Hands down the BEST and MOST flavorful recipe I’ve ever created, this homemade pastrami is so good that I don’t think I can ever eat store-bought or deli-bought again. Packed with flavor, juiciness, fattiness, and smoked until tender and perfect, this recipe is a labor of love, but once you’ve tried it, you’ll also never want it any other way!
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You know the fun question, “What one thing would you take with you to a deserted island?” My answer would be pastrami. THIS pastrami in particular. I will never tire of the depth and complexity of flavor, the robust spices, and the smokey goodness that makes this cured meat one of the best things on the planet.
I could happily eat pastrami every day of the week for weeks. It melts in your mouth and, at the same time, is so full of richness and flavor that heck, you don’t even need bread! This glorious smoked meat is perfect sliced thinly, or grab a fork and chow down on a thick slice of it.
I won’t lie to you: making pastrami from scratch is a labor of love. But it’s not complicated. You have to wet cure the pastrami, rub it in in spices, then smoke it. And the whole process will take about a week.
The next time you see brisket at the grocery store or are inspired to create something ridiculously good, give this pastrami recipe a try!
What you’ll love about Making Pastrami From Scratch
- The flavor is SO MUCH better than anything store-bought.
- You control the ingredients – no chemicals!
- It’s so much cheaper to make pastrami from scratch!
There’s not a lot that goes into this smoked pastrami recipe other than the spices. First up, you’ll need the ingredients to make the wet cure where your brisket will sit in the brine for 5 days (less for thinner brisket – see my notes below.)
For the wet cure (pastrami brine recipe)
- Beef brisket – see my notes below.
- Prague powder #1 – see my comments below. Don’t mess around with this stuff. Measure accurately and make sure it is Prague Powder #1, NOT #2.
- Morton’s kosher salt – only use kosher salt as it is purer and less metallic in flavor.
- Distilled water – tap water also works, but distilled water allows for a purer flavor.
For The Pastrami Rub
This pastrami rub is inspired by the flavor of Katz’s pastrami rub from Katz’s Deli. It’s an East Coast pastrami recipe with big, bold, and assertive flavors. This rub will make enough for a 4-5 pound slab of brisket.
- Whole black peppercorns
- Whole coriander seeds
- Mustard seeds
- Ground black pepper
- Coriander powder
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Mustard powder
- Brown Sugar
Homemade Pastrami Made With Beef Brisket
Traditional pastrami is made from a cut of beef called the beef plate, but I bet you’ve never seen that in your grocery store. But beef brisket is everywhere, and it makes mighty fine pastrami. Brisket can be butchered in several ways:
- Whole – Whole briskets are usually sold cryovaced and weigh anywhere from 10-16 pounds. If you’ve got a whole brisket, I suggest trimming it down and cutting the point away from the flat to create two large pieces.
- Point – Point vs. flat? That’s the big question, but give me pastrami made from the point any day, and I’m a happy chef. The point is the oddly shaped piece that’s fatty and delicious. It’s harder to cook, harder to trim, and harder to slice, so if you’re new to pastrami making, maybe start with a flat.
- Flat – This is the lovely long rectangular-ish piece of the brisket. It makes lovely slices and slices easily with a meat slicer. You can also slice the point with a meat slicer, but you’ll have to chill it overnight in the fridge, so it doesn’t fall apart.
Pick the point or the flat for your pastrami. I’ve outlined some pros and cons of using both above. My personal preference is the point, but the flat is also delicious.
What is Prague Powder #1?
Years and years ago, I tried to wet cure meat without Prague Powder #1, and it was, uh, a disaster. Prague Powder #1 is the secret ingredient that adds the cure to cured meat. It is a combination of sodium chloride (salt) and sodium nitrite, which acts as a preservative and prevents the growth of bacteria. Combined, this powerful pink salt (it’s dyed pink, so you don’t confuse it with table salt) is what adds the pink color to your pastrami and acts as a powerful preservative.
Using the right amount of Prague Powder #1 (NOT to be confused with Prague Powder #2, which is made with nitrates) is important. The water to meat to Prague Powder #1 formula needs to be pretty specific so your pastrami turns out perfectly. More on that below.
How To Make Homemade Pastrami From Scratch
To make the process easier, I’ve broken it down into what you need to do for each of the 6 days that it takes to make pastrami. This process works for a 4-5 pound slab of brisket. A 3 pound 1.5-inch thick piece will only take 3 days to cure so adjust your timeline. See the notes below to adjust the water, salt, and Prague Powder #1 for different-sized brisket pieces.
- Day 1 – Trim the brisket but leave some fat on the top, especially if using the flat. Pastrami likes some fat. Make your brine by mixing the distilled water with Prague Powder #1 and distilled water. Submerge your brisket into the brine and refrigerate it. Weigh the brisket down if it isn’t submerged.
- Day 2 – Flip the brisket over and give the liquid a good stir.
- Day 3 – Flip the brisket over and give the liquid a good stir.
- Day 4 – Flip and stir.
- Day 5 – At the end of Day 5 – the evening is a great time – drain the water from the beef brisket, rinse it off, and replace the brine with fresh tap water. Before you go to bed (or at least once in the next 8-10 hours) change the water and replace it with fresh tap water. You need to desalinate the pastrami. If you skip this step, it’ll be inedible. DO NOT SKIP this process!
- Day 6 – Early in the morning. Drain the meat and make your spice rub. Rub the brisket with the spices and pop it onto the smoker at 225-F. Smoke it until it reaches 160-F or so then wrap it in foil, turn the heat to 250-F and continue to smoke until it reaches 204-F. Pull the pastrami (yes, it is pastrami now!) off the smoker, let it rest for about 30 minutes, then dig in!
How Much Water, Salt, and Prague Powder #1 Do I Need To Make Pastrami?
A 2-inch thick slab of brisket will need 5 days to cure, whereas a 1.5-inch thick slab only needs 3 days to cure. ADJUST the amount of Prague Powder #1, water, salt, and curing times based on the size and thickness of your brisket. The following guide can help:
- 4 lb brisket 1.5 inches thick – 1 gallon water, 1 cup kosher salt, 2 teaspoons Prague Powder #1 — curing time 3 days.
- 3 lb brisket 1.5 inches thick – 12 cups water, 1 cup kosher salt, 1.5 teaspoons Prague Powder #1. – Curing time 3 days.
- 2.5 lb brisket 1.5 inches thick – 10 cups water, 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1.3 teaspoons Prague Powder #1. Curing time 3 days.
- 3 lb brisket 2 inches thick – 12 cups water, 1 cup kosher salt, 1.5 teaspoons Prague Powder #1 – Curing time 5 days.
- 2.5 lb brisket 2 inches thick – 10 cups water, 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1.3 teaspoons Prague Powder #1. Curing time 5 days.
To Wrap Or Not To Wrap – Wrapped Brisket aka the Texas Crutch
If you’ve ever smoked brisket, you know they can take 20 hours to get to 204-F, thanks to the dreaded stall. Stalling is when the meat reaches a certain temp and then refuses to get any higher no matter how much you beg. It can sit at a stall for HOURS.
By wrapping it (the Texas Crutch), you’re doing two things: 1) Locking in the juices and effectively steaming the pastrami while it cooks, which you’d need to do anyway if you’re not wrapping, it and 2) drastically shortens the cooking time.
I like to wrap my brisket – I’m not a patient person – and if you argue that the bark (or crust) gets soggy, there’s an easy fix. Unwrap it and give it another 30-60 minutes on the smoker to firm up the crust.
How To Slice Pastrami
Don’t be a hero – use a meat slicer. To get a pastrami sandwich with mile-high pastrami inside, you need a meat slicer.
If you made your pastrami with a brisket flat, you’re in luck; it’ll slice nicely even while still hot.
If you used a point, I strongly suggest refrigerating your pastrami overnight and THEN slicing it. It’ll slice like a dream when it’s cold because all that fat has congealed and will hold the meat together.
Or, just go at it caveman style with a sharp knife and cut the slices as thick or thin as you like them.
You can enjoy pastrami on a sandwich, of course, but you can also turn it into casseroles, griddle it and serve it with pancakes with self rising flour for breakfast, or just chow down on thicker slices of it on a plate for dinner.
Leftover sliced pastrami can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. Or, if you’re like me and want to nosh on tender and delicious pastrami beyond a week, freeze it. I use a vacuum sealer and freeze portions of pastrami so I can have a sandwich or a meal at any time. Vacuum seal your pastrami, and it’ll be fine in the freezer for a year or more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can, but the instructions for that will come in another post.
My huge chunk (4.5 pounds) was on the smoker for 10 hours. I used the Texas Crutch to speed things up.
Step By Step Process
- 1 Traeger Smoker or another smoker that can maintain a steady temperature
- 4 pound brisket
- 1 gallon distilled water
- 2 teaspoons Prague Powder #1
- 1 cup kosher salt
For the pastrami rub
- 3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 1.5 tabelspoons whole coriander seed
- 1.5 teaspoons mustard seed
- 1.5 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 1.5 tablespoons coriander powder
- 1.5 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1.5 tablespoons paprika
- 1.5 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1.5 tablespoons onion powder
- 1.5 teaspoons mustard powder
For the wet cure
- This wet cure is enough for 4-5 pound slab of brisket. If your brisket is smaller, please see the adjusted amouns of water, salt, and Prague Powder #1 in the recipe post or in the recipe notes.
- Mix the distilled water with the Prague Powder #1, and salt until dissolved.
- Trim all but about 1/4-inch of fat from the brisket and submerge the brisket in the water and refrigerate.
- Flip the brisket over every day for 5 days.
- Add the end of the 5th day, drain the wet cure and rinse the brisket. Refill the container and refrigerate the brisket for another 8-10 hours, draining and replacing the water at least once during that time.
To make the pastrami
- Drain the brisket and set it aside.
- Combine the black peppercorns, coriander seed, and mustard seed in a baggie and crush them with a rolling pin or skillet. You want them coarsely crushed, not pulverised.
- Combine the crushed seeds with the black pepper, coriander powder, brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and mustard powder. Do NOT add more salt!
- Rub the brisket generously with the pastrami rub.
- Heat your smoker to 225-F and smoke the rubbed brisket utnil it reaches 160-F.
- Wrap the brisket in foil and turn the heat up to 250-F and continue to smoke/steam the pastrami until it reaches 204-F.
- Remove the pastrami from the smoker and let it rest 30 minutes before slicing. If using a brisket point, chill it overnight before using the slicer to get nice thin slices.
A Note on Nutritional Information
Nutritional information for this recipe is provided as a courtesy and is calculated based on available online ingredient information. It is only an approximate value. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site cannot be guaranteed.