This weekend I decided to whip up an old favorite, a Home Smoked Pastrami. Pastrami is essentially a smoked corned beef with the addition of traditional spices and a long soak in water to draw out some of the excess salt that is a result of the curing process. This is how it went.
So, I started with a large store bought corned beef brisket that included both the leaner flat and the fattier deckle (or point).
Remove from package and set aside the spice packet that they give you. Rinse the roast thoroughly under the faucet and then place into the stock pot and cover with cold fresh water from the tap. It is recommended that you place the pot or container into the refrigerator. If you have that kind of real estate in your kitchen fridge than have at it. I do not. So, I also dumped in a large mixing bowl worth of ice from my freezer to keep the water cold.
Now you need to replace the water frequently to adequately draw the salt from the meat. You will need to dump the water, refill the stock pot (or whatever vessel you are using) and replenish the ice if not storing in fridge. You will want to repeat this process every 2 to 3 hours for at least 8 hours.
Then remove the roast from the water and rinse a final time. Once rinsed, you are going to want to place the meat onto a workspace so, you can rub and season the meat. Take this moment to trim any ancillary fat or membrane that looks like it doesn't belong. I did trim down the fat cap on the outer side of the brisket until I got it down to about a 1/4 inch. While our goal is to render the fat down, we want just enough to keep the meat moist but, not so much that you get a mouthful of fat with any bites of that region.
I believe that you should always season your meat with flavors that you like to taste. In most cases the flavors will carry through to your final product. For instance I absolutely despise cilantro and to a lesser extent, rosemary. I do not walk away from a great recipe simply because they incorporate those flavors. I just substitute or adjust to something that makes sense for my palate.
That said, for the rub I took the included spice packet (just traditional pickling spice) and added 1/2 cup of black peppercorns, 1/4 cup of brown sugar 1 Tbsp. of granulated garlic and 2 Tbsp. of medium roast ground coffee (I did not add salt as the meat is salty enough for my taste). Dump all of that, EXCEPT the black peppercorns, into your designated spice grinder or NutriBullet or whatever you use. Grind into dust as best as you can first. Then add the peppercorns and give it a few pulses. Just enough to crack the peppercorns open (not grind them down) and mix it all together. Now rub the entire mixture all over the meat and fat poking rub inside any flaps along the ends.
Ok let that sit a little while while you prepare your smoker. This can also be done in your oven if you have no choice. In that case you can baste it with a little liquid smoke. But, if you know me, we are headed outside to the smoker.
For this cook I am using an 16" Cuisinart "bullet" style or vertical smoker with a water pan to maintain moisture. I fill my chimney starter with Frontier lump hardwood charcoal and get it going hot until the flames are rising out of the top of chimney. Inside the firebox at the base of the smoker I line unlit briquettes around the fire ring and intersperse in some hardwood chunks along the way. I used Hickory and Pecan for this cook. You will want to leave the center of the firebox open to receive the burning coals that are raging in your chimney starter.
When you have the coals hot and the unlit coals and wood chunks laid out in a nice outer circle, carefully dump the burning coals into the center of the firebox, replace the tower and lid. Be sure to fill the water pan and seal her up tight with the vents at the base open 1/2 way and the damper vent at the top open wide. Leave the smoker to heat up to a target of 225*F and head in to get your pastrami roast.
When your smoker is up to 225*F temp and has stopped the initial heavy thick smoke, lift the lid and place your meat in the center of the circular grill grate (or in the middle of your cooking surface). seal the lid, toss in a couple more chunks on the burning coals and back away. If you have a dual probe thermometer you will be relaxed knowing your cooker temp and your meat temp are being thoroughly monitored. If not you will have to plan to return to check your fire every hour or two. Do whatever you can to not remove the lid. Check your thermometer and peek into the firebox but, if you followed the earlier steps then you should be well set for 2 to 3 hours of uninterrupted smoking.
At 3 hours or when the meat hits an internal temp of 150*F. Remove the meat and place the roast on a cookie cooling rack or a roasting rack placed in a foil pan or atop a sheet pan (something to keep the meat off the pan floor). Cover the bottom of the pan with beef broth or water but, be sure the rack will keep the meat out of the liquid. Now seal the pan tight with heavy duty aluminum foil or multiple layers and return to smoker.
At this point the meat has absorbed all of the beneficial smoke it is going to and now just needs to mellow low and slow to render the fat and reduce that brisket to a tender, melt in your mouth succulence. The rack will lift the meat out of the au jous but, will allow the meat to benefit from the steam of the beef broth to baste itself and help it maintain its moisture through the stall and up to a target temp of 202*F.
When you see the temp has gotten to 202*F remove the foil and let it go for 5-10 minutes to help redevelop the crust in a dry heat. Now grab that piece of beefy perfection and transport into the house to let stand for at least 20 min or more like an hour if you can wait.
Now you can start to dream up different ways to eat your fantastic pastrami. sliced up warm with potatoes and creamed spinach (or side of your choosing). I like to let it cool way down and slice it thin for sandwiches. the colder the meat, the easier to slice so, if you plan only to serve cold as sandwich meat, throw it in the fridge in a tight cellophane wrap, Foodsaver, or a gallon Ziplock.
Rarely you will have too many leftovers but, if you have younger kids like I do and they probably turn up their nose at anything but chicken nuggets and french fries. Take the time to vacuum seal a quarter or even half of your beef gold so, it will stay incredibly fresh and you can tuck it away in the freezer for a cold winter day. I typically have 6 or 8 different types of smoked meats hidden in my deep freeze for a surprise "second coming", sometime around January. It is always such a pleasure to enjoy a pastrami bacon and eggs or pulled pork sandwich in the dead of winter. It helps keep my juices flowing planning what types of different cooks I'm going to attempt in the smoker next season.
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