Homemade Pastrami

Homemade Pastrami - Simple Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

It’s glorious, that first bite of a warm pastrami sandwich on freshly baked rye. If you’ve ever eaten pastrami at a great Jewish deli, you know what I’m talking about. That moist, tender meat topped with spicy mustard is enough to make almost anyone swoon. When my husband and I took the Queen Mary from London to New York several years ago, we docked at 6:00am and found that we were hungry. Our first stop? Katz’s Deli for a pastrami on rye. It didn’t matter that the sun was barely up. Pastrami is good any time, day or night. When the appetite strikes, you must feed it. Trouble is, many of us don’t live close to a great Jewish deli, and mediocre pastrami can be SO disappointing. What can you do? Make it at home, that’s what!

I’ve tried my hand at homemade pastrami several times with varying degrees of success. It wasn’t until a publisher sent me a review copy of The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home that I finally found a recipe worth blogging about. In their fabulous cookbook, authors Nick Zukin and Michael C. Zusman give workable home kitchen recipes for many Jewish deli favorites. In addition to uncovering the secrets of making these classic recipes at home, Nick and Michael delve into the traditional techniques used in deli kitchens. They also include nostalgic profiles of the most famous deli establishments in North America, including Katz’s in New York and Mile End in Montreal.

Nick Zukin blogs at Extra MSG from Portland, where he helped to open Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen, one of the first Jewish delicatessens “focused on producing artisanal eats.” Michael C. Zusman is a state court judge who also does freelance food and restaurant writing. His bread recipes are currently used at Kenny & Zuke’s.

Homemade Pastrami - Simple Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami, adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Deli-style pastrami emerged in New York during the late 19th century and remains a best seller on most deli menus. Because of its lengthy and laborious process, very few delis still cure and carve their own pastrami. Zukin and Zusman have whittled down the process to a very simple, doable recipe that requires relatively little effort. After making a simple brine the meat cures in the refrigerator for 5 days, then it’s rubbed with a spice blend and left to cook in a slow oven for a few hours. According to the authors:

“Delicatessen aficionados might cringe at the idea of making pastrami in the oven, since wood smoking is supposed to be the customary cooking method. At least that’s what they think. In truth, some of the most lauded pastrami and smoked meat involve no wood smoke at all. In his must read chronicle, Save the Deli, David Sax reveals that the smoky flavor in commercially produced pastrami comes from fat dripping down and sizzling on the gas element of the large ovens that are used.”

Homemade Pastrami - Simple Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Side note: I love Save the Deli, I actually covered it on the blog a few years back. Check out Manhattan Delis and the Art of Knish for more info.

To add that smoky flavor to the brisket, Zukin and Zusman use a hefty dose of smoked paprika (one of my favorite spices!). The result is delicious, quality pastrami hot and fresh from your own oven. My house smelled just like a deli while it was cooking. The flavor and texture were delightful– tender and flavorful. I tested the recipe multiple times just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. It’s not. This is some killer pastrami.

Homemade Pastrami - Simple Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

I stayed pretty true to Zukin and Zusman’s recipe, though I did adapt it slightly by cutting back on the salt. My first test round was extremely salty– good for a bite or two, but if I’d eaten a few slices I would have puffed up like a balloon. The next testing round I cut the kosher salt in the brine in half. I thought it might be too much and that I’d have to add some back in, but half the salt actually provided the perfect flavor. My five dinner guests taste-tested it for me, and they all agreed that the lower sodium brine it was plenty salty. So I present the recipe with the kosher salt halved; if you prefer to try it as written in the cookbook, use 2 cups of kosher salt in the brine.

Update: Nick Zukin let me know in the comments that they used Diamond large crystal kosher salt, which has less salt per cup than Morton’s. I didn’t realize that salt content varies from brand to brand. I am updating my recipe instructions to reflect the brand of salt we used. Thanks to Nick for the heads up!

Don’t be daunted by the long prep time, the preparation is actually very simple. Most of the time here is spent on curing the pastrami in the refrigerator. After that it’s no more difficult than roasting a brisket on a rack. The results are totally worth the wait. I have to hand it to Nick Zukin and Michael Zusman, this is a genius recipe. Their book has a lot of other great recipes for Jewish deli classics including Classic Deli Sandwich Rye, Onion-Poppy Seed Bialys and Cabbage and Smoked Meat Borscht. If you love deli food like I do, check out The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home. You’ll be glad you did!

What’s your favorite place to get a hot pastrami on rye?

Homemade Pastrami - Simple Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Recommended Products

The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Save the Deli

Pink Curing Salt

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Homemade Pastrami

Adapted from: The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Ingredients

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 cup Morton's coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup pink curing salt - Also known as curing salt, salt peter or prague powder- NOT Himalayan pink salt. See safety note below.
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp pickling spice
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole yellow mustard seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 - 4 lb beef brisket

Spice Rub Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika

You will also need

  • large stockpot, 2 gallon container with lid or two 1 gallon containers, 12 by 15 inch roasting pan with rack
Prep Time: 120 Hours
Cook Time: 3 - 4 Hours
Servings: 3 - 4 lbs pastrami
Kosher Key: Meat
  • 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.
  • Home-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami by Tori Avey adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeAdd 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.
  • Home-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeHome-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami by Tori Avey adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeIf necessary, cut the brisket in half so that it will fit into your container(s).
  • Home-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeSubmerge the brisket in the cooled brine.
  • Home-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeHome-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami by Tori Avey adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeAllow 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.
  • Home-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami by Tori Avey adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeTo 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.
  • Home-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami by Tori Avey adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomePreheat 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.
  • Home-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami by Tori Avey adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeBake until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees, about 1 hour per pound or 3-4 hours total.
  • Home-Oven Pastrami - Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami by Tori Avey adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeWithout 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.
  • Homemade Pastrami - Simple Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami, adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at HomeSAFETY 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.
  • Homemade Pastrami - Simple Recipe for Curing and Cooking Your Own Pastrami adapted from The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Comments (162)Post a Comment

  1. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Tori,
    I JUST took the pastrami out of the oven. OMG it is fantastic!!!

    I went to Restaurant Depot and bought a whole packer brisket. After I trimmed off the fat the cost of the brisket was $4.57 lb.

    I think I need some further instruction on trimming, lol, but overall the taste is incredible. I took most of the flat cut and sealed in with Foodsaver and put it in the freezer for another meal and used the remainder for the pastrami. This was WELL worth the effort.

  2. As a displaced New Yorker this warms my deli soul. I’ll take two dozen bialys, the whole slab of pastrami a two loaves of pumpernickel and rye, a container of deli mustard, a pound of lox, onions, hard boiled eggs, and do the dill pickles come with my order? Any jelly donuts with granulated sugar? Norms..mmm. mmm

    1. Dream on Pam. I live in San Antonio TX where deli means the packaged bologna at the gas station.

  3. The pastrami I’ve tried outside of New York is so bad it could choke a horse :-) Most people have no clue what it should taste like so they get away with selling it.

  4. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I live in a small town in the foothills of the Appalachians. Needless to say, pastrami is a foreign food here. I think the nearest source of any pastrami – good, bad or indifferent – is a good 50 miles from here. Or rather, was. :) I used your recipe and had my first sandwich (on homemade rye with homemade dill pickles) yesterday. Heaven!!! Thank you for posting and doing so in detail. Wonderful stuff.

  5. Is the prague powder #1 or #2, and is there a brand you use? Some I see listed say 4oz will cure hundreds of pounds of meat, yet the recipe here calls for a quarter cup. I am not sure what to purchase. Thanks!

    1. It’s the #1 – with 6.25% sodium nitrite. I got 1 oz from my local butcher for $1 and used all of it – it was just about exactly a 1/4 cup.

    2. I ordered a 2.5 lb jar from Amazon.com. “Hoosier Hill Farm” brand. I paid $17.99 and the shipping was included as part of my Amazon Prime.

      As Dave M. said it’s with 6.25% sodium nitrite. This will last me a LONG time!! But I’ve also passed Tori’s link to a number of people so I’m sure I’ll be sharing my curing salts with others. :-)

      Dave

  6. My favorite Montreal smoked meat is from Schwartze’s on the Main. Fat or “extra medium”. Back in the day I frequented Dunn’s on St. Catherine’s street. Ordered by phone they would place it in a cab (the cabbie paid) and deliver to my dorm at McGill. We would pay the ticket, fare, and tip. Heaven.

    We have no access to pastrami, but have a butcher who maked kick-ass corned beef around St. Patrick’s day. We buy a few pieces and have it now and then through the year on my homemade seeded pumpernickel. Is there any reason I couldn’t pick up this recipe in the middle, dry rub the corned beef, and steam it as directed?

  7. Could you write the weight of the salt? That would make the recipe independent of crystal size…

  8. The largest brisket available is 2.25 lbs – do I need to adjust the amount of curing salt downwards, as well as the other ingredients? I’m more worried about the specific amount of curing salt needed for a smaller brisket, rather than the other ingredients. Is too much dangerous, and can somebody give me an idea of what amount of curing salt would be needed for 2.25 lb brisket?

    1. No, it won’t matter. It’s a brine. You could perhaps cut everything (including the water) down proportionally just to save you some money and space, however. Or you could buy multiple pieces of brisket. Pastrami keeps well once cooked in the freezer wrapped tightly in plastic.

    2. I’ll let Tori answer to be sure since I’m certainly NO expert!, but I think the key is that amount of curing salt to the liquid is most important. Her recipe is for 3-4 lbs of brisket which is not much bigger than what she suggested. I would just mix everything as she said and just put the smaller piece in the full amount of liquid.

      I hope I’m right because I’m going to be doing this again shortly. The first shot came out SOOOO good…hope it wasn’t beginner’s luck.

      Tori,
      BTW, I’ve looked on YouTube but can’t find a decent video on how to take a full packer brisket and just find and cut off the point end. Any ideas? Where can I get that information? I did a “mostly” good job the first time but would really like to do it correctly to eliminate any possible waste.

      Dave

    3. Hi Dave– this is actually Nick’s recipe, so I’ll defer to his advice. Generally speaking a brine is a brine and you shouldn’t mess with the proportions, though you can cut all ingredients down to make less brine if needed. Great question on the brisket cuts, I’ve been thinking about doing some tutorial videos and I think I could do a whole episode on cutting brisket. I’ll let you know if I come across any good resources.

    4. Yes, that’s right Dave. As long as all the ingredients are in the same proportion to each other (ie, if you halve one thing, you must halve all things and if you double one thing, you must double all things), then the only other thing that matters is that the meat is able to be fully submerged in the liquid.

      On cutting a brisket, what I do is find the spot in the middle of the brisket where it begins to get noticeably thicker, about halfway, and cut it straight across there. Then, for curing meat, I like to take the point end — the end with two pieces of meat separated by a river of fat — and further separate those pieces by the river of the fat, trimming all fat to 1/4″. I think that yields the best and most consistent results. I do this when smoking brisket for BBQ, too, and I’m not sure why they don’t in Texas except labor extras. The two pieces of meat are very different from each other.

  9. I have a question about Nick’s comment on March 16 mentioning that the curing salt isn’t technically needed if you’re going to cook it immediately and refrigerate it during the curing process, as he says…..umm…what? That seems contradictory and/or confusing to me. If you cook it immediately (and immediately when? after the 5 days of brining?), then do you need to cure it at all? Sorry – I’m mystified by that explanation, if somebody could clarify. I was going to use the pink curing salt, but I got home and got everything going and realized I’d probably left it at the store. I was too far into things, so I decided I’d try the option without it, and came across this comment. Can somebody clarify this for me?

    1. Technically the curing is more aesthetic in this case. The flavor and color will be different without the pink salt, but not the safety. If you refrigerate the meat in a brine for less than a week and then immediately cook it afterwards, the safety isn’t much of an issue. And the salt and sugar should have some curative properties by themselves. So if someone is concerned about nitrites/nitrates, they can just brine it with as little pink salt as they like as long as they properly refrigerate it and cook it within a reasonable amount of time. Traditional barrel brines of pastrami/corned beef were weeks not days and then the safety becomes a significant issue.

      That said, I would use the recipe as is.

  10. Ok, thanks very much, that does help. I went ahead and put the meat into brine w/out any curing salt. Not to annoy or belabor this question (I am pretty amateurish and ignorant on all this), but the 2 hours of coming to room temperature w/the spice rub before cooking will be fine and not too much time?

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