Imagine the perfect ratio of beef to spice to wood smoke—meaty enough to sink your teeth into yet fatty enough to melt on your tongue. Spicy, as all good pastrami is spicy, yet focused on the two classic seasonings: coriander seed and black peppercorns. Tender? You could cut it with the side of a fork.
Yield: Serves 8 to 10, with leftovers
Prep time: 30 minutes
Brining time: 12 days
Smoking time: 8 to 10 hours
Resting time: 1 to 2 hours
Shop: Organic, grass-fed, or locally raised beef brisket. Pink curing salt contains salt and sodium nitrite; buy it at a good meat market or order it online from Amazon. The traditional cut of beef for pastrami is navel—a belly cut with clearly visible striations of meat and fat. If you wish to try it, special-order beef navel from your butcher, then cure, rub, and smoke it as you would brisket. I call for leaner, tenderer brisket here.
What else: When serving the pastrami hot, cut it into ¼-inch-thick slices. When serving cold, slice it paper-thin—preferably on a meat slicer. You don’t really need a sauce or condiment, but I wouldn’t say no to horseradish mustard.
For the brisket and brine:
- 1 beef brisket flat with plenty of fat intact (6 to 8 pounds)
- 2 quarts hot water and 2 quarts ice water
- 2/3 cup coarse salt (sea or kosher)
- 2 teaspoons pink curing salt (Prague Powder No. 1 or Insta Cure No. 1)
- 1 small onion, peeled and cut in half widthwise
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half widthwise
For the spice rub:
- 1/2 cup cracked black peppercorns
- 1/2 cup coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- Beer (optional)
- Trim the brisket, leaving a fat cap on top at least 1/4 inch thick.
- Make the brine: Place the hot water, coarse salt, and pink salt in a large bowl or plastic tub and whisk until the salt crystals are dissolved. Stir in the ice water, onion, and garlic. Place the brisket in a jumbo heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. Add the brine and seal the top, squeezing out the air as you go. Place in a second bag and seal, then place in an aluminum foil pan or roasting pan to contain any leaks. Brine the brisket in the refrigerator for 12 days, turning it over once a day.
- Make the rub: Place the peppercorns, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, brown sugar, and ginger in a spice mill and grind to a coarse powder, running the machine in short bursts, working in batches as needed. The final rub should feel gritty like coarse sand.
- Drain the brisket, rinse well under cold running water, and blot dry with paper towels. Place it on a rimmed baking sheet or in a roasting pan and thickly crust it on all sides with the rub.
- Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 225 to 250 °F. Fill an aluminum foil pan with water or beer to a depth of 3 inches and place it below the rack on which you’ll be smoking the ribs. (Note: You don’t need to do this on a ceramic cooker.)
- Place the pastrami fat side up in the smoker, directly on the rack. Smoke the pastrami until crusty and black on the outside and cooked to 175 °F on an instant-read thermometer, 7 to 8 hours.
- Wrap the pastrami in butcher paper. Return it to the smoker. Continue cooking until the internal temperature is 200 °F and the meat is tender enough to pierce with a gloved finger or wooden spoon handle, an additional 1 to 2 hours, or as needed. (You’ll need to unwrap it to check it.)
- Transfer the wrapped pastrami to an insulated cooler and let rest for 1 to 2 hours. Unwrap and slice crosswise (across the grain) for serving.