Friday, February 26, 2010

Wednesday Test Kitchen Special: THE RED PASTRAMI PROJECT

For a few months now, I’ve been curious as to why red pastrami is non existent in the West Coast and why it is specifically made in the East Coast.  And to be honest, I still have no answers.  But, I will however give everyone a little basic information behind this fascinating different treat.

In the East Coast, when you buy pastrami at a deli, you have a choice of either Red and Black.  Black is the common coriander and pepper crusted beef brisket/navel cut of meat that you see at the deli.  It is normally relatively lean and is kept warm by steam in its own juices (preferable).  Red pastrami gets it’s famous red color and flavor from Hungarian sweet paprika and an optional combination of different chile pepper powders.  But aside from the amazingly wonderful complemented sweet smoky flavors, red pastrami is all about the F – A – T.   Yes, the fatback and fat layering is the best and most essential part of red pastrami.  Unlike lean black pastrami, red pastrami is best served when seared on a flat top and layered with cheese (provolone is likely what we use in East Coast).  And, when the fat renders during searing, there is a release of flavor that cannot be had with basic black pastrami preparation. 

Most mass produced pastrami are done with a wet cure, liquid smoked and steam cooked to finish.  While a dry cure is possible, it is normally not preferable due to the following reasons: 1) even salt distribution in meat, 2) size of the cut of meat, 3) meat moisture/water retention advantage of brine.  There is good pastrami out there nowadays, but I think the bad stuff outnumbers the standouts by a significant margin.  Mass production has also essentially killed the true smoke, fat and salt (nitrite) flavor in pastrami.   

And so with all this in mind, I annoyed a Golden Gate Meats butcher for 10 minutes to show me 3 different brisket cuts in order to find the most appropriate cut (approx. 5 lbs) for my West Coast Red Pastrami.  I did some basic research and sampled different chiles and spices to come up with a Hot Food Porn proprietary red pastrami spice blend.  I took the basic ratio of the wet cure/brine from Ruhlman’s book and altered basically 1/2 of the spices on his brine list to  come up with what I thought was a suitable red pastrami brine. 




I rotated the meat every 24 hours and brined for 4 days.  The result can be seem above.


It was time to smoke…this is how I clean my grates while I get my cherry wood chunks ready for smoking.

IMG_4072   IMG_4075

I then took it through the process of a hot smoke to about 145-150 F roughly over 4 plus hours.


The brisket then sits to cool and then gets placed in a bag and into the circulator for 2.5 hours more at a temperature of 155-156. 



The result?  Sexy red pastrami food porn.  These are initial pics, but the meat should be kept cold in its original juices, it will only soak up the smokey, meaty sweet discharge more over the next few days.  The meat is best eaten after sitting for about 1-2 days. 


  1. as an experienced bus boy in a nice jewish deli, i'm perfectly qualified to taste and give feedback on your pastrami. just let me know when, and i'll bring the mustard and beer.

  2. Although I’m a big believer in CBT and talk therapy, it seems less able to work with young minds that still have a lot of maturing to do. That leaves medication, which is scary, but it still needs to be addressed.

  3. Dear Sir,
    Sorry for my ignorance but what is circulator and, in the last photo, the machine beside the pastrami slices is a food slicer? Thanks and congratulations for your work and thanks to share.