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Quick Pastrami - Smoked Corned Beef

Originally posted: 03/06/2008
Last updated: 09/24/2014

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  • Choose a corned beef brisket flat using the tips at the beginning of this article.
  • Rinse and soak the meat to reduce saltiness, then apply the cooking rub.
  • Smoke at 225-250°F to 165°F internal temperature.
  • Wrap in foil and let rest in a dry cooler for two hours.
  • Slice thin across the grain.
Pastrami rub on corned beef brisket flat
Pastrami rub on corned beef brisket flat
Slices of quick pastrami—smoked corned beef
Slices of "quick pastrami"—smoked corned beef

The Pastrami article demonstrates how to dry cure, season, and smoke a fresh beef brisket flat to create this deli classic. But is there a way to shortcut the process—especially the three-day curing process?

How about starting with an uncooked corned beef brisket flat and seasoning and smoking it like pastrami? The resulting pastrami—sometimes called faux pastrami—tastes a little different than the dry-cured product, but it's still quite good and takes much less time to make.

Here are some pictures I took on February 26, 2008 when I prepared quick pastrami using corned beef brisket flats on the Weber Bullet.

As on any of the pictures to view a larger image.

Select The Corned Beef

Corned beef brisket flats in packaging
Photo 1

Three different cuts of beef are used to make corned beef:

  • Brisket flat
  • Brisket point
  • Bottom Round

For quick pastrami, corned beef brisket flat is your best choice. It has less fat than brisket point and better flavor than round.

Is Pastrami The Same As Smoked Corned Beef?Here are some tips when buying a corned beef brisket flat:

  • When possible, buy corned beef that says "Spice Packet Included" on the label and then throw away the spice packet—you won't be using it. You want to apply pastrami spices to the meat, not corned beef spices. If you look inside the package and see the corned beef marinating in bay leaves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, and other herbs and spices, don't buy it.
  • Try to find a piece that has even thickness throughout.
  • The meat should be lean throughout but with a layer of fat on one side only—this indicates you have just the brisket flat cut.
  • Avoid pieces with a layer of fat running through the middle of the meat—this indicates a combination of brisket flat and brisket point. The flat and point cook at different rates, which makes the cooking process more complicated and time consuming.
  • If cooking multiple pieces, choose ones of similar weight, shape, and thickness so they all finish at about the same time.

This picture shows two USDA Choice corned beef brisket flats that I bought at a wholesale warehouse store. Each weighed about 3-1/2 pounds. Corned beef is available all year around, but is found in abundance and on sale in February and March before St. Patrick's Day.

Rinse & Soak The Corned Beef Brisket

Corned beef brisket flats soaking in water
Photo 2
Corned beef brisket flats after soaking in water
Photo 3

About an hour before firing-up your Weber Bullet, remove the corned beef brisket from its packaging and rinse thoroughly under cold running water.

Place the meat in a large, non-reactive bowl or container (stainless steel, porcelain-coated steel, plastic, glass, or ceramic) and cover with cold water (Photo 2). Let the meat soak for 30 minutes, change the water, and let soak for another 30 minutes. This helps reduce the saltiness of the meat.

Note: The soaking time can be increased to several hours or even overnight if you are sensitive to saltiness.

After soaking, dry the meat thoroughly with paper towels (Photo 3).

Apply The Pastrami Rub

Pastrami seasoning rub
Photo 4
Close-up of pastrami rub on corned beef brisket flat
Photo 5

This is the same salt-free rub used in the Pastrami article and provides a bold, peppery taste. Use a slightly coarse grind of black peppercorns and coriander seeds to create the crusty exterior typically found on pastrami.

You can substitute regular ground coriander if you don't have coriander seeds.

Pastrami Rub
3 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper, slightly coarse grind
1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seeds, slightly coarse grind
1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Apply a generous amount of rub to all surfaces of the meat. I used almost all of this rub on the two pieces shown here, which made them very peppery...adjust the amount used to your taste.

Once rubbed, the meat is ready to go into the WSM.

Select The Smoke Wood

Two chunks of dry pecan smoke wood
Photo 6

Use 2 chunks of pecan smoke wood. Each chunk should be small, for example 3" x 2" x 2" or similar. In this case, a little bit goes a long way—you don't want to overpower the meat. Oak can be used if pecan is not available, or another mild fruit wood as a last resort.

There is no need to soak the wood or remove the bark before use.

I used 2 chunks of pecan as shown in Photo 6.

Fire-Up The WSM

Fire-up the cooker using the Minion Method. Fill the charcoal chamber 1/2 full with unlit Kingsford charcoal briquettes, then place 20-40 lit coals on top of the unlit ones.

Put the water pan in the cooker and fill it with cold tap water to help with temperature control.

Smoke The Corned Beef Brisket

Rubbed corned beef goes into the WSM
Photo 7

Assemble the cooker and put the brisket on the top cooking grate fat-side down.

Set the 3 bottom vents to 100% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way throughout the entire cook.

When the cooker reaches about 225°F, set the 3 bottom vents to 25% open so the cooker settles in at 225-250°F measured at the lid. Adjust the 3 bottom vents as necessary to maintain this temperature range throughout the cooking session.

Cook the brisket until it reaches an average internal temperature of 165°. Take the meat's temperature in several spots and average the results. It will read higher or lower in different spots depending on the thickness of the meat.

The brisket does not need to be turned or basted during cooking, nor does the water pan need to be refilled.

This picture illustrates some of the problems you may encounter when buying corned beef brisket. Earlier in this article, I said that if cooking multiple pieces, you should choose ones of similar weight, shape, and thickness. I also said that you should not buy a piece that is a combination of brisket flat and brisket point. Both pieces in this picture are exactly the same weight, but the piece on the right took two hours longer to cook than the piece on the left. Why? Because the one on the right is thicker and contains an internal layer of fat separating flat and point. In my opinion, the piece on the left is the perfect piece for this recipe, and the one on the right should be avoided.

Here's how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during the cook of the brisket on the left in the photo. Add two additional hours for the piece on the right.

Time Lid Temp Meat Temp Vent 1 % Vent 2 % Vent 3 %
5:50pm - - 100 100 100
5:55pm 165 - 100 100 100
6:05pm 190 - 100 100 100
6:15pm 215 - 25 25 25
6:30pm 235 - 25 25 25
6:45pm 231 - 25 25 25
7:00pm 234 - 25 25 25
7:30pm 242 - 25 25 0
7:45pm 242 - 25 25 0
8:15pm 240 - 25 25 0
8:30pm 240 - 25 25 0
8:45pm 230 - 50 50 50
8:55pm 240 - 50 50 50
9:15pm 249 - 50 50 50
9:30pm 248 160°F 50 50 50
9:45pm 249 - 50 50 50
10:15pm 246 - 50 50 50
11:00pm 250 165°F 50 50 50

Note that the vent percentages represent the way I set the vents at the time indicated.

Let The Meat Rest

Quick pastrami after cooking
Photo 8
Foil wrapped quick pastrami in a dry cooler
Photo 9

Wrap the brisket in two layers of wide, heavy-duty aluminum foil and place it fat-side up in a dry cooler. Let the meat rest for two hours. Carryover heat will continue to cook the brisket, and juices collecting in the foil will reabsorb and redistribute within the meat. Placing the meat fat-side up allows the lean side of the brisket to bathe in the juices, helping to soften the meat.

Photo 8 shows the quick pastrami as it's being wrapped in foil. Photo 9 shows the foiled meat going into the dry cooler. The bath towel in the bottom helps protect the interior of the cooler from the hot brisket.

Slice & Serve

Interior view of quick pastrami—smoked corned beef
Photo 10
Slicing quick pastrami on a mandoline<
Photo 11
Slices of quick pastrami
Photo 12

After a two hour rest, slice the meat thin across the grain. Alternatively, refrigerate the meat overnight and slice it cold the next day.

I refrigerated this quick pastrami overnight before slicing. Photo 10 shows how the meat looked on the inside. You can leave the fat intact for added flavor, or remove some or all of it if you prefer leaner meat.

Photo 11 shows how I sliced the cold meat across the grain using a mandoline set to the thinnest setting. Photo 12 shows the thin slices of meat.

As mentioned in the Pastrami article, if you compare the tenderness of this quick pastrami to that of barbecued brisket, you'll find that it's not as tender—the slices do not pull apart easily. This isn't a problem. Remember, this is not barbecued brisket. It has an entirely different texture as a result of the curing process. This is why you want to slice the pastrami across the grain as thinly as possible.

Handle your quick pastrami the same way they do at the deli—slice off what you need and wrap the remainder tightly in plastic wrap (or vacuum pack using a FoodSaver) and store in the refrigerator.

To reheat, place the slices on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave gently at a 20-30% setting for just a minute or two, taking care not to overheat.

My cooking log notes that this smoked corned beef was very peppery and tasted a lot like pastrami on the outside, but still had some of that familiar corned beef taste on the inside. When sliced thinly across the grain and piled high on good bread with brown mustard and Swiss cheese, it's a not a bad substitute for the three-day, dry-cured pastrami—and much easier to make, too.

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