Culinary historians believe the highly seasoned, smoked, juicy, bright pink beef in a dark robe, was invented by poor Jews in schtetls.Today, most pastrami is made from beef brisket or navel (a.k.a. plate), tough, stringy, fatty, cheap cuts. The process turns it tender and succulent.
Pastrami is good any time, day or night.Pastrami is a smoked and cured deli meat made from the beef navel plate. It is seasoned with a flavorful spice mixture that typically includes garlic, coriander, black pepper, paprika, cloves, allspice, and mustard seed.
What’s the difference between Pastrami and corned beef ?
The deli counter is full of pressing questions — because while you may have some vague understanding that pastrami and corned beef are two different things, and that one might be better than the other, you may be stuck on the how or why. Here are the major points of differentiation between the two, because no meat should ever be a mystery.
Pastrami and corned beef have different countries of origin: Pastrami has two possible ancestries: It’s either Romanian (where its predecessor, pastrama, was made with pork or mutton) or Turkish (where it’d be a descendent of pastirma, made with beef). Corned beef hails from Ireland, which is why it’s eaten on St. Patrick’s Day.
Pastrami and corned beef are different cuts of meat: Today’s corned beef and pastrami are both made from beef, albeit different parts of the animal. Corned beef is made from brisket, which comes from the lower chest of the cow; pastrami is either made from a cut called the deckle, a lean, wide, firm shoulder cut, or the navel, a smaller and juicier section right below the ribs. These days, you may also see pastrami made from brisket.
Pastrami and corned beef do have the same brine: Pastrami and corned beef are brined before they’re cooked; they’re either rubbed with or submerged in a solution of salt and spices to infuse the meat with more moisture and flavor. Both are brined in a mixture of salt, sugar, black pepper, cloves, coriander, bay leaves, juniper berries, and dill, as well as the preservatives sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite.
Pastrami and corned beef have different spice mixes: Here’s when things really start to differ. After brining, pastrami gets coated in a mixture of black pepper, coriander, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and sometimes fresh garlic; that spice coating is what gives it its blackened appearance. Corned beef is… naked. No spice mix to speak of.
Pastrami and corned beef have different cooking methods: Pastrami is smoked over hardwood, oftentimes with a pan of water nearby, which helps create steam and keep the meat moist. It’s then cooled and then steamed before serving. Corned beef is… boiled. Sometimes with cabbage and other accoutrements in the mix, too.
Bonus round: If you’ve ever been to Montreal, you may be wondering: What does “smoked meat” have to do with all this? Smoked meat is a Canadian specialty that pulls from the same themes as corned beef and pastrami, but has a story arc of its own. It’s made with brisket and is brined in a mixture of black pepper, coriander, garlic, and mustard seeds — but with much less sugar than its pastrami and corned-beef cousins. It’s then smoked, like pastrami, and is best layered onto rye bread with mustard for serving — just like the rest of family.
What to Eat with Pastrami :
Preparing a scrumptious pastrami sandwich for lunch and need a few sides to round out your meal? While you can’t go wrong with classic potato chips, I have a few other these tasty suggestions below. Oh, and don’t forget a tasty pickle spear!
Making Perfect Homemade Pastrami !!
- 3-4 lbs beef brisket
- 6 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 tbsp whole yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp pickling spice
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup pink curing salt
- 1 cup osher salt
- 3 quarts water
Spice Rub Ingredients :
- 1/4 cup ground coriander
- 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp smoked paprika
- To make the brine, fill a medium to large stockpot with 3 quarts water. Add the kosher and pink salts, granulated and brown sugars, honey, pickling spice, coriander and mustard seeds, and garlic. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often to fully dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Immediately remove the pot from the heat once the brine boils.Add 3 quarts ice cold water to a 2-gallon or larger food-safe container that will fit in your refrigerator. Pour the brine into the container and place the container, uncovered, in the refrigerator until completely cool. We divided the brine evenly between two separate containers so that it would fit in the refrigerator.
- Trim the fat from the brisket until the fat layer is about 1/4 inch thick.
- If necessary, cut the brisket in half so that it will fit into your container(s).
- Submerge the brisket in the cooled brine.Allow the brisket to brine in the refrigerator for 5 days, flipping it daily top to bottom and stirring the brine. Make sure that if any of the brisket sides are touching one another you regularly turn them away from each other to expose all of the sides to the brine.
- To cook the brisket, pour 4 cups water into the bottom of a 12 by 15 inch roasting pan. Set a rack inside the pan and place the brisket on the rack, fatty side down.
- To make the spice rub, mix together the coriander, pepper and paprika in a small bowl. Evenly rub 1/4 cup of the mixture onto the top of the brisket. Then flip the brisket and rub the remaining spice mixture onto the fatty side. Allow the brisket to come to room temperature, about 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees with a rack low enough to fit the pan holding the brisket. Tightly cover the brisket and pan with a double layer of aluminum foil.
- Bake until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees, about 1 hour per pound or 3-4 hours total.
- Without trimming the fat, carve the pastrami into 1/4 inch thick slices, or cut as thin as possible without the meat falling apart. Keep tightly wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- SAFETY NOTE: handle the pink curing salt with care and keep it out of reach of children. It is used in pastrami and other cured meats to kill bacteria, prevent botulism and add flavor. However it is extremely toxic if ingested directly; in fact, it's colored pink to prevent people from mistaking it for regular salt. When used with care in recipes like this, it is very safe and necessary for proper flavor and food safety. That said, you should know the risks and keep the curing salt properly labeled and out of the reach of children.
Tips for Making Homemade PastramiHold up! Take note of these tips before you dive into making this pastrami!
- Enjoy as you please! This pastrami is awesome sliced and served warm after resting. For a traditional deli experience, enjoy this in a sandwich! Allow the pastrami to cool completely, and then steam to heat through before serving. I like it both ways!
- Switch up your meat. The traditional approach is to use brisket, but round or rump roasts also work great for pastrami. I’ve even seen adventurous BBQers make pastrami whole beef ribs. If you’re planning on using a different meat, make sure to adjust your cure ratios and times to accommodate for larger or thicker pieces of meat.
- Toast those spices. In the recipe card, I walk you through toasting your spices for the Pastrami rub. Don’t skip this step as it makes such a huge difference in the final product and the flavor of that pastrami seasoning. And after the long process of curing the meat, what’s a few extra minutes to get the seasoning just right?