Since switching to farm to table a few years ago, one of the things I’ve really missed out on was deli meat for quick, high protein meals. This wasn’t just a farm to table sustainability issue, it was also an ingredient issue. I have a science background and some of the ingredients in packaged lunch meats is downright frightening. I’m also fully aware that they use the food barely fit for human consumption in most of those products. Luncheon meats is the last stop before pet food. So between wanting a more sustainable, ethical option, and a concern about the quality and types of ingredients, I stopped consuming deli meats.
I did start baking chicken from my local farmer and slice it very thin for sandwiches, but hadn’t really come up with a beef alternative. Thanks to the obnoxious level of boredom from the COVID19 pandemic, I found myself down a rabbit hole on YouTube of various people making corned beef and pastrami AT HOME. I found it a tad mind blowing, to be honest. It never occurred to me to make anything like that at home, though I do vaguely remember my mother making corned beef when I was a child.
After watching numerous videos and reviewing several recipes online, I decided to sort of mutate a few recipes together and give it a try. The recipe I found the most helpful came from “Binging with Babish” whom I enjoy very much. I have to admit that I’ve never seen a majority of the media he recreates dishes from, however I rather enjoy his commentary and the way he makes everything seem so (deceptively) simple. I really like his recreation of the meal from “A Quiet Place” for instance. As a home canner, I cannot for the life of me figure out how she managed to do all that canning, quietly. A pressure canner is only slightly quieter than a jackhammer, but the meal they ate and he reconstructed seemed straight forward enough.
One of the things I’ve learned from YouTube and various blogs is that you can’t make pastrami without making corned beef. I never knew that. Ever. I assumed they had completely different preparations. Nope. You make the corned beef first, and that gets turned into pastrami. So if you want corned beef, you can stop there. If you want pastrami, you can continue. If you buy a large enough brisket, you can have both. That’s what we did.
We went to our local farm (they have a small store on their farm) and originally planned on getting two briskets, because the different finished meat products call for different parts of a brisket, i.e. the flat or the point. It just so happened that they had just gotten a HUGE brisket back from their processor. Huge. We bought it with the idea that we would cut it into two pieces and make one into corned beef and the rest into pastrami.
The crazy thing is, that when you get right down to it, you brine meat in a seasoned salty brine, turning it daily, for a week or so, then boiling it until done. For corned beef, it’s done. For pastrami, you give it a spice rub and put it on a smoker for a few hours. It’s a fully cooked meat product at this point, this is to smoke and flavor it with the rub. At the most basic, that’s it. For real.
The variations come in with the components of the brine, the brine time, the spices in the rub and the type of wood used in the smoker. Tiny differences that make huge changes in outcome. I’ve come to be a huge fan of Anthony’s pink curing salt over plain curing salt, even if it is around 6% sodium nitrate. It just tastes better to me.
So here we go! I’m going to start with the brine ingredients, and talk about the brineing and cooking process after. Some of the ingredients are listed by measure and some are by weight. That’s because humidity can affect the measured amount, so best to go with weight on those items.
- 1.75 gallons distilled water (not tap!)
- 15 ounces kosher salt. I’m not brand specific.
- 1 ounce Anthony’s pink curing salt.
- (I’m not affiliated in any way, I just like them)
- Prepared brining mix:
- 1 Tbsp allspice berries
- 1 Tbsp juniper berries
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 Tbsp mustard seeds
- 2 Tbsp whole peppercorns
- 2 tsp whole cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 5.5 punces dark brown sugar
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed (or a tablespoon chopped store bought)
I prepared the brining mix first, and pulsed it in my food processor a couple of times. Mostly just to dust off the exterior oxidized surface of the spices. I find that if nothing else, it makes them more aromatic. I put the mix into a large stock pot to which I added the salts, and water. I brought it to a simmer, turned it off and then let it come to room temperature. This was to make absolutely certain that there was nothing alive, though I was probably being overly cautious. With that level of sodium, if there was anything alive it deserved to be studied somewhere.
While the brine was heating and cooling, I unwrapped the brisket, which turned out to be rolled up, and seemed like half a side of beef. I had a “Jaws” moment when I realized I was going to need a bigger cutting board.
I initially thought I was also going to have to cut it in two, but after trimming most of the fat off, it rolled back up just the right size to put on end in one of my commercial food prep containers. If you aren’t a home canner or brewer, you will HAVE to plan ahead on this. Whatever you put it in has to be large enough to hold the brisket, a weight holding down the brisket, the brine, be covered tightly, AND fit in your refrigerator.
Since I do a lot of home canning and my husband does home brewing, we happen to have a bunch of commercial food prep containers. I put the loosely rolled brisket on end in one, and carefully poured the room temperature brine over the top. I had this crazy impulse to add dill because it reminded me of making a huge batch of pickles. I mean, that would have been gross, but it did cross my mind.
After the brine was added, a bit of the brisket was sticking above the top. I used a super fancy weight to fix this- a salad plate- and CAREFULLY put the lid back on. The tiniest dripple of brine escaped.
It got put in the fridge and I set an alarm in my calendar to tell me to flip it every day at 7pm. So everyday my alarm went off, for 7 days, and I carefully opened the container, removed the plate on the visibly shrinking brisket, took it out of the brine, treated it like a new born baby (or a bomb), and carefully put the top side down in the brine. You would think that leaving it in liquid would make it bloat up, but the meat retracted instead.
At the end of a week, which happened to be a Saturday, I took it out of the brine and ran it under cool water to rinse as much brine off as I could. It was a pink/red rare steak color. The fat got weird. I don’t know a more technical term for it, but it was weird. I trimmed more of it off, and then cut it where the meat depth changed making one thick and one thin, or for more advanced brisket fans, the flat and the point.
I put both in a large stock pot, and covered them with water and then boiled them for 4 hours. At the end of the four hours and repeated meat thermometer stabs showing a 165° internal temperature (yes yes yes I know, too hot, I murdered it, yadda yadda yadda) I removed them from the pot and let them rest. At that point, I had two corned beef briskets. I had to taste test them to be certain they weren’t poison. A few times. Then I got caught. So I bribed my husband by having him taste test it to make sure it wasn’t poison. Can’t be too careful, you know.
So the flat was left as corned beef and demolished for dinner. That wasn’t so much the plan, it just sort of happened. The point got wrapped in foil and put in the refrigerator over night. I prepared the pastrami rub and put it in the refrigerator overnight, as well. Those ingredients are below.
- 1 tsp Colman’s mustard powder (for the sole reason that it comes in a metal tin)
- 1 tsp whole mustard seeds
- 1/3 cup raw honey
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp onion powder
- 3 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 3 Tbsp mixed peppercorns
- Originally I also had salt and paprika, but I decided to go honey mustard and cut them. I think it was a good call.
Put all of the dry ingredients in a spice grinder and turn it into a powder. Then whisk half of it into the honey. Use a brush, or your hands to smear it all over the brisket (I used the point). Sprinkle the rest of the rub over the honey mustard smeared brisket.
Put the rubbed brisket in a prepared smoker with the wood of your choice (we used hickory and apple that my husband soaked over night) and smoke it at 200°f for 1.5 up to 3 hours. Less if you are using something like mesquite. It’s a cooked product, so you are just flavoring the meat and putting a bark on it. Once done, let it rest and it is SO much easier to cut when cool. All that’s left to do is enjoy it!
I know this is mostly a beef preperation but I was wondering how this would work on game meats, like venison. May have to try some other meats and see how it turns out. That brine for SURE is going to be used the next time we smoke trout.
I hope you give it a try and let me know how yours turns out and any variations you try. There is a whole lot of prep work, but it is totally worth it.