Why is it that pastrami is one of the deli's most sought-after meats, yet it is one of the least understood? From it's black peppercorn crust to it's beautifully red center, pastrami has always peaked my curiosity. From childhood, I vividly remember pastrami on rye sandwiches, pastrami and tomato submarines, and even pastrami and cheese roll up appetizers. For as much as I loved pastrami, curiosity drove me to question what this mystery meat actually was.
In essence, Pastrami is a slow smoked slab of corned beef that has been rubbed in a salt-less black pepper and coriander heavy rub. And yes, I said corned beef. You can stop thinking about stewed cabbage and stinky meat in a crock pot, this is nothing like that. In order to explain to you pastrami, I must first explain the mystery that is corned beef.
The term "corned" is a misnomer. When beef [or any other meat for that matter] is "corned" that just means that it has been salt cured. Back when curing meat was a necessity for preservation, the local butcher would rub large salt crystals to the meat. These salt crystals were called "Corns of Salt" because of their corn kernel size. Hence the term "Corned Beef" Fast-forward to today, when we take this salt cured beef and smoke it with a specific black pepper rub, it becomes pastrami. But there is one vital piece of information missing. What is the exact cut of beef that is the pastrami, you ask? It's brisket! That's right, pastrami = corned beef = brisket! They are all the same cut of meat, the front shoulder of the bovine.
I was given the opportunity to test out The Spice Hut's "Lemon Pepper" seasoning recently and as soon as I tasted it, I knew that this rub would be a pastrami goldmine. With heavy notes of coriander, light lemon bitterness, a bold black pepper bite, and no salt, I was excited to try this spice in my meat smoking experiments. The reason why a prerequisite for pastrami rub is to be salt-less is because the corned beef has already been salt cured. Any added salt in the rub will over salinate the flavor profile and ruin the cook.
Needless to say, It did NOT disappoint. Below is my recipe for home-made pastrami goodness.
-1-3 pounds store bought Corned Beef Brisket
-1 roll paper towels
-1/4 Cup The Spice Hut Lemon Pepper Spice
-1/4 Cup Generic Yellow Mustard
-Smoking wood of choice
1) Remove corned beef brisket from the fridge and let it rest until it reaches room temperature. Once at room temperature, remove from packaging and pat down dry completely with paper towels.
2) Once the corned beef brisket is dried off, apply a healthy amount of yellow mustard to the outside, coating it evenly.
3) After the corned beef brisket is completely covered with yellow mustard, take The Spice Hut Lemon Pepper seasoning and apply an even coating to the outside of the corned beef brisket. Once the corned beef is evenly coated, let it rest at room temperature until your grill or smoker is ready.
4) Fire up your grill or smoker. Optimal smoking temperature is 200-225 degrees fahrenheit. Once this temperature is reached, you can put the pastrami on.
5) Using a thermometer, smoke the pastrami until the internal temperature reaches about 130 degrees fahrenheit. It should only take about an hour or two to cook at those temperatures.
6) This is the most important step, LET IT REST. You'll hear this time and time again. From Gordan Ramsey to Moe Caeson. Let your beef rest. Ideally, what you want to do is wrap that pastrami in butcher paper and let it rest in the fridge for 12-24 hours before cutting into it. I know this is a bit absurd, but trust me it's worth the wait.
7) That's it, after the rest, you have a perfectly smoked, lemon pepper pastrami! This coriander, black pepper, and lemon flavored spice is exactly the spice that is perfect for a good pastrami cure. You'll be absolutely blown away with how delicious these flavor combinations lend themselves to each other.
Pro BBQ Tip: Because the pastrami is brisket, which in and of itself is a tough cut of meat, it needs to be sliced super thin for optimal tenderness. I recommend stopping off at your local butcher's and ask him to kindly slice your pastrami for you.
Happy Smoking as Always