Pastrami is an iconic Jewish-American staple that’s loved by many, especially served up hot on fresh rye bread.
Originating in Romania, Pastrami is traditionally made with beef brisket that has been brined, smoked, and steamed.
For this recipe, we are making smoked Pastrami with Corned beef which is a great way to save yourself a few days of prep time and still enjoy delicious pastrami right at home.
What is Corned beef?
Corned beef is essentially cured brisket that is then boiled or steamed. Historically, corned beef was a method for preserving fresh meat so that it would last longer.
Contrary to popular belief, corned beef did not originate in Ireland – it actually originated in the United States by Irish immigrants. The immigrants could not afford the pork and bacon products traditionally served in Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day, so they opted to create a dish out of a more affordable cut of meat: beef brisket.
Corned beef is easy to distinguish from smoked brisket because of its tell-tale pink color. The brine used to preserve the brisket and turn it into corned beef contains a salt-nitrite blend called “curing salt“. This prevents the beef from spoiling while it cures by inhibiting bacterial growth and sodium nitrite is the same substance used for curing other meats such as sausages, bacon, and hot dogs.
Buying Corned beef vs making your own
To make Pastrami you first need corned beef.
You can buy a brisket flat and brine your beef in a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices for 5-7 days. We have another recipe if you want to learn how to brine your own beef for pastrami.
Place your corned beef in a large plastic container and cover it with cool water, then store it in the refrigerator. Change the water after around halfway through.
Once the beef has soaked for 24 hours, remove it from the water, rinse it off, and then pat it dry.
The Pastrami rub
Once the salt has been removed from the corned beef and you have patted the brisket dry, it’s time to season it up with a great pastrami rub.
Pastrami is known for a flavorful rub with a heavy dose of black pepper. It is also important not to add salt to your pastrami rub.
Most barbecue rubs contain salt, but since the corned beef has already been brined in a salt solution you do not want to add more salt to the rub, or you will run the risk of the meat being far too salty to enjoy.
Our homemade pastrami rub is a simple combination of fresh-cracked, coarse-ground black pepper, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika. Add all the ingredients to a small mixing bowl and stir them until well-combined.
Season the beef generously with the rub mixture, so you can build up as much of that delicious, peppery bark that makes pastrami great.
Once your beef is well-seasoned, just let it rest on the counter at room temperature while you fire up your smoker and bring it up to smoking temperature.
How to smoke the Pastrami
As I mentioned before, the main difference between corned beef and pastrami is that pastrami is slow-smoked. This gives it a wonderful smoky flavor that really takes it to the next level.
I smoked this pastrami on the Pit Boss Pro 1600 at 250°F.
I used the Bear Mountain Bold BBQ Blend pellets, which are made from all-natural Oak, Mesquite, and Hickory. This combination of wood offers an extra flavorful and bold punch of smoky flavor that pairs perfectly with a robust dish such as pastrami.
Traditionally, the pastrami is steamed prior to serving, but I have found that I can achieve the same result by wrapping it in butcher paper once it hits about 165°F.
The butcher paper creates a steamy environment and allows the pastrami to retain moisture as it finishes cooking. Your pastrami will be done cooking when the internal temperature hits between 195°F and 205°F.
Just like with a traditional smoked brisket, it is important to let the meat rest prior to serving.
Because this was just a small piece of brisket, I let it rest for about an hour at room temperature to allow all the juices in the meat to redistribute.
How to serve Pastrami
By far, the most traditional way to serve pastrami is in a Reuben sandwich with rye bread, Swiss cheese, and deli mustard.
You can serve the pastrami either hot or cold, but if you want a real New York deli experience, then the pastrami absolutely must be served hot.
You can add sauerkraut, coleslaw, or pickles to add a bit of freshness and acidity as well.
What condiments go best on a Pastrami sandwich?
1. Mustard – mustard and pastrami pair wonderfully together, especially great spicy deli mustard. Even if you are just making a basic sandwich, the mustard adds a tangy element that really brings the flavors in the pastrami to life.
2. Russian Dressing (or Thousand Island Dressing) – another popular condiment for pastrami is Russian dressing. If you want to make a Reuben sandwich, just add a bit of Russian dressing to each slice of rye bread, then layer on some Swiss cheese, your pastrami, and a bit of sauerkraut. You can also substitute Russian Dressing with Thousand Island dressing to achieve a similar flavor profile.
3. Mayonnaise – mayo is also a popular condiment for a great pastrami sandwich. It can be spread in a layer on the bread to add a bit of flavor, and it will also help hold the sandwich together!
Try some of our other sandwich recipes
- 4 lb Corned beef brisket flat
- 3 tbsp black pepper coarsely ground
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- Add the corned beef to a large plastic container and cover with cool water. Store in the fridge for 24 hours, changing the water out about halfway through.
- Once the corned beef has soaked for 24 hours, remove it from the water and pat dry.
- Combine the black pepper, brown sugar, garlic powder, and onion powder in a mixing bowl and stir until well combined.
- Season the corned beef generously with the dry rub mixture, being sure to coat every side.
- Allow the beef to rest at room temperature while you preheat your smoker to 250°F.
- Once the smoker is preheated, add your beef directly to the grates and let it smoke for about 4 hours until it reaches 165°F.
- Wrap the beef tightly in butcher paper, then place it back on the smoker until the internal temperature reaches between 195°F and 205°F (about 2 more hours).
- Remove from the smoker and let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour, then slice and enjoy!