Today is National Hot Pastrami Day!

In honor of National Hot Pastrami Day today, we’re sharing a recipe that is close to the recipe that the renowned Katz’s Deli uses in their New York City institution.


4 pounds of good corned beef, preferably home made (click for recipe)
4 tablespoons fresh coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
4 to 8 ounces of smoke wood

1) Make your own corned beef. It is just plain better than storebought. For pastrami, the flat section of the brisket is favored by many because it makes nice even slices for sandwiches, but I prefer the point section of the brisket because it is fattier, richer, and more tender. Yes, it sometimes breaks apart, but who notices on a sammy? If you can get it, go for navel (a.k.a. plate). But it can also be made from flank steak, or leaner cuts. If you are using brisket, one side of the meat will probably have a thick layer of fat on it called the cap. Remove all of the fat cap except about 1/8″ and if there is any filmy membrane on the other side, remove it all. That thin layer of fat is important. The process takes about a week.

2) Desalinate. Put the corned beef in a pot slightly larger than the meat and cover it with cold water in the fridge for at least 8 hours. This removes excess salt. Trust me, you need to do this or you will be gulping water all night after your meal.

3) Rub. Make the rub by blending together all the spices. Rinse the meat, pat it dry with paper towels, coat it with a thin layer of cooking oil, apply the rub liberally, about 4 tablespoons per squre foot of surface, and press it into the surface to help it adhere. If there is a thin part of meat, use less rub. Put in the fridge for a minimum of 2 days. My best batch sat for almost a week.

4) Smoke. Set up your smoker or your grill for smoking. You will find instructions for this in myTips & Techniques section. If you can, use a charcoal smoker. It produces a deeper darker crust than gas, electric, or even pellets, but it still comes out fabulous on a pellet burner or gasser. Preheat to 225°F. Pick your wood. I don’t think it makes a huge difference with all the other flavors banging around in there. My best batch was with cherry wood. Smoke it fat-side up over indirect heat at 225°F until it reaches 190°F to 200°F. Add wood when the smoke dwindles. If you wish you can smoke it for 3 to 4 hours and finish it indoors, but this stuff can take all the smoke you throw at it, so outdoors is better. It could take 12 hours or more depending on the thickness.

5) Chill. When it is done cooking, go ahead and cut a taste. I know you want to. All the flavor is there, but it may still be a bit chewy. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. You can keep it for a week if you wish.

6) Steam. When it is time to serve it is time to heat and tenderize. If you have a bamboo or metal steamer in which the meat will fit, you can use that. If not, take large hunks, not slices, and put it on a wire rack in a baking pan. Pour water in the pan right up to the rack, but don’t get the meat wet or the rub will wash off. Cover with foil but don’t let the foil touch the meat. The salt might interact and create electrical charges that can melt the foil. Put the pan on a burner, turn on the heat, and steam it an hour until heated through to 200°F, about an hour, maybe more, depending on the thickness, adding hot water as needed, making sure the pan never dries out. Don’t rush this. Take it to 200°F.

7) Slicing. Slicing is crucial to maximize tenderness. Look at the meat and notice which way the grain is running. Cut it by hand in thin slices, about 1/8″ thick, perpendicular to the grain. If you cut parallel to the grain it will be much chewier. Don’t try to slice it with a machine. It will just fall apart.

8) Serve. I serve it nekkid on fresh untoasted rye bread. A good brown mustard on both slices and a few shreds of sauerkraut is nice but not necessary. Now this is going to sound wierd: It may need a light sprinkling of salt. The soaking process occasionally removes too much. So taste it and if you wish, sprinkle it on lightly. At Katz’s they put about 1 pound of meat on each sandwich, and the Carnegie Deli uses even more. That’s just too much for me devour without unhinging my jaw. 1/2 to 3/4 pound per sandwich is more than enough for home use. If you want, you can make a Rockin’ Pastrami Reuben with sauerkraut, melted swiss, and thousand island dressing. Reubens were originally made with corned beef, but there’s no rule that you can’t make one from pastrami. In fact, I highly recommend it.


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