How to Make Pastrami in a Smoker in 8 Easy Steps

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Last Updated on July 7, 2021
Doug Stephen

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research, he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.


how to make pastrami in a smoker

Pastrami is a Romanian-inspired food that is a highly versatile meat. You can use it as a filling for bagels and sandwiches, add it to the top of your homemade pizza, mix it in with diner-style hash, or use it as an alternative to pancetta or ham in carbonara. 

If you don’t have access to a high-quality Jewish deli or kosher butcher, then you may never have tasted the distinctive flavors of freshly made pastrami. Luckily, you can learn how to make pastrami in the comfort of your own backyard or kitchen. 

How to Make Pastrami in Your Smoker?

grilling meat

If you’re tired of buying tasteless and dry pastrami from your local supermarket, you should try making it at home. 

Here’s a step-by-step run-through of how to make pastrami in a smoker.

1. Buy or make your own corned beef 

First, you’ll need to purchase some prepackaged corned beef from your local supermarket or deli. If you have the time and motivation, it’s well worth making your corned beef rather than buying it ready-made because store-bought options tend to contain a lot of salt. 

2. Remove excess salt from the corned beef 

If you do end up buying your corned beef from a store, take the time to desalinate the meat. This type of food has a pickled salt membrane that can ruin the taste of your homemade pastrami, so it’s best to get rid of this excess salt before you move on with the rest of the cooking process. 

Put your corned beef in a cooking pot and fill up this pot with cold tap water so that the liquid covers the meat. Put the pot in your fridge for a minimum of 8 hours.

3. Create a dry rub mixture then apply it to the beef

When it’s time to take the submerged meat out of the fridge. You can use the best BBQ rub in the market and mix it with the meet but the alternative is you can make your own rub.

Mix the ingredients you need for your homemade dry rub in a large bowl. For ½ cup of rub, you should aim to use ¼ cup of ground black pepper, 1½ teaspoons of garlic powder, 1 tablespoon of partially refined sugar, 2 tablespoons of ground coriander seeds, 2 teaspoons of paprika, 1½ teaspoons of onion powder, a dash of chili powder, and some ground mustard seeds. 

Take the desalinated corned beef out of the fridge and rinse it with cold water. This process washes away the salt that’s come to the meat’s surface. It also makes beef damp, so when you apply the rub mixture it adheres easily. 

4. Leave the meat in your fridge overnight

After you’ve applied your rub to the beef brisket, place it on a tray or large plate and slide it into the fridge. Don’t cover the meat with cling wrap because the dry rub will come away from the beef’s surface and stick to the plastic instead. 

Leave the meat in the fridge for at least eight hours or up to two days. 

5. Set up your smoker and smoke your meat for six or seven hours 

After you’ve air-cured your meat for a minimum of eight hours, you’ll need to learn how to make pastrami in a smoker. If you don’t have access to the best smoker, then you can check out our pellet smoker reviews for guidance.

The first step in smoking pastrami is first to set up your smoker. Put a pan or tray in the bottom of your grill, near the fuel source, and fill it with water. When you’re cooking the meat, this water evaporates before condensing on the beef’s surface, helping to keep the beef moist and succulent.

You can use whichever fuel source you prefer for the smoking process, although cherry wood produces a rich smoke that infuses your meat with a subtle, sweet flavor. Both hickory and oak wood also complement the beefy taste of your pastrami. 

You should aim to smoke your meat at a steady temperature of 225°- 30°F for around 6-7 hours. If you don’t want to spend several hours constantly adding wood chips or charcoal to your smoker, open the smoker’s built-in vent to maintain a healthy airflow and keep your fire burning. 

Use an instant read food thermometer to check on the temperature of the corned beef. Don’t take the meat off the grill until it has an internal temperature of 180°F. 

6) Let the meat cool overnight 

Once you’ve smoked the meat, place it on a tray and store it in your fridge overnight. 

7) Steam the meat 

If you’re a big fan of smoked meat that has a rich, sweet bark, then you might want to skip the steaming process. The hot water vapor infuses the beef with flavor and creates a tender, succulent final result, but it also softens the meat’s bark. 

If you decide to steam the corned beef, use a metal or bamboo steamer for cooking the meat for around two hours. 

When the meat’s internal temperature reaches 204°F, remove it from the steamer. If you’re concerned that there’s no crust on the beef, put it on the grill for a couple of minutes to create a tasty bark layer

8) Slice through the pastrami and serve it to friends and family 

If there are any large sections of excess fat on the meat, cut these off. Check the beef to see which direction the muscle fibers run in so you can cut perpendicular to these fibers when you slice up the meat. 

Once you’ve got these fresh pastrami slices, you can make a classic New York-style deli sandwich. Just cut two thick wedges of rye bread, and use a butter knife to spread a teaspoon of mustard across one of these slices. Add a few cuts of pastrami, some sweet-tasting Swiss cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce leaves, then spread a bit of mayo on the over slice to complete the sandwich.

Doug Stephen

Doug Stephen

Final Thoughts: Make Delicious Homemade Pastrami in a Smoker

There’s nothing better than the taste of freshly made pastrami, with its moist, succulent texture and spicy, aromatic flavor that dances on your tongue. However, if you don’t live near an excellent Jewish deli, it can be challenging to find first-rate pastrami in your local grocery store. Fortunately, you can make your own pastrami at home: all you need is a bit of patience and an outdoor grill or smoker.