Pastrami is one of the great meats of the world. Is there anything more incredible than a really well made pastrami sandwich? Or pastrami and eggs? With the holidays coming up, I almost feel like I’d rather have a few slices of pastrami to go along with my stuffing and mashed potatoes instead of turkey or ham.

It’s super easy to make pastrami at home. You don’t even need a smoker. Homemade pastrami is really easy and really rewarding. You don’t have to do much, either: just plan ahead 1 week and get some pink salt and next thing you know, you have yourself some juicy, smoky, totally addictive pastrami to rival anything you could order from Katz or Wexler or your nearby pastrameria (is that a word?).

pastrami sandwich |

What is pastrami?

Pastrami is a smoked cured chunk of beef plate originally from Romania, but for me it’s a brisket from New York. It’s luciously smoky red, a little bit tangy, intricately spiced (but not spicy) and incredibly, addictively juicy. Biting into a piece of freshly made pastrami is simultaneously hyper-beefy like a really good steak and fall-apart-y like really good real-deal southern BBQ brisket.

pastrami |

How to make pastrami

  1. Make a spiced brine. Bring 5-6 cups of water to a boil with pickling spice, salt, and pink salt until everything is dissolved, then let cool.
  2. Cure the meat for one week. Soak the beef in the brine for 5-7 days. Weigh it down with a plate. Flip after day 3.
  3. Smoke your pastrami. 1-2 hours per pound.
  4. Optional: Steam your pastrami. This makes it juicier and more fall-apart-y.

Pastrami vs corned beef

Corned beef is just another way of saying salted meat. Pastrami is actually a corned beef that’s been smoked. Although technically any salted beef is corned beef, usually when people say corned beef, they mean a pickled brisket that’s been boiled or steamed, but not smoked. For me, the smoking is the main difference. Some people argue about which part of the brisket each comes from, but we won’t get into that here. Corned beef is awesome too, and if you make this recipe without smoking it, you basically have really good corned beef. Read more about corned beef here.

smoked pastrami |

The best cut of beef for pastrami

Brisket is always the go-to cut for pastrami, but you can use any large, well marbled cut of beef, such as flank steak, skirt steak, tri tip, or anything else you can easily find. The leaner the meat, the less fall-apart-y it will be. Whatever meat you choose, be sure to remove the outside fat cap for a more attractive (and less fatty) finished product.

Do you need a really big brisket for pastrami?

Yes… and no. If you want a really deep smoky flavor or a good looking smoke ring, a bigger brisket is often better so you don’t dry out the meat. Additionally, a properly made pastrami sandwich is often 1/4 to 1/2lb of meat, so you want a decent sized piece of meat, since it could be a long wait until your next batch.

On the other hand, personally I think that smaller briskets absorb the flavors better, and if your meat is a little oversmoked, you can easily fix that by steaming it. So if you’re unsure about this, or don’t have a lot of people to feed, or like me, prefer more intense flavors, a smaller brisket is the way to go. Or many smaller ones – usually I make several at once.

small brisket pastrami |

Should you spice rub your pastrami before smoking?

I don’t, because I use such a small brisket that it would be overwhelming, but if you go big, I would rub it down with a 50/50 black pepper and ground picking spice mix.

What if I don’t have a smoker?

You don’t need a giant smoker to make pastrami. You don’t need a smoker at all. You just need a heatproof, mostly airproof container that you can put on the bbq. Then you put chips in and put the pastrami in a tray overtop. We use a small stovetop smoker on top of our grill outside.

Best kind of wood to smoke with

The best kind of wood to smoke with is whatever you like the smell of most. For me, that’s hickory, although in Japan we can get hakushu and that is pretty damned awesome. I also love Maple and Cedar. The easiest woods to get are Hickory, Mesquite, Cherry, or Apple.

smoking pastrami | www.iamafoodblog.comi

Wet wood or dry wood?

For best results, don’t soak your wood chips before smoking. For pastrami, you want a pretty dry smoke so it infuses the meat with as much smoky flavor as possible.

Making your own pickling spice

This is my recipe (makes one batch):

  • 1 tbsp mustard seed
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 bay leaf, torn up
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken up
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 tsp sichuan peppercorn (optional)

pastrami pickling spice |

Do you need pink salt to make pastrami

Pink salt is the key to curing your brisket so it gets that amazing flaky pickled texture and reddish hue. A little goes a long way – we bought a small jar on Amazon years ago and it’s still going strong today, even with regular use.

How do you serve pastrami

The very first thing you should do with your pastrami is slice the end off and try some. Then you should get some good bread (sourdough is great!), strong mustard, and pickles and make yourself a pastrami sandwich, one of the greatest foods ever. You can also make pastrami fried rice, pastrami omelette, or replace your holiday meals with it.

pastrami |


Check out Steph’s pho-strami with pho spices instead of the traditional pickling spice mix.

pho-spiced corned beef recipe |


pastrami recipe |

Easy Pastrami Recipe

Juicy, fall apart pastrami smoked in the comfort of your own backyard.
Serves 2
4.67 from 3 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Brining Time 7 days
Total Time 7 days 2 hours 5 minutes


  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp pink salt see note
  • 2 tbsp pickling spice see note
  • 2 lb beef brisket fat trimmed


  • In a large saucepan, make a brine by bringing 4 cups of water to a boil. Add salt, sugar, pink salt, and pickling spice. Stir to dissolve and then remove from heat. Allow to cool.
    pastrami brine |
  • Transfer to a container large enough to hold your brisket(s). Add the cooled brine, and then top up with cool water as needed. Weigh down with a small plate, then store in the fridge for 5-7 days, flipping halfway.
    making pastrami |
  • Transfer the pieces of beef you want to smoke to a plate or metal tray. Place on top of wood chips in an airtight, heatproof container and heat on an outdoor grill for about 2-4 hours.
    smoking pastrami |
  • Enjoy as is, with lots of mustard, pickles, and bread.
    pastrami |


Pink salt can be found on Amazon.
You can make your own pickling spice mix, here's mine:
  • 1 tbsp mustard seed
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 bay leaf, torn up
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken up
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 tsp sichuan peppercorn (very optional)

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Easy Pastrami Recipe
Amount Per Serving (10 oz)
Calories 412 Calories from Fat 147
% Daily Value*
Fat 16.3g25%
Saturated Fat 7.5g47%
Cholesterol 190mg63%
Sodium 2478mg108%
Potassium 588mg17%
Carbohydrates 1g0%
Fiber 0.01g0%
Sugar 0.3g0%
Protein 61g122%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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  1. Sabrina says:

    had always wondered how it’s made, makes sense that it’s from brisket, but I wouldn’t have guessed it, so thank you for this, I also like it from scratch because the stuff in a package can sometimes be scary!

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