Old School Pastrami

Old School Pastrami

Other Recipes from Planet Barbecue Episode 113 – Obsessed with Brisket

This Old School Pastrami recipe is a labor of love, requiring a modest list of ingredients and a bit of patience. Start by trimming an 8-pound brisket and letting it soak in a homemade brine for 12 days. The brine, infused with juniper berries, mustard seeds, and garlic, transforms the brisket into a flavor-packed canvas. On the 12th day, a simple rub of coriander seeds and black peppercorns adds depth before the brisket is smoked for 7-8 hours, creating a beautifully browned exterior. A final touch involves steaming the pastrami, resulting in a tender and succulent meat that can be enjoyed hot or cold. For those seeking a smokier, drier version, a variation skips the steaming step and completes the entire cooking process in the smoker, offering a slightly different but equally delightful pastrami experience. This recipe pays homage to the traditional method, making it accessible to both seasoned home cooks and those new to the pastrami-making journey.

Pastrami Recipe


Old School Pastrami

Recipe Notes

  • Advance Prep: 20 minutes for the brine and spice rub, plus 12 days for brining the brisket
  • Yield: Serves 8 to 10
  • Method: Smoking, steaming



  • 1 section (about 8 pounds) brisket (preferably with both point and flat)


  • 1 gallon (4 quarts) cold water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Prague Powder #1
  • 6 juniper berries, lightly crushed with the side of a knife (or 2 tablespoons gin)
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half widthwise
  • 1 small onion, peeled and quartered


  • 1/2 cup whole coriander seeds
  • 1/2 cup whole black peppercorns


  • 2 jumbo (2.5-gallon) resealable heavy-duty plastic bags; a large baking dish or a plastic bucket; spice mill; rimmed sheet pan; metal bowl or aluminum foil pan (for the smoker); hickory or other hardwood chunks or chips (the latter soaked in water for 30 minutes, then drained); heatproof gloves; pink butcher paper (unlined); large aluminum foil pan; a steamer or a large insulated cooler

Recipe Steps

1: Using a sharp knife, trim the brisket, leaving a layer of fat at least 1/4 inch thick. Be careful not to over-trim. It’s better to err on the side of too much fat than too little. Place it in a jumbo resealable heavy-duty plastic bag set inside a large baking dish (or plastic bucket).

2: Make the brine: Combine 2 quarts of the cold water with the kosher salt, Prague Powder #1, juniper berries, mustard seeds, and celery seeds in a large stockpot, and bring to a boil over high heat, whisking until the salts are dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 quarts of cold water. Let the brine cool to room temperature.

3: Add the brine to the brisket in the bag, along with the garlic and onion, and seal it shut. Place this in a second jumbo resealable heavy-duty plastic bag (to contain any leaks), seal it, and place the bagged brisket in the baking dish in the refrigerator. Brine the brisket for 12 days, turning the bag over each day so the brisket brines evenly.

4: On the 12th day, make the rub: Toast the coriander seeds and peppercorns in a large dry skillet over medium-high heat, stirring so they toast evenly, until fragrant, 1 minute. Working in batches, coarsely grind the toasted spices in a spice mill. Place in a small bowl and stir to mix.

5: Drain the brisket, discarding the brine. Rinse the brisket thoroughly in cold water, then blot it dry with paper towels. Place the brisket on a rimmed sheet pan. Season it generously on all sides with the rub, using your fingertips to rub the spices into the meat in a thick layer.

6: Fire up your smoker, cooker, or grill following the manufacturer’s instructions and heat to 250°F. Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer. Place a metal bowl or aluminum foil pan with 1 quart of warm water in the smoker—this creates a humid environment that will help the smoke adhere to the meat and keep your brisket moist.

7: Transfer the brisket from the pan and place it fat side up in the smoker. Cook until the outside is darkly browned and the internal temperature registers about 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, 7 to 8 hours. Refuel your cooker as needed, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

8: Set up a steamer. Place the pastrami fat side up on the rack. Steam it until very tender, 2 to 3 hours.

9: Transfer the pastrami to a welled cutting board. At this point, you can serve it warm or cold. For hot pastrami, use a long sharp knife to slice the meat across the grain as thickly or thinly as you desire. For cold pastrami, let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it until cold and firm. Cut it into paper-thin slices on a meat slicer or by hand.

VARIATION – Smoked Pastrami (Hold the Steam): Once the domain of the delicatessen, pastrami has been embraced by a new generation of barbecue restaurants. Here, the entire cook is done in the smoker without the traditional step of steaming. This produces an equally fabulous pastrami perhaps a bit smokier and drier than the deli version. To do this, cook the pastrami through step 7. Wrap the pastrami in unlined butcher paper, following the instructions on, 10 Steps to Barbecued Brisket Nirvana blog. Return the pastrami to the smoker and continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches around 205°F, another 2 to 3 hours, or as needed. Place the wrapped pastrami in an insulated cooler and let it rest for 1 to 2 hours. Serve as described above.

NOTE: Pink curing salt, also known as Prague Powder #1 or InstaCure #1, can be found at some butcher shops or online. Do not confuse it with Himalayan pink salt.

Recipe Tips

Our thanks to the sponsors of Planet Barbecue Season 1:

Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue is a production of Barbacoa, Inc., and Resolution Pictures. © 2023 Barbacoa, Inc. Photos by Chris Bierlein

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