The possibilities of a smoker are endless.
You can have so much fun cooking and smoking different types of meat. One of the most famous smoked cuts has to be the beef brisket.
But it can't take all the credit.
Pastrami is a strong contender, and the two are definitely wrestling for the top spot. But are they even comparable? It’s hard to say, but let’s dig in anyway.
What is Pastrami?
For those of you who have yet to discover what this delicacy is, I can tell you one thing: pastrami is a thin slice of meat heaven.
Pastrami goes way back to the old days when refrigerators weren't even a thing yet. People weren't exactly smoking the meat, but they had to preserve it somehow. As when dealing with raw meat, bacteria and other parasites are very common.
Back in the pre-fridge days, the only solution to this problem was salt. They would either dry rub the meat in a lot of salt, or make a salt bath, also called a brine. There has to be enough salt to make a potato float. That's a lot of salt.
The meat would sit in the rub, or in the salty tub, for weeks. When the salt penetrates the meat, it kills all of the harmful bacteria.
There was a downside to this technique though. If the salt took too long to work, there could still be bacteria forming. So what did the people do? They waited until the winter to do their salty business.
Today, this salted meat goes by the name of corned beef. A salty brine has cured the meat for about ten days. Killing bacteria and making it safe to eat. Corned beef also comes in cans, though I will not recommend using canned meat to make pastrami.
How to Make Pastrami
Starting off with an excellent quality piece of corned beef is ideal.
You can buy it, or you can make it yourself. It will take a couple of weeks though, but if you prefer everything to be homemade, then go for it.
Having a good smoker will also help you get the best results.
Using the right wood here is crucial. You don't want the wood taste to be too strong and overpower the beef.
A subtle wood is the way to go. Any fruit tree, such as apple or maple, has the perfect wood for smoking pastrami. These have a very mild aroma so that it won't dominate the meat.
Examine the Corned Beef
Before starting, you will have to examine the beef you're using.
There might be too much fat or loose pieces. Trim it if needed. Also, try to get the beef as even as possible. If it's uneven, it won't smoke equally throughout.
An excellent piece of corned beef should be square in shape. This will look much better in the end.
After making sure the corned beef is near perfection; you will have to soak it in water.
The weight of the meat determines the time for the soaking.
It's two hours per pound.
Change the water every two hours to make sure the salt is coming out.
Corned beef is extremely salty. When smoking the pastrami, the meat will shrink, making the salty taste much stronger. If you don't get rid of some of the salt before smoking, the pastrami won't be edible.
Spice Rub for the Pastrami
The outer part of the pastrami might be the most crucial part. It's all about getting the right amount of spices, without overwhelming the flavor.
Some people like to make a black pepper and coriander seed rub. It's straightforward and tastes really good. It's also the classic pastrami spice mix.
If you want to add some more spice, you can mix in some mustard powder, garlic, and onion powder. Some people like to add a small amount of brown sugar to the rub, to give it a little bit of sweetness.
Once you have figured out the perfect spice mix; rub it into the beef. The thicker, the better. Pastrami is famous for its spice crust. You're not going to get any if you only add a thin layer of spices.
Smoking the Beef
The next step is smoking the pastrami.
There are two ways to do this.
Traditionally, the pastrami is smoked at cold temperatures.
You can do this at home, but I recommend not to. There are a lot of health risks, and if it's not done correctly, you can end up with food poisoning.
If you do decide to cold smoke your pastrami, remember to cure the meat beforehand thoroughly. The safest way to smoke your pastrami is over a heated smoker.
The temperature of the smoker has to be low, around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need to keep it at this temperature while the beef is smoking.
Prepare your smoker with the wood chips.
You should prepare it to smoke for a long time. The pastrami will need an hour per pound. So, depending on the size, it will take quite a while.
You shouldn't worry about drying out the meat, the point of the smoker is to cook it down a little, while adding a smoky flavor. An excellent way to do this is to make a lot of smoke in the beginning to "bathe" the beef.
When the internal temperature of the corned beef reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, the pastrami is ready. You will notice that the meat has shrunk a lot, which is also a sign that it’s done smoking.
The pastrami should be very dark, almost black, on the outside. Since the pastrami is already cooked before smoking, due to the curing, you may think it won't need so much time in the smoker.
Some people try to cut corners and take it out before it's ready, but the beef needs the time to soak up all the flavor from the smoke. Otherwise, you will just end up with a spicy, slightly salty piece of meat.
When slicing the pastrami, it's best to cool it first. Put it in the fridge for an hour before cutting. This will firm it up a bit and make the slices prettier.
It's crucial to use a sharp knife when cutting, unless you have a meat slicer. And the pieces have to be as thin as possible.
Pastrami won't last forever. You shouldn't keep it for more than a week. The good thing is that you can easily freeze it. If the pastrami is too big, slice it, and freeze in appropriate portions.
If you want to reheat the pastrami; it's best to steam it. This will help keep the moisture and make the meat more tender.
An easy way to reheat the beef is using a microwave. Wrap the pastrami slices in wet paper towels and then place in microwave. Makes it as good as new.
How to Serve Pastrami
Pastrami is a very popular sandwich meat.
Most delis in America have pastrami on their menu. But does it have other uses?
Yes, it definitely has. You can eat it as it is, or include it in different dishes.
The Perfect Pastrami Sandwich
Nothing beats a smoky slice of peppery pastrami in between two slices of bread, or in a bun. Add a good sauce or condiment, some cheese, and your lunch is ready.
I'm going to share with you my favorite pastrami sandwich. It's so meaty and smoky; you will want to eat this every single day.
Here’s what you need:
Pastrami Pasta Carbonara
Pastrami is not only good for sandwiches. It also makes excellent meat for pasta dishes.
Pasta carbonara is usually made with bacon. But I think replacing the fatty bacon with smoky, crispy pieces of pastrami makes it so much better.
The peppery crust of the pastrami compliments the pasta so well. This carbonara is also easy to make and will only take 20 minutes.
Is Pastrami Healthy?
Store-bought pastrami can contain different preservatives, added sodium, and fat.
Pastrami also contains quite a lot of cholesterol. Which is something we definitely don't want too much of.
Making your own pastrami from scratch is much healthier than buying from the deli.
You know what you put in it. It's even better if you also make your own corned beef to begin. But this will take up a lot of time.
The biggest worry when it comes to the corned beef is salt. Soaking the meat before smoking will remove most of it. And if there is a lot of excess fat, just trim it.
Start by buying a good quality beef; then you are off to a great start.
Usually what makes it unhealthy is the way it is served. A sandwich with lots of butter and mayo can bring up the calorie count.
Making your own pastrami is a great way to create a meat delicacy your way. You can perfect your recipe until it fits your taste just right.
Maybe you found it to be a bit too peppery the first time. Add a little less next time. You may want a little more sweetness. Adding a small amount of sugar can do the trick.
The wood chips you're using in the smoker can make or break your pastrami. Using a strong wood like mesquite or hickory can give the meat a slightly bitter taste.
Maple wood is hands down the best smoke for pastrami. It gives a sweet, subtle flavor to the meat. It's also good for pork and game meat.
Now you know how to smoke your own pastrami.
It's time-consuming but worth every minute. Serving your guests a slice of your homemade pastrami is sure to leave everyone begging for more.