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The Pursuit Of Pastrami Excellence

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.

Rubbed and Ready

Rubbed and Ready

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!!!

Chip Pan 2.0

Chip Pan 2.0

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.

Ready To Go

Ready To Go

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.

Finished Product

Finished Product

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Unicorn Meat?

June 24th, 2010

Who does not like Pork.

Can anyone reading this pass on a side of Bacon, a moist grilled pork chop, a marinated pork tenderloin.

No, I think just about everyone loves pork, or, as The National Pork Board would have us think of it, “The Other White Meat”

The problem is, The National Pork Board does not like unicorn meat, especially when it is marketed as “The New White Meat”.

As a matter of fact, their lawyers sent a cease and desist order to the owners of my favorite website,, after, as an April Fools prank, the company offered canned unicorn meat for sale.  They do this every April 1st.

Now, anyone who has done business with them know they are famous for their prank products, like The Dharma Initiative Alarm Clock or Squeeze Bacon.  What is interesting is that some of their customer favorites go on to become real best selling products.

Not so in this case, just another prank product, just a laugh for the customers.

Well, no one was laughing when this letter arrived at ThinkGeek HQ.

Proof positive that lawyers have no freaking sense of humor.

Well, ThinkGeek has removed the offending ad and offered a ten dollar discount to any customer that took offense to their little prank.

“It was never our intention to cause a national crisis and misguide American citizens regarding the differences between the pig and the unicorn,” said Scott Kauffman, president and CEO of Geeknet. “In fact, ThinkGeek’s canned unicorn meat is sparkly, a bit red, and not approved by any government entity.”

Can I Still Do This?

June 21st, 2010

I had pretty given up on writing.  There really is nothing new to rant about.  It has all been the same stuff, repeated over and over.  I guess I had given up, but, as I sit here on the cusp of another melt down, I realize that the cathartic value of writing this page was something I vastly underestimated.

It came on, as it always seems at first, out of the blue, and on reflection, as they always are, the warning signs were all there.

Thoughts of self harm, hopelessness , things slipping out of control.

Those closest to me, that really know me, must be thinking “What the hell is wrong with this guy, he is on top of the world, he finally got his shit together, got an incredible woman, what the hell does he have to be depressed about?”

Like an alcoholic who thinks he has beaten his disease, I failed to recognize one infallible truth, that I will be dealing with this for the rest of my life.  I thought, wrongly, that I had this thing beat, so, like our fictional addict, I stopped working my program, ignored the warning signs, and here I am again,  one step away from another visit to the happy house.

I had an incredible weekend.  Cooking as a housewarming present for some new friends,spending time with Mona, why should I acknowledge the fact that I was not eating right, not meditating, not sleeping, not managing my stresses both at work and at home, not exercising…not doing anything that would allow me to continue living this wonderful life that fate has handed me.

I ignored the thoughts of self harm, I must just be tired, after all, I would never do anything like that, right?

I allowed my personal affairs to slide into disarray, those dishes piling up, the laundry left undone, clothes not put away, I am just busy right?  I will catch up NEXT weekend, but next weekend never came, but hey, thats life.

Why should I worry about the emotional highs and lows that seemed to come at random, everyone has moods that change in a matter of moments, I am NORMAL dammit!

I mean, there I was, stressed to my very core that I was going to somehow ruin a meal I had made a hundred times, telling myself that even if they enjoyed it, they were only saying so to be polite, even though I know rationally that my BBQ rocks.

So I hear I sit, trying desperately to undo a months worth of harmful behavior, trying to decide if I need to go to the hospital after another night of tossing and turning.

I want to enjoy this life I have made for myself…I have everything I need, real friends who love me for who I am, not what I can do for them, a good job that, deep down, and don’t tell my boss this, that I enjoy and find challenging, and an incredible woman who is determined to see me through my darkest of days and who acknowledges that she can’t fix my problems, only support me while I fix them myself.

I want desperately to do right by all these people, but the only way to that is to do right by myself.

To those of you reading this who are new to my life, let me assure you, YOU did not cause this, YOU can not fix this, only I can.

To those of you who have been down this road with me before, well, here we go again.  I have had a real good example of what can happen when these type of issues are not dealt with and that is a road I refuse to travel.

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