June 24th, 2010
I Love Pastrami.
I always have. Since I was a kid. Maybe it resonates with my Jewish DNA somehow.
A few weeks back I had some time to think about the coming decent weather we are supposed to have here in Oregon, any day now, so they have been telling us since April. As my patio has no cover, the summer months are prime smoking months.
So, the question before me was, what to smoke this summer.
My ribs are perfected. I can hold my own on salmon. My pulled pork gets raves. The brisket still needs work, but it’s an ordeal in a water smoker. So, I thought what else is there?
And then it hit me.
A pastrami is just a smoked corned beef brisket, I can do this.
As with all new projects, it took a bit of research before i felt comfortable actually contemplating a cook.
OK, lets start with the basics.
A corned beef brisket is a beef brisket that has been corned or cured using a brine. The brisket soaks in a salt solution flavored with Bay Leaf, Coriander, Black Pepper, Juniper Berries and Mustard Seed. Sodium Nitrate is added to give the meat its distinctive pink color.
After it has soaked for a week to ten days, what you have now is a corned beef.
To turn this into a pastrami, one merely coats it with a pepper based rub and smokes it. Now, commercially produced pastrami is cold smoked, that is, smoked at around 68 degrees. However, during my research, I found several hot smoke recipes, so I condensed them down into a very basic process so that I could tweek it as I went.
I purchased a 3 pound commercial corned beef and the local grocery and rinsed it off and discarded the enclosed spice packet. No need for it here.
Next, I placed it to soak in a pan of water for two hours. This was to remove some of the salt that the meat had picked up when it was cured.
While i was waiting I prepared my rub.
There was a plethora of rub recipes to choose from so I decided that for the first time out, I would use the KISS principal. All together, Keep It Simple Stupid.
I combined 3 tablespoons of black peppercorns, I teaspoon of whole coriander seeds , 1 teaspoon of whole mustard seed and 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic. I ground it up in my trusty coffee grinder and once the meet was done soaking I covered it in the rub and it was off to the smoker.
I used hickory, most of the recipes called for lighter woods such as maple and alder, but it was what i had on hand so I decided to go for it. I have been playing around with a new innovation that sadly I can not take credit for. I have replaced the chip box in my smoker with a cast iron frying pan. DUHHH!!!
It holds the heat beautifully and can accommodate a full bag of soaked chips. The down side is that it will take longer to start smoking but then it will last for 3 1/2 to four hours. Just be sure to cover the pan with foil and poke three or four good sized holes in it.
Once everything was ready it was off to the races.
Most of the experts agreed that the optimum temperature was in the 225-235 range, so that is what I used.
I was shooting for an internal temp of 160 degrees, but after four hours of smoking, my chips were exhausted and I had still only reached 140, so I decided to move my little science project to the oven. It went into a 300 degree oven for another hour until I got to 160.
It looked great, but the truth is in the tasting.
To be honest, I was surprised. It was pretty darned tasty. The smoke flavor was very prominent without being overpowering. There was a lot of heat from the pepper rub and there was noticeable saltiness from the brineing process. I will have to wait and see what some of my official tasters have to say before I call this one a win.
I have all ready figured out a few tweeks for my next attempt.
- They rub needs to be a ground a little coarser and I am going to increase the mustard and coriander to thin the pepper a bit.
- If I am going to continue to use store bought corned beef, it is going to have to soak longer, I am thinking 4 hours.
- As much as I love the hickory flavor, next time I am going to try two parts hickory to 1 part alder and 1 part cherry.
Stay tuned as I am going to stay at this until I get it right.