We took a roadtrip to the DFW area last weekend to spend some time with family. My brother-in-law is a huge fan of smoked meat as well, and had the outstanding idea of making our own pastrami. He got two brisket flats and brined them for the week before we went so that the briskets could brine during the week. He made the brine by following the great recipe from this YouTube video by All Things Barbecue, except we excluded the pink curing salt (see more on the impact at the bottom). Generally, a pastrami brine contains a pickling spice (black pepper, mustard seed, coriander, red pepper flakes, allspice berries, cloves, ginger, mace, bay leaves and cinnamon) along with kosher salt, sugar, and garlic. The brisket flats went into ziplock bags with the brine and then into the fridge, and were flipped once a day for the week leading up to our visit.
On the morning of the cook, the briskets were rubbed down with a small amount of yellow mustard as a binder and then a 1:1 ratio of toasted and cracked black pepper and coriander. Then they went on a Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone pellet grill set to 250°F using apple wood pellets. We also used a smoke tube filled with additional wood pellets to add some additional smoke to the cook. Being a Traeger guy, I was impressed with the WiFi-enabled capabilities of this grill. They were quite useful.
When the internal temperature hit 165°F (about 5 hours), we pulled the briskets and wrapped them in butcher paper and then they went back on the pit. We thought we had hit the stall at 165°F. But, strangely, we were wrong. The temperature continued up to about 180°F and then it stalled. Maybe it was because of the brining process – or who knows why. After a couple hours stalled at that higher temperature, we started getting a little nervous since we’d not seen a piece of meat stall at that high of a temperature before. So we pulled them and wrapped them in aluminum foil to see if we could help them through the stall. Happily it did help – and not too many hours later we hit 205°F and finally pulled them to let them rest. The smaller of the two flats went 11 hours total, and the thicker one went 12 hours total. We were a little concerned that they might have dried out during the long cook, but thankfully that was not the case. The family enjoyed one of the two flats that night for an albeit-late dinner (the cook went about 3 hours longer than we had expected). The next morning we used a meat slicer on the other brisket to get some nice thin slices for a pastrami sandwich lunch. I was blown away by the flavor, tenderness, moisture content, the deep smoke ring, etc. It was a great experience to do our first home-smoked pastrami. And it was great to do it together with my brother-in-law.
**Note on not using curing salt — We’re not big fans of adding sodium nitrite to our food. So we opted to not use any on this recipe. Not using any curing salt in the brine resulted in the meat lacking the typical rich and dark pink or red pastrami color. The resulting meat looked more like a standard smoked brisket. However, that amazing pastrami taste was still definitely there – no sacrifices on that front. Next time we might try using celery juice in the brine to get some natural nitrites and help get that deep pink color.