Making pastrami consists of curing, smoking, and steaming. A brisket is cured in a brine or pickling spice. This is also called “corning” beef which is an organic expression for “curing” beef. This, done at home, is about a four-day procedure and, as stated, is done with salt brine or pickling spice brine. Adding pink curing salt to the brine helps the meat obtain the rich red color associated with pastrami.
Wet brining is preferable to dry brining as the wet brine penetrates the meat to depths dry brine simply cannot. The result of the cured brisket is corned beef, the most popular beef for making pastrami; however, there are other meats that can be used such as turkey, short ribs, beef round, and the traditional beef navel. The first known pastrami was prepared from goose breasts in Romania. Once Romanian immigrants found their way to the United States, goose breasts were too expensive an undertaking, so the switch to beef navel meat was born of necessity and proved tasteful. Today, several meats can be made into pastrami, which is an exact recipe process more than any particular meat, though some meat works better than others. After brining, the meat is rinsed and thoroughly dried. At this point, before smoking the meat, it gets rubbed with whatever spices are being used, usually a ground black pepper, garlic, coriander, paprika, cloves, cinnamon, and mustard seed rub.
Smoking pastrami can take 2-3 hours, but the meat is finished smoking when it reaches an inward temperature of 165°F. After being smoked, steam the beef for an additional two hours. Steaming breaks down the meat causing the connective tissues to gel ensuring the pastrami the texture and flavor for which it so desirable.