The pastrami sandwich is a classic deli sandwich with rich, smoky, sliced pastrami, tangy mustard, and crunchy pickles served on rye bread.
While you can find decent pastrami sandwiches at many delis, nothing quite beats one that you make yourself from scratch.
With quality ingredients, attention to detail, and some practice on your pastrami smoking technique, you can make restaurant-worthy pastrami sandwiches at home.
Ingredients for Making Pastrami
Pastrami starts with a good cut of beef. Here’s what you’ll need:
Beef Brisket – The brisket cut comes from the chest area of the cow. Look for a 5-6 pound whole brisket with a good amount of fat marbling through it for moisture and flavor.
Curing Salt – You’ll need 2 tablespoons of pink curing salt #1, which contains nitrites to preserve the meat during smoking.
Spices – For the dry rub, you’ll need 2 tablespoons each of coarsely ground black pepper, paprika, dark brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and coriander seeds.
Wood Chips – Opt for hickory, oak, or applewood chips to generate smoke.
Brine Ingredients – For the brine, you’ll need 2 quarts water, 1 cup salt, 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1 tablespoon curing salt #1, 1 head garlic, 1 tablespoon peppercorns, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 3 bay leaves, and 1 cinnamon stick.
Step-by-Step Pastrami Making Process
Follow these steps for perfect home-smoked pastrami:
1. Trim and Prepare the Brisket
Trim off any excess hard fat from the brisket, leaving about 1/4 inch fat cap. Pierce the fat cap all over with a fork to allow the rub and smoke to penetrate the meat underneath. Rinse brisket under cold water and pat dry completely with paper towels.
2. Make the Dry Rub
In a small bowl, mix together all the dry rub ingredients (black pepper, paprika, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, coriander seeds).
Generously coat the entire brisket with the rub, patting it onto all surfaces. Wrap brisket in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, at least 12 hours.
3. Make the Brine
In a large pot, combine the water, salt, brown sugar, curing salt, garlic, peppercorns, coriander, bay leaves and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool completely before adding brisket.
4. Brine the Brisket
Add brisket to the cooled brine, making sure it’s fully submerged. Refrigerate and brine for 5-7 days.
5. Rinse and Dry
Remove brisket from brine, rinse under cold water, and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. At this point it can be wrapped well and refrigerated for 2-3 days before smoking.
6. Smoke the Brisket
Prepare smoker with wood chips according to manufacturer’s instructions and heat to 225°F. Place brisket fat side up on the grate and insert a probe meat thermometer into thickest part, keeping probe end exposed. Smoke brisket 4-5 hours until internal temperature reaches 160°F.
7. Wrap and Finish Cooking
Remove brisket, wrap tightly in foil, and return to smoker for 2-3 more hours until internal temperature reaches 190°-200°F. The brisket should probe very tender.
8. Rest, Chill and Slice
Allow brisket to rest wrapped for 1-2 hours. Unwrap and slice against the grain into 1/4 inch slices. Place slices between sheets of parchment paper, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight before using for sandwiches.
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Assembling the Perfect Pastrami Sandwich
With tender, thin-sliced homemade pastrami, you can now build the perfect sandwich:
Choose the Right Rye Bread
Go for fresh, high-quality rye bread with a crisp crust and dense, caraway-flecked interior. Look for authentic Jewish deli-style rye from bakeries like Orwashers in New York.
Layer on Mustard
Slather on a generous layer of mustard. Spicy brown or whole grain mustard is preferable over bright yellow deli mustard. The mustard’s vinegar adds the right punch to balance the rich pastrami.
Don’t Skimp on Meat
Pile on the pastrami in abundance. Opt for 8-12 thin slices per sandwich so you get plenty of smoky, salty meat in each bite. Leave it untrimmed for extra flavorful burnt ends.
Add Tangy Pickles
Pickles cut through the richness with brightness. Opt for full sour dill pickles or pungent half-sours. Lay 2-3 long pickle spears on top of the pastrami.
Toast the Bread (Optional)
For extra crunch, lightly butter the inside of each bread slice and toast in a skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Build sandwich on the toasted rye.
Cut and Enjoy!
Cut diagonally through the stacked sandwich so all filling layers are visible. Grab a napkin and enjoy your from-scratch pastrami sandwich!
Tips for Making Excellent Pastrami at Home
Follow these tips for the very best results when making pastrami:
- Use fresh, high-quality beef brisket, ideally prime grade. Inspect for good marbling.
- Apply a generous dry rub. The brisket should have a thick, flavorful spice crust before smoking.
- Brine for 5-7 days for thorough seasoning and preservation.
- Maintain a low, slow smoking temp (225°F) for up to 5 hours to fully render fat.
- Wrap at 160°F internal temp and finish cooking wrapped until 190-200°F for tender, fall-apart meat.
- Chill the sliced pastrami before sandwich-making for easier slicing.
- Slice very thinly against the grain for tender bite.
- Opt for dense, fresh rye bread and spicy brown mustard to stand up to the pastrami.
- Don’t skimp on meat or pile on too many other fillings that distract from the pastrami.
With quality ingredients and the right technique, your homemade pastrami sandwiches will rival the best delis! What are you waiting for? Fire up that smoker and enjoy authentic, melty pastrami any time.