoke to adhere to. The bark will also be crispier, and have an intense flavor.

Smoking the Brisket

Warm up your smoker to 250°F. Carefully place the brisket in the smoker and allow it to cook for roughly 5 hours (about 165°F internal temperature). The outside should start to have a nice red color and the bark will be set.

You do not need to spritz during this time. The next phase will take care of moisture for the brisket.

Wrap in Foil to Tenderize

Double wrap the pastrami in aluminum foil and increase the temperature of the smoker to 300°F. There’s no need to add liquid, the brisket will continue to cook and steam inside the foil.

Place the wrapped pastrami back in the smoker and continue to cook until the meat is probe tender, roughly around 200-205°F. This will likely take around 2 more hours.

This part of the process skips past having to steam the pastrami. Cooking a fully wrapped brisket in this way will produce extremely tender meat. You do sacrifice a little with the bark, but it’s worth it.

Rest and slice your brisket pastrami when ready.

Rest, Slice, Consume

Once the pastrami is probe tender, remove it from the smoker. Allow it to rest at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes before slicing in.

You’ll notice that the pastrami is very tender, but more firm than a traditional smoked brisket. Curing the meat in the brine toughens the muscles, this is expected.

Cut against the grain and pile thin slices high on sandwiches. You’ll have to eat some right off the cutting board of course.

Sliced brisket pastrami that has been smoked and wrapped.

Important Tips

  • Toast the spices before you use them. This goes for the pickling spices, and also the pastrami rub. Lightly toasting the spices in a dry skillet for a few minutes brings out the natural oils and enhances the flavors.
  • Try other cuts of meat. Stick with beef and try beef short ribs, the eye of round, or other cuts. Explore with pork belly, pork loin, or even duck!
  • Desalinate the brisket. Trust me, soaking the cured brisket in water for the recommended time makes a world of difference. I know that this is a very long process, but it’s not worth skipping this step.

Homemade Pastrami Recipe

Nothing beats making your own pastrami. Go through this recipe and you will never look back. At Chiles and Smoke, we’re here to bring people together with bold flavors, using spice and flames to ignite the food and friendships.

If you try this recipe, please consider leaving an honest review below. You can also find more content by following Chiles and Smoke on InstagramYouTube, and Facebook.

Print
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
Featuring homemade pastrami using brisket flat.

Smoked Pastrami | Brisket Flat

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 1 review

This process for making cured Homemade Pastrami gives you full control over the smoke and spices, with an extremely juicy pile of brisket. Read along for the entire process from curing to smoking a brisket flat, giving you the tools for the ultimate pastrami sandwiches.

  • Total Time: 6 days 8 hours
  • Yield: 1015 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 5-pound beef brisket flat, trimmed
  • Brine

  • 3 quarts ice water
  • 1 quart boiling water
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ cup pickling spices (optional recipe in notes)
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 ¼ cups coarse kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Prague #1 curing salt
  • Pastrami Rub

  • ¼ cup black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Instructions

  1. Prepare the brine. Have a large container filled with ice water prepared. Boil 1 quart of water and pour it into a large bowl containing the spices and sugars for the brine. Whisk until the sugars and salts dissolve. Add this to the ice water and allow the brine to cool completely.
  2. Brine the brisket. Place the brisket in a large container and pour in the cooled brine. Set a weight or a heavy plate onto the brisket to keep it submerged. Cover the container and place it in the fridge, allowing the brisket to brine for 5 days. Flip the brisket every day.
  3. Desalinate the brisket. After the last day, remove the brisket from the container and discard the brine. Rinse off the brisket and place it back into the container with fresh water. Place the weight back on it and allow it to soak for 8 hours, up to overnight.
  4. Prepare the pastrami rub. Lightly toast the spices in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until they become aromatic. Grind the spices up in a spice grinder or coffee grinder until they are medium coarse. You can grind fine, but you’ll have less texture in the end.
  5. Season and smoke the brisket. Pull the brisket out of the liquid and pat it dry with paper towels. Generously cover the brisket with the prepared spice blend. Preheat your smoker to 250°F and place the brisket in when ready. Cook for about 5-6 hours, or until the meat is ready to be wrapped (around 165°F). The outside should have a nice red color.
  6. Wrap the brisket and finish. Increase the temperature to 300°F and remove the brisket when ready to wrap. Using two sheets of heavy-duty foil, wrap the brisket tight. Place it back into the smoker and cook for another 2 hours, until the pastrami is probe tender. Check for the thickest part of the brisket, and the temperature should be around 200-205°F.
  7. Remove the pastrami when ready and rest at room temperature for at least 30-45 minutes while wrapped. Slice against the grain and enjoy.

Notes

Pickling Spice Recipe:

  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seed
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seed
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seed
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns (or allspice berries)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 6 bay leaves, crumbled
  • Lightly toast the spices in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until they become aromatic.
  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 6 days
  • Cook Time: 8 hours
  • Category: Beef & Lamb
  • Method: Smoking
  • Cuisine: Meat
Recipe Card powered byTasty Recipes

Recent Posts

Even More Recipes

Ignite your grill and elevate your barbecue game with more than 65 unforgettable recipes in this cookbook that combine the big, bold flavors of chiles with smoke and fire.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Scroll to Top