Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Homemade Pastrami (Smoked Corned Beef)

So, you've been watching the Food Network channel again, and you're shaking your head at why, on God's earth, anyone would take the time to cut a whole-untrimmed brisket out of a cow, brine/cure it, de-salinate it, then spend 24 hours spicing and smoking it!?  I'll tell you why they do it... because it is FREAKING DELICIOUS and it is the best homemade pastrami you or your friends will ever eat!



You will need:
  • 1 whole, untrimmed, corned beef brisket
  • 1 Cup of Pastrami Rub
    • 1/4 cup of cracked black pepper
    • 1/4 cup of smoked paprika
    • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup of Chili Powder
  • 1 Smoker (with lots of wood (I used Mesquite))
All pastrami starts with corned beef.  Sadly, most stores only sell the corned beef "Flat" and not the whole brisket.  If that's all you can find, it will work but it won't be quite as juicy because you'll be missing most of the fat cap, and other marvelous parts of the whole brisket.  Google around and see if you can find one.  Don't buy anything with the word "cut" in the label.  For heaven's-sakes, you don't want one that's already sliced!  That's YOUR job!

I source my corned beef from Restaurant Depot.  You can see here, I found one that weighed a ridiculous 26lbs!  It was 27 inches long and just a "Brute!"  I joked with some "Big Green Egg" smoker users that it would not fit on a 24" XL egg.  They all got defensive and scolded me, "Oh yeah?  Well it would fit on mine, I know it would!"  Ok, if you can fit a 27" peg into a 24" hole, I'd love to see it.  Big Green Egg people are so crazy, but I digress...

Take your corned beef brisket out of its packaging and drain the ooze.  Slide it right into a bucket of cold water, and stash the buck into the fridge.  Why?  Salt!  Corned beef is brined/cured and loaded with salt.  When you put this thing onto the smoker, you'll be rendering fat and moisture out of it and thus, concentrating the salt.  Trust me, taking some of the salty brine back out of this beast before smoking is critical.  I soak it for an hour per pound which means, 26 hours for me!  Change the water out with fresh ice water every couple of hours because the salt that leaches out will end up in the water and you'll want to flush it way every now and then.

After the soaking, lay it out onto a stable work surface and notice that you won't seem to stop it from oozing water!  Yes, it's water-logged... just keep pressing and dabbing with paper towels until you get the water out.  You'll be left with a giant pink slab of corned, de-salinated brisket that looks very sad.  Do NOT stop at this point and think, "What have I done?  This can't possibly ever taste good, I mean, just LOOK at it!"  Settle down, it will be OK!

Mix up your rub and get to spreading it all over.  Press the rub as deep as you can into the cracks, crevasses, folds, etc.  Rub and press, press and rub, sip an adult beverage and remind yourself that very few people in the world are dedicated enough to take three days to cook a piece of meat!  Those people are NOT "Crazy," they are respected and revered as "Culinary Beasts!"

Now, wrap the entire thing in a cocoon of plastic wrap, and leave it out on the counter to rest it up to room temperature (at least 4 hours, no more than 12). If your brisket is as big as mine was, you may need a buddy to help you flip and turn it while you wrap it up tightly.  Wrap it tightly enough so that it doesn't leak or that the dogs won't sniff it out!

Ok, several hours later, the rub should have melted into the meat, and it should all be up to room temperature.  Get your smoker ready!  Remember, you're looking for a thin blue wisp of smoke out of the stack (Nearer of the two smokers in this picture), NOT a thick white billowy "Summon a new Pope" kind of smoke (Farther of the two)!

Pre-heat your smoker to 225 degrees and when you have good smoke, a good bed of coals, and the temperature is right, lay the beast onto the bed of your cooking chamber.

Here comes the hard part... Keep in cooking/smoking at 225 for an hour per pound.  For me, that was 26 hours!  If everything comes together as it should, the internal temperature of the brisket should be touching 200 degrees at that time.

The brisket won't take any additional smoke after about 12 hours so if you want to wrap it in foil, and bring it into the house and into your oven at 225 for the other 12 hours, that works just fine!  Keep a temperature probe inserted and keep an eye on it.  It will "Stall" at 165 for awhile but just wait it out... Once it melts away the connective tissues, it will continue to rise!

When it hits 200, it will be done and it will need to "Rest" for 45 minutes or so.  Just take it out of the cooking chamber, cover it with foil and let it sit all by itself.  I know, I know, it looks like a giant black lump of coal... just wait!

After it's done resting, take a deep breath!  You've worked hard for this moment!  You've soaked, rubbed, rested, and smoked this damn thing for hours and hours!

Start slicing against the grain and behold, you'll have a dark red, fall-apart hunk of homemade pastrami!  Wow, is it ever good!  You've had a Reuben sandwich, right?  It's time to build Reuben's hot cousin; "Rachael!"  Get some think pumpernickel bread, smear on some dressing, a bit of kraut, and then heap on some pastrami while it's still hot... There's no better sandwich in the world!!

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