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How to Make Pastrami (Nitrate-Free, Paleo)

How to Make Pastrami at home! This nitrate-free, refined sugar-free recipe tastes even better than store-bought pastrami.

How to Make Homemade Pastrami - an easy recipe for nitrate-free paleo pastrami that is loaded with flavor!

Reuben lovers, have you ever tried to make homemade pastrami?

So long as you enjoy a good kitchen project, it’s guaranteed to light up your life!

If you read my tutorial a couple of years ago on How to Brine Corned Beef, you’re already familiar with the process.

I make both corned beef and pastrami nitrate-free and refined sugar-free.

The nitrates in pastrami come from pink curing salt, which contains a little over 6% sodium nitrite, and the rest is regular table salt. 

If you’re looking to avoid nitrates or refined sugar, or if you simply enjoy curing meat at home, this nitrate-free pastrami recipe is for you!

Because the meat needs to brine for 5 to 7 days, be sure to make any necessary preparations ahead of time in case you’re wanting the pastrami to be finished by a certain date.

Homemade Pastrami recipe and a homemade hot pastrami sandwich

What is Pastrami?:

Pastrami is a cured beef, which is brined then seasoned and cooked on a smoker, then steamed. It originates from Romania and was invented before refrigeration as a way to preserve meat. 

Pastrami is often sliced thinly after it has chilled and is customarily used in sandwiches. 

The classic Reuben with rye bread, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing is an iconic application for pastrami. In addition, hot pastrami sandwiches with just toasted bread, pastrami, and cheese is a true delight.

Traditionally, pastrami is smoked or steamed for cooking. If you own a smoker, this is a great recipe to put it to use! If you want to bake the pastrami in the oven, I have included instructions for that as well.

How to Make Homemade Pastrami - nitrate free, sugar-free and delicious! Better than store-bought pastrami.

What Type of Beef to Use for Pastrami:

Pastrami is traditionally made with beef brisket or shoulder roast, but I learned Tri Tip works just as well. The goal is to use a large, boneless fatty roast, with plenty of intramuscular fat marbling.

Difference Between Corned Beef and Pastrami:

The main difference between corned beef and pastrami is how they are cooked. As previously mentioned, pastrami is smoked then steamed, whereas corned beef is boiled.

Both are brined beef roasts and both use very similar (if not the same) spices for brining. It’s customary to rub the roast in more spices before smoking it in the case of pastrami, where corned beef is usually boiled in a broth with spices.

Because of the difference in cooking methods, pastrami turns out with a classic firm deli meat texture, whereas corned beef has a very tender, often shredded texture. 

If one wanted to make pastrami without going through the brining process, one could simply purchase a pre-brined corned beef brisket and follow the traditional cooking method for pastrami.

While making homemade pastrami requires some forethought and planning, the process itself is actually quite simple. 

Here are the steps!

Three Easy Steps to Making Homemade Pastrami:

Step 1: Make the brining liquid

Step 2: Brine the beef for 5 to 7 days

Step 3: Cook the beef on the smoker or in the oven

So let’s break it down!

Step 1: Prepare the Brine:

First, we need to gather spices for our brine. We need whole mustard seed, juniper berries, black peppercorns, whole cloves, coriander seed, red pepper flakes, and bay leaves.

This combination of spices is a customary blend used in brining beef for corned beef or pastrami.

Ingredients for Pastrami

You can choose to either purchase the individual spices needed to make a pickling spice blend, or you can buy pickling spice that is premade from the store.

Do note that store-bought pickling spices are not all alike and some may contain spices you don’t love. Just be sure to read the ingredients before making your selection.

Pickling spices for pastrami

Toast the spices in a small skillet or pot over medium-low to medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. This process helps enhance the flavors of the spices so that the brine works magic on flavoring the beef.

Toast the spices in a small skillet for a few minutes

Transfer spices to a mortar and pestle and grind – it’s okay if they remain whole. Crushing them helps release the flavor but they don’t need to be finely ground.

Mortar and pestle crushing spices for pickling

Add 1 gallon of water to a large pot and add the toasted pickling spices, coconut sugar, and salt. Bring everything to a full boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey.

Allow the brine to cool before transferring it to the refrigerator to finish chilling completely.

Boil the water, coconut sugar, and pickling spices in a large pot

Step 2: Brine the Beef:

Transfer the beef to a large sealable container (you may need to cut the beef into two chunks and use two containers depending on its size).

Pour the brine over the beef such that the beef is fully covered in the liquid.

Place the beef in a sealable container and pour the chilled brine over the meat.

Seal the container(s) and keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days.

Step 3: Cook the Pastrami:

Traditional pastrami is cooked on a smoker, but you can also cook it in the oven if you don’t own a smoker.

Smoker Instructions: Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the meat and pat it dry with a paper towel. Place the meat in the smoker and allow it to smoke for 2 to 3 hours, or until the beef reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. 

Smoked brisket - brisket on a smoker

To Bake Pastrami: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the meat under cool water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Place the meat in a large casserole dish or on a baking sheet. Roast for 1 hour per pound of meat (3 hours if your roast is 3 pounds), or until the beef reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.

For the best result, be sure to use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the pastrami periodically.

Allow the meat to cool before wrapping it in foil and storing it in the refrigerator until chilled. Once the pastrami is completely cold, you can slice it for sandwiches. Also feel free to serve the pastrami hot fresh out of the oven with side dishes if you’d like.

Do note that my oven instructions are not the traditional braising method that is typically used, but rather a quick and easy method that happens to result in perfect pastrami. 

For the traditional version, use a roasting pan with a wire rack and pour the brine in the roasting pan, placing the beef on top of the wire rack. Then cover the pan with foil and roast until the beef reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F, typically 2 to 3 hours.

Allow the pastrami to cool to room temperature before wrapping it in foil and refrigerating. Allow the pastrami to chill completely before slicing thinly and enjoying in a sandwich.

Homemade Rueben sandwich

For my homemade Rueben, I go with gluten-free bread, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing. You can add Swiss cheese or your favorite cheese and toast it if you like hot pastrami sandwiches.

I hope you enjoy this nitrate-free pastrami!

How to Make Homemade Pastrami - nitrate free, sugar-free and delicious! Better than store-bought pastrami.

How to Make Pastrami (Nitrate-Free, Paleo)

Yield: 8 to 10 Servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

How to make homemade pastrami with pickling spices. Nitrate-free, refined sugar-free, and better than store-bought!

Ingredients

  • 1 (5-pound) beef brisket
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup coconut sugar (or regular brown sugar)
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 Tbsp yellow mustard seed
  • 1 Tbsp juniper berries
  • 2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp coriander seed
  • 2 bay leaves

Instructions

    Step 1: Prepare the Brine:

    1. Toast the spices in a small skillet or pot over medium-low to medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. This process helps enhance the flavors of the spices so that the brine works magic on flavoring the beef.
    2. Transfer spices to a mortar and pestle and grind - it’s okay if they remain whole...you simply want to crush the spices to help them release flavor.
    3. Add 1 gallon of water to a large pot and add the toasted pickling spices, coconut sugar, and salt. Bring everything to a full boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Allow the brine to cool before transferring it to the refrigerator to finish chilling completely.

    Step 2: Brine the Beef:

    1. Transfer the beef to a large sealable container (you may need to cut the beef into two chunks and use two containers depending on its size).
    2. Pour the brine over the beef such that the beef is fully covered in the liquid.
    3. Seal the container(s) and keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days.

    Step 3: Cook the Pastrami:

      Smoker Instructions: Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the meat and pat it dry with a paper towel. Place the meat in the smoker and allow it to smoke for 2 to 3 hours, or until the beef reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.

      Baking Instructions: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the meat under cool water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Place the meat in a large casserole dish or on a baking sheet. Roast for 1 hour per pound of meat (3 hours if your roast is 3 pounds), or until the beef reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.

    1. For the best result, be sure to use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the pastrami periodically.
    2. Allow the meat to cool before wrapping it in foil and storing it in the refrigerator until chilled. Once the pastrami is completely cold, you can slice it for sandwiches. Also feel free to serve the pastrami hot fresh out of the oven with side dishes if you’d like.
    Nutrition Information
    Yield 12 Serving Size 1 of 12
    Amount Per Serving Calories 352Total Fat 14gCarbohydrates 8gSugar 8gProtein 47g
    Collage for pinterest for homemade pastrami recipe

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    Shirley

    Wednesday 16th of February 2022

    I shared this recipe with friends who have a smoker and loves to make delicious meats. I do have an ulterior motive, I am hoping they share some with me. I am looking forward to my oven-cooked version.

    Julia

    Wednesday 16th of February 2022

    LOL, keeping my fingers crossed they share with you too! Thanks for sending the recipe their way! xoxo

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