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A&E >  Cooking

Water Cooler: Decadent pastrami at home

UPDATED: Wed., June 2, 2021

Since New York’s Katz’s Delicatessen isn’t available in Spokane, try making your own pastrami at home.  (Associated Press)
Since New York’s Katz’s Delicatessen isn’t available in Spokane, try making your own pastrami at home. (Associated Press)

Pastrami is the cured king of the delicatessen with its perfect tenderness and distinct blend of peppery, smoky and tangy flavor that can only be created through a long brining process.

Similar to corned beef, the brining process originally served as a means of preservation prior to refrigeration. Corned beef and pastrami actually use the same brine, but pastrami is then covered in spices and smoked whereas corned beef is typically boiled. Some pastrami recipes call for boiling as well as smoking.

Another primary difference is that pastrami was typically made from a beef plate cut, which sits just below the rib, whereas beef brisket, which is taken from the breastbone area, has been the primary choice for corned beef. Brisket has become a popular choice for pastrami over time, however, as both cuts are similar in their toughness and fat content.

Brining meat at home can be a bit intimidating, but the process is perfectly safe as long as you have the correct wet curing calculations. For a thorough explanation of the science behind wet curing as well as a handy wet curing calculator, visit This will help you customize your measurements if you use a different amount of meat than specified in a recipe. It is recommended to use weighted measurements for the kosher and curing salt to ensure accurate brine calculations.

Here’s what you will need when curing about one half brisket:

5-6 pounds of brisket

1 gallon of water

226 grams (about 8 ounces) of kosher salt

12 grams (about 2 teaspoons) of Prague powder No. 1

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

2 tablespoons whole peppercorns

4 bay leaves

2 teaspoons cloves

Three cloves crushed garlic

Five juniper berries

Two cinnamon sticks

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

To start, divide the brisket by separating the point from the flat (or just dividing in half to keep it simple.). In a large container, combine all of the curing ingredients. Add distilled or boiled water to ensure food safety, and stir to dissolve the salts and sugar. Drop the brisket in the brine, and use a food-safe weight such as a heavy plate to weigh down the meat and ensure it is fully submerged.

Place in the refrigerator for at least five days and up to 10 . Flip the brisket everyday to ensure even brine exposure. Once the meat is done curing, dump the brine, wash the container and refill with water. Place the brisket back into the water for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator to desalinate the meat.

Combine the following to create the pastrami spice:

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

2 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 ½ tablespoons coriander seeds

1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

Coarsely grind the spices in a spice grinder, blender or food processor. Pat the spices onto warm pastrami to ensure it sticks to the surface. Heat a smoker to 225 degrees and smoke the brisket for about 6 to 7 hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Transfer the brisket to a baking sheet with a wire rack. Pour a cup or two of hot water into the tray and cover the tray with aluminum foil.

Ensure the foil is tightly wrapped around the edges of the tray but is tented above the meat in order to avoid direct contact with it. Cook for two hours in a 325-degree oven for two hours or until the internal temperature reaches at least 195 degrees . Let rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing.

If you don’t have a smoker, cook the brisket on the tray and covered with foil at 200 degrees for 12 hours.

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