Homemade Corned Beef and Pastrami

There are a couple ways to take on the task of homemade pastrami: We can go out and buy an already corned beef brisket, add the pastrami dry rub and then smoke it.   We can do it the long hard way by starting with a fresh brisket packer and then corning the brisket, followed by the pastrami dry rub and then the smoking.

We’re going to do both!  However, the longer second method needs to be started about a week before the actual final smoking.  First, start your brine and bring it to a simmer for about one hour.  I’ll be using DQ Cure #1 which is salt plus 6.25% Nitrite.  Most of the original recipes for corned beef used salt peter or Potassium Nitrate.  The use of Nitrate has been supplanted in recent years by the use of the purer nitrites.  When you use a nitrate, it has to first convert to nitrite before the beneficial preservative effects can work.  BTW, it’s the nitrites that give your pink smoke ring or the pink coloration of corned beef.

Cool your brine to 40 degrees or less before adding it to your brisket. Here is my brine recipe:

Per each gallon of water:

  • 12 oz non-iodized sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups Kosher salt
  • 6 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 Tablespoon whole black tellicherry pepper corns
  • 1 Tablespoon whole coriander
  • 2 teapoons whole yellow mustard seed
  • 1 1/2 ounces Cure #1 (prague powder)

I’ll start with a full packer from Sam’s Club, separate the point from the flat and remove most of the fat.  Next, I’l cut the flat into two pieces and the point into two pieces then place them in a personal portable beer cooler while covering with the chilled brine.  Be sure the brisket is fully submerged in the brine at all times.  We don’t want any spoilage.  We need to turn and rotate the brisket every day for 3-7 days depending upon the thickness of the brisket.  I’m planning on making my pastrami next weekend, so I’ll leave the brisket in the brine until Saturday morning.

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Here is the finished brined brisket after being in the refrigerator for 6 days with a turn of the pieces each day.  These now go into a rinse of clean water for about 4 hours so we can reduce the salt level prior to cooking.  This is the long method!  However, you can also make a fine pastrami by starting with a commercial corned beef brisket.  I purchased one at Sams so we could make our pastrami both the slow and the fast way. I also prepare my pastrami and corned beef differently depending upon how I plan on using the meat.  If I’m serving it for dinner as a main course, I’ll cook it for 90 minutes in the pressure cooker using a 10 pound setting.  This makes your brisket ultra tender and it will fall apart.  If I’m planning on using the brisket or pastrami on sandwiches like a Reuben, I like it thinly sliced, so I cook those briskets to 160 degrees and then chill overnight.  Once chilled, you can slice them ultra thin.

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Here are the two pieces I’m going to cook in the pressure cooker for our evening meal.

The one on the left is the commercial corned beef and the other gray one is 1/2 of the flat from the brisket.

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Notice how the two pieces are already starting to fall apart.  The bottom one is a deeper red than the commercial corned beef. At this point, you have a very tender, fall apart corned beef brisket.   I’m making pastrami, so these now need to be rubbed with the pastrami rub and placed into the smoker.  These are the two pieces we’ll be serving for dinner this evening.  The other pieces of brisket will smoke and cook in the smoker, but I’ll cook those to 160 degrees.

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Here is my pastrami dry rub:

  • 1/4 Cup Coriander seed
  • 1/8 Cup whole black pepper
  • 1/8 Cup whole white pepper
  • 1/8 Cup yellow mustard seed
  • 1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder

Place into a spice or coffee grinder and grind fine.  Coat your meats evenly.  Into the smoker they go!  The two precooked pieces I’ll remove from the smoker after 3 hours so they don’t get too dry.  The other pieces will remain in the smoker until they reach 160 degrees. I’m using 100% pecan pellets today.  If  you’re using an electric smoker like the Cookshack or Smokin Tex, then use about 3 ounces of pecan.

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The final product has been sliced to 1 MM thickness (0.03937 inches), placed on parchment and then vacuum sealed.  These packages will last many months in the freezer.

Happy Smoking!

Dave Naas

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