Food nerd time. Pastrami originated in Romania. The name comes from the Romanian pastramă, a conjugation of the verb a păstra. It means “to preserve food, to keep something for a long duration.” Pastrami likely also has roots throughout the Aegean region. Like so many cured meats, it originated as a way to preserve meats in the absence of refrigeration.
Pastrami came to the United States with Jewish Romanian immigrants in the 1880s. It was originally made with goose breasts but has transitioned to primarily beef. Although originally a staple of ethnic New York delis, it’s now a favorite of folks just about everywhere. The consensus is that pastramă became pastrami because it rhymed with salami.
Give It Time
One thing to remember about Pastrami – it’s a time investment. You’re looking at a week or more to properly brine (or cure) the proteins. It’s not something you’ll make at the spur of the moment. To obtain the best results you have to plan ahead and give it time.
Insta Cure #1 (6.25% NaNO2)
Fennel Seeds, Whole
Cinnamon Stick, Whole
Pastrami Seasoning – Topical
Black Pepper, Ground
Juniper Berry, Ground
most common cuts: brisket, short rib, navel
most common cuts: shoulder, belly, loin, ham, leg (obviously not kosher)
most common cut: breast
The Pastrami Process
- Prepare the brine by mixing everything together in a large container. Allow plenty of capacity to add the protein (accounting for displacement). This amount of brine can easily cure four full briskets. Adjust the amount accordingly to accommodate larger or smaller quantities.
- Trim excess fat from protein.
- Add protein to the brine. Allow red meat (beef or pork) to static (or passively) cure in the refrigerator. Brine for at least five days. Seven days is preferred. The maximum cure time for red meat is 14 days. If you are preparing turkey pastrami the cure time can be reduced to between two to five days.
- Remove proteins from the brine. Pat dry.
- Combine the topical seasoning ingredients. Apply dry rub to brined proteins. Ensure every surface has a light coating of the dry rub.
We utilized a CVap RTV7-14UV Retherm Oven. The setting will be similar in whatever CVap oven you use. Since it involves smoking, we recommend full-size CVap ovens. Although you can smoke in smaller models, it can overconcentrate the smoke, resulting in a smoky flavor that’s a bit overpowering.
Cook Time: 9 hours OR until the internal temp reaches at least 185°F
Temperature: Vapor: 190°F/Air: 220°F
Place proteins on the open oven racks.
Engaging the Winston Smoker Kit
- Plug the timer into the wall and ensure the smoker box is connected to the timer. We like to use a mixed wood pellet as the smoke medium, but sawdust or smaller type chips (no bigger than a fingernail) can be used.
- Adjust the timer to start the box heating. Add your smoke medium onto the heating element inside the smoker box. Place the smoker box on a sheet pan inside the oven, on a bottom rack just above the evaporator. The box will take about 15 to 20 minutes to start smoldering.
- Press ENTER once the product is placed inside, and the smoker is filled and in place.
We smoked the pastrami for about five hours. The results were outstanding.
We had a few thoughts after completing our pastrami testing:
- Add a solid sheet pan just above the smoker to catch the drippings. You’ll save yourself a lot of cleanup time.
- Allow PLENTY of time to make this recipe. If fact, it would be prudent to prepare a month out from serving.
- Vacuum pack the pastrami once it has cooled. Refrigerate for at least a week before slicing. The longer pastrami sits, the better it gets!
Now that you’ve got all this awesome pastrami, what are you going to do with it? Pastrami is great all by itself, but it’s best enjoyed as part of an ensemble. Here are a few ideas…