The Pastrami Project

My dad and I have been working on this awesome project. When we were at Katz’s Deli in NYC, we had a delicious platter of corned beef, pastrami and brisket. Inspired, we took on the project of making our own corned beef and pastrami ourselves, from scratch. 

Day One - January 8, 2014

Day One – January 8, 2014

The final two ingredients for our pastrami project finally came in – two whole packer briskets and Instacure #1. Each brisket weighed about 13 pounds and the Instacure came from Amazon. Step one was to trim the two briskets – remove the point from the flap and trim off most of the fat. The pieces that would become corned beef needed all of the outer fat removed, while we left a little of the outer fat on the pastrami pieces.

Day One - January 8, 2014

Day One – January 8, 2014

Meanwhile, I made the cure. Water plus a whole bunch of salt and a whole bunch of spices. All of the spices shown here went into it plus mace, juniper berries and cardamon seeds. I boiled the spice mixture to get the salt to dissolve, then combined it with cold water to cool it off.

Day One - January 8, 2014

Day One – January 8, 2014

When the trimming was finished, we had four pieces of meat, about 3.5 pounds each. The pieces with the visible layer of fat will be the pastrami, the leaner ones will be the corned beef. We also ended up with 12 pounds of beef fat.

Day One - January 8, 2014

Day One – January 8, 2014

All four pieces of meat went into the big bucket-o-brine – don’t worry, it’s a food safe bucket of brine. We also used a turkey roasting bag to make it extra food safe. Look at that beautiful meat and all those lovely spices. 

We held the meat down using a plate and it took up my entire fridge for 10 days. During that time, we rearranged the meat about once a day. The goal was for all of the edges of the meat to have a chance to be exposed to the brine.

Day Eleven - January 18, 2014

Day Eleven – January 18, 2014

Once the curing process was over, the meat was ready for the next part of the adventure. The pastrami pieces went into a big pot of cold water for 12 hours to desalinate. The corned beef pieces were ready to cook, but we didn’t want to eat them until the next day, so they returned to the brine for one more day.

Day Eleven - January 18, 2014

Day Eleven – January 18, 2014

After they finished their soak, we dried off the pastrami pieces, coated them lightly with cooking oil and a hefty sprinkling of our spice mixture. 

Day Eleven - January 18, 2014

Day Eleven – January 18, 2014

Spice mixture coating both pieces of the pastrami. The mixture contains pepper, coriander, mustard powder, brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. Now, this is going back into the fridge for another week.

Day Twelve - January 19, 2014

Day Twelve – January 19, 2014

Finally time to actually cook something! The corned beef goes into a large pot of water and is boiled (simmered, really) for 30 minutes. Change the water and repeat, this time boiling (simmering) for 3.5 hours. When it was done, it looked like a brown hunk of meat. Not exactly beautiful until we cut into it…

Day Eleven - January 19, 2014

Day Eleven – January 19, 2014

On the left is the flat, which is the leaner cut of meat. The point (on the right) was definitely tastier. Both were absolutely delicious – the point was just juicer, probably due to the higher fat content. Plus, when does the leaner version of something ever taste as good as full fat?

Day Eleven - January 29, 2014

Day Eleven – January 19, 2014

I had a stack of meat on a plate for lunch. Everyone else made ruebens. Everyone thoroughly enjoy the meal.

Day Seventeen - January 25, 2014

Day Seventeen – January 25, 2014

Finally time to pull the pastrami out of the fridge. We set up the smoker and started out with apple wood. About halfway through, we used some hickory wood and near the end, some cherry.

Day Seventeen - January 25, 2014

Day Seventeen – January 25, 2014

The meat went on the smoker (left) around 10 a.m. We kept the pit temperature around 225 degrees. Five hours in (middle) and the meat had hit its stall. It was sitting comfortably around 170 degrees and wasn’t budging. This is the part of smoking where you learn patience. One of the pieces of meat moved out of its stall and the other still wasn’t budging, so we eventually went out and swapped their positions on the smoker. Then, they both were headed in the right direction again. Shortly after 10pm (right), the meat had finally come to the temperature we were looking for.

We took it inside, tried a little piece (it was chewy) and wrapped it in aluminum foil. The meat needs to completely cool off before heating it to eat.

Day Eighteen - January 26, 2014

Day Eighteen – January 26, 2014

At some point, we realized that we didn’t actually have a steamer large enough for these pieces of meat, so dad made one from a sheet of grill-steel and some nuts, bolts and washers. We steamed the meat for a little over two hours, until it reached an internal temperature of 203 degrees. After a long wait, it was finally ready to eat. And it was delicious. The flavors and textures were truly unlike anything I’ve ever eaten.

In the end, we came to a few conclusions:

  • Yes, this is something that we would do again.
  • We used too much spice rub on the pastrami – it was tastier if we knocked a bit of it off before eating.
  • I (Connor) prefer the Corned Beef over the Pastrami. Of course, that’s the same conclusion I came to at Katz’s, so it really wasn’t a huge surprise.
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