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Quick Pastrami - Smoked Corned Beef

Originally posted: 03/06/2008
Last updated: 02/27/2015

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Summary

  • Choose a corned beef brisket flat using the tips at the beginning of this article.
  • Soak the meat overnight to reduce saltiness.
  • Apply the pastrami rub.
  • Smoke at 250-275°F to 165°F internal temperature.
  • Wrap in foil and continue cooking to 195°F internal temperature.
  • Let rest in foil in a dry cooler for two hours.
  • Slice across the grain.
Corned beef brisket flats
Corned beef brisket flats
 
Slices of quick pastrami—smoked corned beef
Slices of "quick pastrami"—smoked corned beef
 

The Pastrami article demonstrates how to dry cure, season, and smoke a fresh beef brisket flat to create this deli classic. But is there a way to shortcut the long dry curing process?

How about starting with an uncooked corned beef brisket flat and seasoning and smoking it like pastrami? The resulting pastrami—sometimes called quick pastrami or faux pastrami—tastes a little different than the dry-cured product, but it's still quite good and takes much less time to make.

Here are some pictures I took on April 18, 2014 when I prepared quick pastrami using corned beef brisket flats on the Weber Bullet.

As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.


Select The Corned Beef

Corned beef brisket flats in packaging
Photo 1
       

When shopping at the supermarket, you're likely to find corned beef made from one or more of these cuts of beef:

  • Brisket flat
  • Brisket point
  • Bottom round

For quick pastrami, corned beef brisket flat is your best choice. It has less fat than brisket point and better flavor than round.

Here are some tips when buying a corned beef brisket flat:

  • When possible, buy corned beef that says "Spice Packet Included" on the label and then throw away the spice packet—you won't be using it. You want to apply pastrami spices to the meat, not corned beef spices. If you look inside the package and see the corned beef marinating in bay leaves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, and other herbs and spices, don't buy it.
  • Corned beef brisket flats are often sold as chunks of meat, not as whole flats. Try to buy chunks that have even thickness.
  • The meat should be lean throughout but with a layer of fat on one side only—this indicates you have just the brisket flat cut.
  • Avoid pieces with a layer of fat running through the middle of the meat—this indicates a combination of brisket flat and brisket point. The flat and point cook at different rates, which makes the cooking process more complicated and time consuming.
  • If cooking multiple pieces, choose ones of similar weight, shape, and thickness so they all finish at about the same time.

Photo 1 shows two corned beef brisket flats weighing about 3-3/4 pounds each. Corned beef is available all year around, but is found in abundance and on sale in February and March before St. Patrick's Day.

Soak The Corned Beef Brisket Overnight

Corned beef brisket flats soaking overnight in water
Photo 2
Soaked corned beef brisket flats patted dry and ready for rub
Photo 3
     

Remove the corned beef brisket from its packaging and rinse thoroughly under cold running water.

Place the meat in a non-reactive container and cover with cold water. Let the meat soak overnight in the refrigerator (Photo 2). This helps reduce the saltiness of the meat.

After soaking, dry the meat thoroughly with paper towels (Photo 3).

Apply The Pastrami Rub

Grinding coriander seeds with a mortar and pestle
Photo 4
Pastrami rub ready for use
Photo 5
Pastrami rub applied to corned beef
Photo 6
   

This salt-free rub provides the bold, peppery taste that is associated with pastrami. Use a coarse grind of black peppercorns and coriander seeds to create the crusty exterior typically found on pastrami. A mortar and pestle make quick work of the coriander seeds (Photo 4).

Pastrami Rub
3 Tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoons coarse ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Apply a generous amount of rub to all surfaces of the meat (Photo 6). I used almost all of this rub on the two pieces of corned beef shown here, which made them very peppery...adjust the amount used according to your taste.

Once rubbed, the meat is ready to go into the WSM or it can be refrigerated overnight.

Select The Smoke Wood

Three chunks of pecan smoke wood
Photo 7
       

Use 2-3 chunks of pecan smoke wood. Each chunk should be small, for example 3" x 2" x 2" or similar. In this case, a little bit goes a long way—you don't want to overpower the meat. Oak can be used if pecan is not available, or another mild fruit wood as a last resort.

There is no need to soak the wood or remove the bark before use.

I used 3 small chunks of pecan as shown in Photo 7.

Fire-Up The WSM

Fire-up the cooker using the Minion Method. Fill the charcoal chamber 1/2 full with unlit Kingsford charcoal briquettes. Light 20-40 briquettes using a chimney starter and spread them over the unlit briquettes.

Foil the water pan before use for easy cleanup, but leave it empty.

Smoke The Corned Beef Brisket

Rubbed corned beef goes into the WSM
Photo 8
Meat ready to wrap in aluminum foil
Photo 9
Foiled meat goes back into the WSM
Photo 10
   

Is Pastrami The Same As Smoked Corned Beef?Assemble the cooker and put the brisket fat-side down on the top cooking grate (Photo 8).

Set the 3 bottom vents to 100% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way throughout the entire cook.

When the cooker reaches about 225°F, set the 3 bottom vents to 25% open so the cooker settles in at 250-275°F measured at the lid. Adjust the 3 bottom vents as necessary to maintain this temperature range throughout the cooking session.

Cook the brisket until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (Photo 9). Take the meat's temperature in several spots and average the results. It will read higher or lower in different spots depending on the thickness of the meat.

The brisket does not need to be turned or basted during this phase of cooking.

Once the brisket reaches 165°F, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and return it to the cooker (Photo 10).

Continue cooking the brisket until it reaches an internal temperature of 195°F.

Here's how the temperature and vent settings went for the cooking session:

Time Lid Temp Meat Temp Vent 1 % Vent 2 % Vent 3 %
11:20am - - 100 100 100
11:30am 245 - 25 25 25
11:40am 240 - 50 50 50
12:00pm 290 - 10 10 10
12:20pm 280 - 10 10 10
12:45pm 280 - 10 10 10
1:40pm 274 - 10 10 10
2:15pm 295 - 10 0 0
3:00pm 269 - 10 0 0
4:00pm 265 - 10 0 0
4:45pm 260 - 10 0 0
5:30pm 260 168 100 0 0
5:30 - 5:35pm  Foiled the meat and put it back into the cooker
6:30pm 260 195 100 0 0

Note that the vent percentages represent the way I set the vents at the time indicated.

Let The Meat Rest

Quick pastrami resting in a dry cooler after cooking
Photo 11
       

Once the brisket reaches 195°F, remove it from the cooker. Place the foil wrapped meat fat-side up in a dry cooler. Let the meat rest for two hours. Carryover heat will continue to cook the brisket, and juices collecting in the foil will reabsorb and redistribute within the meat. Placing the meat fat-side up allows the lean side of the brisket to bathe in the juices, helping to soften the meat.

A bath towel in the bottom the dry cooler will help protect the interior of the cooler from the hot brisket (Photo 11).

Slice & Serve

Interior view of quick pastrami
Photo 12
Making a sandwich with quick pastrami
Photo 13
     

After a two hour rest, slice the meat thin across the grain. Alternatively, refrigerate the meat overnight and slice it cold the next day.

Photo 12 shows how the meat looked on the inside. You can leave the fat intact for added flavor, or remove some or all of it if you prefer leaner meat.

Photo 13 shows slices of quick pastrami shingled on toasted bread as the first step to a delicious sandwich.

Handle your quick pastrami the same way they do at the deli—slice off what you need and wrap the remainder tightly in plastic wrap (or vacuum pack using a FoodSaver) and store in the refrigerator.

To reheat, place sliced meat on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave gently at 20% power for just a minute or two, taking care not to overheat.

My cooking log notes that this smoked corned beef was very peppery and tasted a lot like pastrami on the outside, but still had some of that familiar corned beef taste on the inside. When sliced thinly across the grain and piled high on good bread with brown mustard and Swiss cheese, it's a not a bad substitute for dry-cured pastrami—and much easier to make, too.

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