Kind-of-Cajun Smoked Pastrami

The Deli Classic

Made Cajun-Style

The “kind-of-cajun” descriptor is an upfront disclosure about the origins of this wonderful meat product.

Pastrami is often associated with kosher delicatessens and it seems to emanate from Byzantine/Ottoman origins. It derives from the Romanian “pastrama” which is further derived from the Turkish “pastirma” meaning “pressed meat”. The cut of meat most typically used is beef brisket, although beef navel (analogous to pork belly) is closer to its roots.

We Cajuns are famous for our meat preservation techniques, but we cannot take credit for pastrami. We can still suit it to our tastes and serve it in our restaurants. I hope to give some cajun nuance to this great meat product while still respecting the key aspects of its preparation.

There are many recipes online about making traditional pastrami, I encourage you to try them. I have, and they are magnificent, however, they generally call for ingredients like cinnamon, clove, allspice, coriander, mustard seeds, bay leaves and ginger for the necessary brining preparation phase. These provide an aromatic bouquet and really give pastrami it’s distinctive characteristic flavor. I even use this style of brine when preparing my pastrami for my restaurant’s Reuben Sandwiches (more about that in another blog entry).

Pastrami is a cured meat. It is not a dry cured meat, such as a salami. This means that curing salts, or prague powder #1, must be used within a brine solution for its preparation. Prague powder #1 contains sodium nitrite, which is a preservation agent. My “Kind-of-Cajun” Pastrami brine contains water, salt, brown sugar, prague powder #1, cayenne, garlic, and black pepper. These will still give the meat a recognizable pastrami pink, but will lack the aromatic bouquet that is generally not authentic to the already diverse repertoire of cajun flavors. It will still have the smoky flavor that harmonizes well with any cajun palate.

This leads me to another essential element of pastrami making: smoke. Smoking has been used for millennia for meat preservation purposes. We all have refrigerators now, but we haven’t rid ourselves of smokers because our taste buds would not stand for it. Smoked brisket is so damn good with just a salt and pepper rub, this recipe just transforms it to something with a longer shelf life and a solid edge for making killer sandwiches or a breakfast potato hash.

If you are looking for a good excuse for buying a deli slicer, this is it. After this comes out of the smoker, I cut off a few pieces for immediate consumption, but I refrigerate the rest overnight and then slice it perfectly with my slicer. This will yield perfect slices and it will not fall apart. It tastes fine cold, but all of those smoky flavors and that tender mouthfeel rushes back to life after 60 seconds in a hot skillet.

Ingredients for the brine:

One gallon water
2 tablespoons of prague powder #1 (curing salt)
¾ cups salt
¾ cups brown sugar
7 cloves crushed garlic
3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons black pepper or whole peppercorns

  • Boil one gallon of water and add all ingredients. Stir occasionally until completely dissolved.
  • Allow to completely cool to room temperature, you can place in freezer to speed up cooling
  • Once cool, poor brine over 8-12 pound brisket and keep brisket submerged in brine with weights or keep in large Ziploc bag.
  • Keep brisket in brine solution for 10-14 days in a refrigerator
  • Remove brisket from brine, rinse off very well with cold water
  • Smoke that brisket between 225 and 300 degrees until internal temperature is 195 degrees. I agree with most BBQ professionals that the “magic temperature” of brisket is 203 degrees Fahrenheit, but 195 is perfect for pastrami because it will hold together much better while slicing when pulled at this temperature. Many recipes will call for pulling the meat out of the smoker when internal temperature reaches 150 degrees and wrapping in tin foil before returning to smoker until desired internal temperature is reached. I find this unnecessary and I don’t do it.
  • When desired internal temperature is reached, it is done.

Congratulations, you just make “Kind-of-Cajun” Pastrami! It is hot! Eat as much as you like right now, but after I get what I need, I refrigerate overnight to allow for easier slicing. I like to heat up the slices in a hot griddle for about a minute and then make sandwiches. It tastes great cold as well. Keeps for about three weeks in the ‘fridge.