Pastrami, the lazy way

I fired up the smoker Saturday to make some pulled pork for dinner (thank you, O global warming, for making January BBQ possible) and also made ‘lazy pastrami’ for sandwiches. With the smoker running anyway, and pastrami taking less time to cook than most smoked meats, I almost always make a batch of my favorite deli meat on a BBQ day.

Making so-called *real* pastrami requires taking a brisket flat (don’t even think about using a top round roast unless you have an evil, black heart), brining it (a multi-day process) and following the steps below. Actually, if you really want to be authentic, you should smoke the brined flat for a couple of hours and then steam it until it’s done — but since most of us lack a steaming oven, that’s out of the question. Smoking the pastrami until it’s done works just fine, and I’ll throw in a simulated steaming process for your leftover pastrami below.

So, here’s how lazy pastrami works:

–Buy an uncooked corned beef brisket. This already is brined, although it doesn’t use the exact same process as pastrami, so the purists will get all hussy. They’ll get over it. The differences are minor and most of pastrami’s flavor comes from the rub and smoking.

–Soak the brisket in a bowl of water (in the fridge) for several hours, or simply rinse it thoroughly. I prefer the latter but some people want more of the brining removed, so they soak it. Most recipes of this type call for soaking. If you’ve never made this, you should soak the brisket.

–Set up your smoker for your basic 225-250-degree smoke. I used blackjack oak for this cook; any smoking wood you’d use with beef will be fine.

–Cover your brisket heavily (even more than you would for BBQ) with a mixture of coarse black pepper, coriander and garlic powder. I use a 3-1-1 combination of this (three parts black pepper, one part coriander and one part garlic powder). Black pepper and coriander are the typical flavors for pastrami. I’ve seen some rub recipes that even throw in paprika; that’s just wrong.

–Cook it on the smoker until it reaches an internal temp of 165. This will take somewhere around an hour a pound. That’s some 15-20 degrees below the typical temp of BBQ brisket. It makes for meat that must be sliced thinly to eat, but that has a little ‘pull.’

(A side note here: Meat thermometers are cheap — even the kind that use a probe, cable and digital readout box so you don’t have to crack open your smoker are only about $15. Instant-read thermometers are less than $10. Get a meat thermometer. Nothing works better for cooking meat.)

–Rest the meat to let the juices re-settle, then carve as thinly as possible. A deli slicer or a vegetable mandoline are ideal for this; otherwise, just do what you can with a very sharp knife. I typically use an electric knife.

Even a small brisket makes way too much pastrami for a day’s worth of sandwiches. Pastrami, which is full of nitrates and smoke, will keep in your fridge easily for a week at least (I’ve never kept it any longer because I eat it before then!). I typically divide the slices into serving-size portions in little individual plastic Ziploc bags,and freeze them.

You can simulate the steaming process when you re-heat pastrami in a microwave. Here’s how:

–Place your thawed (but presumably still cold) pastrami for your sandwich in a little mound on a plate.

–Cover that mound with a damp paper towel.

–Cook at 30% power for about 2.5 minutes (adjust time slightly as needed).

Result: Hot, steaming pastrami. It really is great!



  1. Your way of steaming pastrami in the microwave worked great! Thank you. Now back to eating.

  2. You won’t find paprika on pastrami in a decent deli anywhere in this fine nation. Paprika is for barbecue (and, hey, Hungarian food).

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