Pork belly pastrami with mustard cream sauce over cole slaw.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020 – National Pastrami Day. Pastrami comes from Romania, usually made of beef brisket. The dish was brought to America by Jewish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century. The preparation method was originally created as a way to preserve meat before the modern convenience of refrigeration came about.

To make pastrami, the meat is brined to make corned beef. Corned beef is literally a beef brisket soaked in brine. Then the brine is washed off and the meat patted dry. Once dry, the meat is seasoned with a heavy dose of herbs and spices, especially black pepper, then smoked and steamed. Smoking the corned beef makes pastrami.

Beef brisket pastrami

While beef brisket is the most common and old-school meat to use to make pastrami, a newer hipper meat to use is pork belly. In fact, it is very common to see almost any meat made using pastrami method – goose, duck, turkey, pork shoulder. Vegetarians make pastrami out of beets! Pretty much anything goes here since pastrami is a method and spice mixture. Here I’m going to talk about making pastrami with beef brisket.

Pork belly pastrami

Trim the brisket.

I like to use a select quality of brisket because there’s less intramuscular fat on it. You can use choice if that is what you can find. I would not use prime because there’s too much fat on it.

Out of a whole brisket, separate the flat part from the point part into two sections. Trim away as much visible fat as possible.

Prepare the brine.

In a large stockpot, combine 2/3 cup kosher salt, 1 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons curing salt (Instacure #1 known as Prague power or saltpeter), ½ cup pickling spice, 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds, 1 cinnamon stick broken into large pieces, ¼ cup coarse grind black pepper (the granuales should be large than the kosher salt flakes), ¼ cup coriander seeds into 2 quarts of water. Bring the spices water to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Cover and set aside for 2 hours or until room temperature. Add 3 cups of ice to the pot to chill down the brine. Add the trimmed brisket to the pot. Cover tightly and refrigerate for two days.

I like to make this in the winter time, using an ice chest that stays cold. If you keep it out of the sun, the brining brisket in the ice chest left outside will still stay below 40 degrees without any additional refrigeration.

Preparing the brine for the beef and pork belly.

Prepare the smoker.

Prepare your smoker on low 200-225 degrees. I use lump charcoal with a mix of apple wood and hickory wood on top. While the smoker is coming up to temperature we will get the brisket ready to go on.

Make the pastrami rub.

To make the pastrami rub, we will start with the pastrami base. Then we will add a few different ingredients depending on whether you are using beef, turkey, or whatever meat.

Add to a blender in this order: 3 cups whole coriander seeds, ¼ cup granulated garlic, ½ cup dried Mexican oregano (Mexican oregano is sweeter than Italian or Greek oregano), 1 cup ground black pepper. Pulse lightly 305 times until the coriander seeds are broken. You don’t want a dust or power, just a course combination of the spices that resembles the texture of kosher salt.

If you are making beef, take 1 ¼ cup of the base spice mix, then add 2 tablespoons hot, smoked paprika, 2 cups medium grind black pepper. Mix well and use this as the dry rub for beef.

Preparing to season the brined pork belly.

If you are making pork, take 1 cup of base mix, then add 3 tablespoons granulated garlic and 2 cups medium grind black pepper. Mix well and use this as the dry rub for pork.

For turkey or any fowl bird pastrami, add 1 tablespoon of poultry seasoning to the pork pastrami rub recipe above.

Wash and rub the meat.

Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well, discarding the brine.

Pulling the pork and the beef from the brine.

Rub all sides with pastrami seasoning rub. This should be a heavy layer of rub. The way I do it is rub the entire meat with one layer of the spice rub. Lay the meat down and spray the top side with vegetable spray, then add another layer of the spice rub. In other words, the top gets two layers of spice rub.

Beef rubbed with pastrami spice rub.

Smoke and steam the brisket.

Put the brisket on the smoker and smoke at 200-225 degrees for 3 hours.

The TK Cooker drum smoker getting ready for the beef to go on.

Remove brisket from smoker and transfer to a metal roasting pan. Add about 2 cups of water. Wrap the whole pan with aluminum foil very tightly. Bake in 300-degree oven 3 ½ hours. Remove the pan from the oven. Leave it wrapped and let it rest for at least 2 hours, allowing the steam and spice to penetrate the meat as it cools. When you unwrap the pan, you can slice it and eat it right away. Or, you can put it in the refrigerator and eat it over 5-7 days. You can also freeze it and it will keep for about 3 months.

Beef brisket pastrami sandwich

Add some cole slaw and mustard to a toasted bun, with or without melted cheese for a yummy beef brisket pastrami sandwich.

Or, make a mustard cream sauce to pour over pork belly pastrami and cole slaw for a quick and pretty dinner.

Written by Chef John O'Neil