Steamed and sliced

I am not going to go on and on about Katz’s deli again. It is enough to merely point out that if you want REAL pastrami then you must go to a REAL delicatessen. Which brings me to the reason I chose to make this dish. Almost everything that is labeled pastrami in an average market, deli and (and this pains me) every outlet in Israel is not pastrami. In fact if you wander into an Israeli supermarket and ask for pastrami you will be shown to a cooler filled with pastrama a term that is attached to any cooked and sliced meat- much like “ham” is used in the U.S. As for the American stuff, it is usually some version of roast beef with some sort of pepper spice rub on the outside. It bears as much resemblance to real pastrami as a Carl Buddig product does to whole cuts of meat.

Now, pastrami is not a quick thing to make. It is a minimum 5 day process that some extend out to two weeks. Your first decision is whether to use a brine or dry cure. A dry cure is more traditional, but a brine cure will impart the same flavor and also boost the liquid content for a more moist cut of meat. The second choice is whether to seek beef plate or use the more commonly available brisket. The third choice is about smoking. You can in fact smoke without a smoker. By using an oven smoking bag or liquid smoke you can get the same flavor as a smoker. Since I really wanted to play with a smoker, and don’t have one, I waited until I was planning a trip to my parents so I could use theirs.

More after the break.


5 lb of brisket

1 gallon of water

450 g kosher salt (est. 2 cups)

100 g sugar (est. 1/2 cup)

25 g (1 oz) pink salt

3 cloves of garlic

2 tbls pickling spice

2 tbls toasted peppercorns

Combine everything except the peppercorns and the meat in a large pot. Heat until the salt and sugar dissolve. Let cool and then chill. Submerge the brisket in it and shove it to the back of your fridge for at least 5 days.

Remove brisket, rinse and pat dry. Crack peppercorns and rub over meat. Place in a smoker for 4-5 hours and then wrap in foil and transfer to a 300F oven for 3 more hours or when the internal temp has reached 200F for an hour (essential to breaking down the tough collagen into gelatin).

When ready to serve heat by placing in a covered pan with a small amount of water (traditionally this cut is steamed) and slice by hand across the grain of the meat. Serve on rye with sharp mustard.


Filed under Ashkenazi, Cured and Pickled, Deli, Jewish, Meat, Smoked

7 responses to “Pastrami

  1. Raffi

    Have you tried 2nd Avenue Deli?

    • gordon

      I have (& it was good), but since Katz’s was the place my father took me to as a youth it has become my dominant paradigm for delicatessens.

      • Gordon, I live out in the Phoenix area now, but when I lived in upper Manhattan I ate lunch almost every day at Katz’s deli. I went to school on 2nd ave. and 2nd st. I would get out of school at 12:30 and would have to wait around for 3 hours for basketball practice. What to do? Either Katz’s deli or Mc Soorley’s Pub. More times then not it was Katz’s. I still go there on my twice a year visits to NY and the quality is still the same. So are the furnishings. The tables, chairs, and even the cups for my Dr. Brown’s sodas are the same. It is like a time warp. Nothing seems to have changed since the early 70’s and probably before that. Keep talking about Katz’s since I will never tire of hearing it.

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  3. P. Jay

    My son and I are looking forward to trying out your reciepe. A couple of quick questions about the smoking part. I have an electric smoker that I usually use for making ribs. What kind of wood do you suggest to use? and What temperature should be maintained for the 4-5 hours? I am a former New Yorker who has instilled the world of Pastrami to my son. He is looking forward to working with me on this. I’ve even order pastrami from Katz’s deli delivered to me in California. Oy that’s good!

  4. gordon

    The wood is a matter of flavor. I think apple or hickory are both good choices. As for temperature, you are really trying to impart flavor, the cooking will be finished in the oven (or you can braise it) so I would keep it below 200 if possible (I don’t know if you have a cold smoker). Enjoy!

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