Mike LangGrilling, Beef

An ode to Pastrami

Mike LangGrilling, Beef
An ode to Pastrami

I love celebrating St. Patrick's Day, but not in the modern/traditional sense. I'm too old, and mostly irritable, for the amateur hour tour de force of green beer and over indulgence. I am, however, all about getting up for a Guinness breakfast, sipping some Irish whiskey, or enjoying an Irish stout or four. I also consider St. Patricks' Day a gateway to Spring. I'm all about celebrating anything mentioning warmer weather!

In terms of grilling, it might come as a surprise, but I've never corned my own beef or worse, smoked my own pastrami. I have "grilled" corned beef, but I "cheated" and bought my beef already brined. In hindsight, I have had my St. Patrick's Day priorities reversed.

No more.

It's just a matter of salt.

Corning is an older term for a wet brine. "Back in the day," salt crystals were described as cereal grains, resembling corn kernels, thus corning, the process of soaking meat in a salt water solution is a brine. A brine is an easy way to add moisture to meat and in the case of corned beef, traditionally made with beef brisket, early immigrants to the United States found it a delicious yet cheaper alternative to pork.

Corned beef and pastrami are kissing cousins. Corned beef is cooked in a water bath, pastrami is smoked or as the fantastic Michael Ruhlman opines, pastrami is "corned beef under a smoky crust." Yes, smoke!

It's just a matter of time.

Brines can range anywhere from 5 - 10%. Most of the brines I found were somewhere in the middle. The only difference between brine percentages is time. A lower percentage brine might need more time. A higher percentage, less.

I opted for a 10-pound brisket flat and a higher percentage brine. As with all things salt, a "salty" brine yields a salty piece of meat. Although pastrami is smoked to an internal temperature of 150° F, it is often finished by either being slowly cooked in water or steamed. A middle approach would be to use the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker (WSM) and take it to a final temp of 200° F. Since the WSM is a purist low and slow approach, I opted for the traditional hot smoke/water. Also, since I didn't desalinate the meat ahead of cooking, I found the water bath as a more efficient substitute. If the plan is to WSM the whole way, cut back to a 5% brine.

by Mike Lang - with many thanks to Michael Ruhlman, Taylor Boetticher, and Toponia Miller.

The Brine

8 liters water
700 grams kosher salt
500 grams sugar
84 grams pink salt
16 grams Pickling Spice

10-pound beef brisket, flat, trimmed of excess fat.
2 Tablespoon black peppercorns
2 Tablespoon coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon mustard seeds

In a large pot, add the brine ingredients.

Heat until it simmers and then stir occasionally until the ingredients have dissolved. Here's the most important part, remove the brine from heat and allow to cool....as in very cool. Preferably in the refrigerator. The meat needs to be added to the brine so it "brines" and not cooks. 

Submerge the beef in the brine. It needs to be weighted down to ensure maximum surface coverage. Store sealed in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Once the time is up, remove the beef from the brine. Rinse with water and pat dry with paper towels. 

Place the peppercorns, coriander seeds, and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind till coarse.

Cover the brisket with the rub.

Prepare the smoker for direct low heat, 200°-250° F. Add several large wood chunks, in my case, a mixture of apple and cherry.

Smoke the brisket until it reaches an internal temperature of 150°F, which takes about 5-6 hours.

Remove from the smoker and allow to rest. 


Heat the oven to 275° F. Fill a dutch oven with about an inch of water. Place the beef in the water. Heat the dutch oven on the stove top until the water begins to simmer. Then, cover, and transfer to the oven.

Slow roast for 3 hours.

The slow-roast does two things, it ensures a tender pastrami and helps to remove some of the salt from the brining process.  Yes, I know using an oven is sacrilege. However, since the dutch oven is covered, using the grill isn't adding anything. With that said, if you still have plenty of heat left, the grill is a great option. For me, I have to use the oven at least once a year, so I remember how. This seemed like as good of time as any!

With the pastrami fork tender, remove from the water, and allow to rest for an hour. Slice against the grain, and serve!