Smoking a corned beef brisket with a rub of dried spices and herbs is how pastrami is made. So, we will make a pastrami style corned beef brisket in the recipe here. Pastrami is the ultimate sliced sandwich meat, in my humble opinion. I like pastrami piled high on rye or pumpernickel bread with mustard or Russian dressing and crunchy vegetables, such as cabbage slaw, crispy pickles, sauerkraut, or just a handful of shredded iceberg lettuce. Melted Swiss cheese is optional. Chips on the side are a plus.
Hopefully your taste buds are stimulated now. But, you will need a little patience to get to the tasty end-game that is the sandwich.
I recommend buying a corned beef brisket that has not been boiled or baked, is well packaged, and of the best quality you can find. Speak with your butcher at the market to get some advice on a good product. Beef brisket brined in a simple salt solution with pickling spices is best. Try to avoid ones that have ingredients listed that you don’t recognize. These are likely chemical preservatives. And nitrates or nitrites are best avoided, if possible. Just go for the simplest cut you can find.
If you cannot find a chemical free packaged corned beef you definitely can make your own corned beef brisket. This is a timely process that takes a week or two. This really isn’t a big deal because most of that time the meat and brine are doing all the work. Here is a recipe for the adventurous.
The Best Smoke Source
I primarily use a charcoal smoker because that is what I was first introduced to when growing up. Electric smokers were not yet popular. Red meats hold up very well to charcoal smoke and the intense flavor that smoke imparts. I also quite like that the heat is a little unpredictable and can result in some areas of charred crispiness, also known as a bark.
If you don’t want to nurse a charcoal smoker or grill to maintain a consistent cook temperature for several hours, go for a Masterbuilt electric or propane smoker. The cooking will be even and you will still get a nice crusty shell on the brisket. The temperature and cook time should be the same in any type of smoker you use.
For the recipe outlined here I have included instructions for an electric smoker and for a charcoal smoker.
Smoked Corned Beef with Pastrami Rub
- 4 pounds flat corned beef brisket (good quality & not pre-cooked)
- 1/3 cup yellow or Dijon mustard
- 4 TBS fresh coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 TBS ground coriander seeds
- 1 TBS paprika
- 1 TBS brown sugar
- 2 tsps onion powder
- 2 tsps garlic powder
- 1 bottle dark ale – optional
- Maple or fruit wood chips
Total time: 6 hour – Prep time: 2 hour – Cook time: 4 hour – Serves: 8 people
1. Remove the corned beef from the package and rinse under cool running water. In a large baking dish or pot, place the beef and cover with filtered water. Allow the beef to soak in order to remove the salt for 2 hours. Change the water at 60 minutes.
2. Remove a rack from your smoker and place it on a counter with paper towels beneath it. Give one last rinse in cool running water to the brisket and pat dry with clean paper towels. Place the corned beef, fat side up, on the rack and allow it to air dry while making your rub and preparing your smoker.
3. Mix the pepper, coriander, paprika, brown sugar, onion and garlic powder together in a small bowl. Rub all surfaces of the beef with the wet mustard. Pat the dry rub into the mustard to completely cover the brisket. The mustard will help the rub to adhere to the beef and add a great deal of flavor. Allow the dressed corned beef to rest on the rack while you prepare your smoker.
4. Electric Smoker: Fill the water bowl halfway with equal parts water and ale. Add wood chips to the side tray. Close the door. Open the top vent and preheat the smoker to 225°F.
5. Charcoal Smoker: Soak your wood chips in water for 30 to 60 minutes. Place coals on one side of the smoker or grill and fire it up. I recommend using a charcoal chimney to light the coals. Add a loaf style, disposable foil pan half filled with equal amounts of water and ale to the cool side of the smoker, where the meat will cook indirectly. Add some of the soaked wood chips to the hot coals or place them in a foil packet with a few holes in the top. Close the lid and open the top vent. Preheat the smoker to 225°F. Alternatively, use a Masterbuilt charcoal smoker that has a built-in water bowl and a charcoal pan.
6. Place the rack with the prepared corned beef brisket in the smoker. It should be offset from the coals in a charcoal grill/smoker. If your smoker has a digital probe thermometer insert it into the thicker portion of the meat. Place the lid on or close the door and set the timer for 1 hour. At 1 hour check the water bowl/pan, wood chip supply, and coals. Replenish these if needed and continue to smoke for 3 more hours, checking every 60 minutes for replenishing of liquid, chips, and coals. Be sure to keep checking the thermometer. You want the beef to read between 185°F and 195°F internally.
Note: Some recipes will say the beef is finished at 160°F. That is a fine temperature for softer cuts of beef. However, this semi-tough cut of meat really benefits from longer cooking and a higher finishing temperature.
7. Remove the corned beef to a cutting board and tent it with aluminum foil. Let the meat rest covered for a minimum of 20 minutes and up to 2 hours before slicing and serving. This allows for the juices to get reabsorbed by the muscle fibers.
8. Slice and serve in a sandwich or with boiled potatoes and cabbage. A New York deli style pastrami sandwich recipe follows. If you have lots of leftovers, it helps to lightly steam the pastrami slices before making sandwiches the next day. Or, you can freeze the leftovers.
Classic Pastrami Sandwich
- 2 cups shredded green cabbage
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 4 TBS apple cider vinegar – raw is best
- 3 TBS mayonnaise
- 1-1/4 tsps sugar
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 8 slices rye bread
- 8 tsps spicy brown mustard
- 1-1/2 pounds thinly sliced pastrami
- 4 slices Swiss cheese at room temperature
1. In a large bowl, combine well the cabbage, carrots, vinegar, mayonnaise, sugar, and salt. Allow the slaw to stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 45 minutes.
2. Place 1 slice of bread onto each of 4 plates or 4 slices on a large cutting board for serving. Spread 2 teaspoons of mustard on each slice. Add 6 ounces of warm pastrami on the bread and top with a slice of cheese. Top this with approximately 1/3 cup of the coleslaw. Add more if you have extra. Place a slice of bread on top and spear with 2 long toothpicks spaced approximately 2 inches apart.
3. Slice the sandwiches in half between the toothpicks and serve with dill pickle spears and potato chips.
Note: If the pastrami has cooled down too much for the cheese to melt a bit, you can heat up the meat slices in a skillet or in a 350°F oven for just a couple of minutes to warm it through right before assembling the sandwiches. No need for it to be piping hot.