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Monday, March 5, 2012

Irish Pastrami

"Irish" Pastrami

Every year around St. Patrick's Day corned beef briskets go on sale. Corned beef and cabbage is a big Irish-American tradition in the U.S., after all. While I enjoy a good pot of corned beef and cabbage, every once in a while I want some delicious pastrami and it's really hard to beat home made.

Pastrami, a Romanian discovery, is traditionally made from beef naval that is brined before being seasoned and smoked. But, brining beef is a time consuming process. That's where the corned beef comes in. Corned beef is already brined and ready to be turned into delicious pastrami. Because corned beef is brisket rather than beef naval meat from which pastrami is traditionally made, and because I usually make pastrami around St. Patrick's Day when I can get corned beef at a good price, I call this version "Irish" pastrami. The hard work brining the meat has already been done. Here is what you will need to make this delicious treat.

1 Corned beef brisket
Vegetable oil
3 TBS coarsely ground black pepper
1 TBS granulated garlic
1 TBS ground coriander
1 TBS Smoked Paprika
A smoker/grill setup for indirect heat at 350 degrees F
1 Golf ball sized chunk of white oak (or other mild smoking wood)

When choosing a corned beef brisket, I look for one that has the seasonings in a bag rather than already applied to the meat because they aren't needed for pastrami. I also look for even thickness all around. This is important to promote even cooking. Once I have the perfect corned brisket, I soak it in cool water in my refrigerator for at least 12 hours to remove excess salt. I also change the water 3 or 4 times during the soak.

Soaked Corned Brisket
After the soak, it's time to start trimming and seasoning the brisket. I don't trim much. I just remove the excess fat from the top and edges of the brisket and as much of the silver skin as practical. I leave the fat cap on the bottom of the brisket. I think it helps retain moisture in the meat and also helps protect the bottom of the meat (I cook it fat cap down) from excess heat. I do, however, remove the fat cap before I slice the pastrami.

Pastrami seasoning
Apply a thin coat of vegetable oil to the brisket. This helps the seasoning adhere to the meat. Mix the pepper, garlic, paprika, and coriander and liberally apply it to the top and sides of the brisket. There is no need to heavily season the bottom because that's where the fat cap is and it will prevent seasoning from sticking to the meat anyway.

Pastrami on the Smoker
After the rub has been applied to the corned brisket, I make sure my smoker is ready to go. I only use 1 golf ball sized chunk of white oak for smoke. When the smoke exiting my smoker is a clear vapor and the temp is steady at 350 degrees F, I put the brisket in the cooker and let it cook for two hours before peaking again to check the progress.

Pastrami in the Smoker
Wrap with a double layer of foil
To the left is a photo of the pastrami after 2 hours of cooking. Now, it's time to wrap the brisket in a double layer of heavy duty foil.

After two more hours of cooking while wrapped in foil (about 4 hours total cook time) I checked the internal temperature of the pastrami. When it reached an internal temperature of at least 195 degrees F in the thickest part, I removed the pastrami from the smoker, unwrapped it and let it cool and refrigerated it over night.

The next day, it was time to enjoy the delicious, tender pastrami. Slice it thin against the grain of the meat (very important). Serve it anyway you like. Some like to slice it thin and steam it until it's hot and serve on rye bread with some spicy mustard. Some like to eat it cold. Either way, it's delicious.

By the way, the red color of the meat is caused by the brining process. The meat is very well done since it reached 195 degrees F, so it's not rare at all. It's just a nice red, corned beef / pastrami color.

"Irish" Pastrami

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