Homemade pastrami uses similar smoking and brining techniques as DIY bacon and corned beef. First a whole beef brisket is coated with a mixture of spices, sugar, and salt and cured in the refrigerator for a week. Then the meat is oven-smoked using a simple process the CHOW Test Kitchen developed that requires only wood chips, foil, a roasting rack, and a roasting pan. The final “steaming” is really just braising the pastrami in a little water to make it moist and tender. What you get is beefy pastrami with a subtle balance of salt and smoke that can be used in recipes from a classic Reuben sandwich to breakfast hash, a savory pie, or pastrami-topped latkes.
Special equipment: You will need a roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack that sits at least 1 1/2 inches above the bottom of the pan. You can try flipping the roasting rack over (like we did) if it sits too close to the bottom in its traditional orientation. Or use a wire cooling or steaming rack.
Giant resealable storage bags, like these jumbo 2-gallon bags, are the perfect size to use for the curing process. If you can’t find these bags, you can cure the pastrami in a roasting pan covered with foil.
To smoke and steam the pastrami, you will need around 4 yards of 18-inch-wide heavy-duty aluminum foil.
And you’ll need a very clean coffee or spice grinder for this recipe.
What to buy: It’s especially important that you use kosher salt here to ensure your quantity is correct. We prefer the Diamond Crystal brand, available in most grocery stores. If you use Morton kosher salt, you will need 1/4 cup. If you have another brand, weigh out 55 grams.
Curing salt, also known as pink salt or saltpeter, contains 6.25 percent sodium nitrite. It is colored pink so as not to be confused with regular salt. Curing salt is available at Butcher & Packer online.
Game plan: The entire curing, smoking, and cooking process takes at least 10 days, so plan accordingly. Since the smoking and steaming steps each take a few hours, we’ve added instructions on how to stop after smoking, and then proceed with steaming the next day.
This recipe was featured as part of our How to Make Oven-Smoked Pastrami project.