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Sara Hansen

Top Pro Tips on Smoking Pastrami for Delicious Results Every Time

Smoking pastrami is a delicate art that can result in mouthwatering, flavorful meat if done correctly. In this article, we will provide you with top pro tips for smoking pastrami to achieve delicious results every time you fire up your smoker. 

Get ready to impress your friends and family with mouthwatering, flavorful pastrami that will leave them craving for more.


So, What is the Difference Between Pastrami and Corned Beef?

Before we get into the tips for smoking pastrami, it’s important to clear up any confusion between pastrami and corned beef–two things that are often confused with each other. 

Pastrami and corned beef are both cured beef products, but they do have some key differences in terms of their preparation and flavor.

Corned beef is most often from the flat brisket. This tough cut of meat is then brined in a solution of salt, sugar, and pickling spices. This process preserves the meat and tenderizes it. 

Pastrami often also starts with brisket, but it is typically made from the point brisket, which means it is usually more tender than corned beef. (Though it can come from several other beef cuts as well, more on this below). For pastrami, the meat is also brined, but after doing so, it is rubbed with a spice mix that typically includes peppercorns, coriander, garlic, and paprika. Corned beef is usually not seasoned at all after brining.

But the main difference between pastrami and corned beef is the cooking process. Corned beef, after it is brined, is typically boiled or steamed until it is cooked through while pastrami is smoked, which gives it a richer, more complex flavor than corned beef.

Now that we know exactly what pastrami is, let’s dive into what you need to know to smoke it properly.


Things to Keep in Mind to Achieve Perfect Smoked Pastrami:

Choosing the Right Cut of Meat

To begin with, selecting the right cut of beef is crucial for a successful pastrami smoking session. The most common and highly recommended beef cut for pastrami is the point brisket. But, it can also come from the deckle or beef plate (aka navel). Look for a well-marbled piece with a thick fat cap, as this will contribute to the juicy tenderness and flavor of the final product.


Properly Brining the Meat for Maximum Flavor


pastrami brine | tips for smoking pastrami | smoked pastrami


Before smoking, it's essential to brine the meat to infuse it with flavor and enhance its juiciness. A pastrami brine solution usually combines water, kosher salt, sugar, curing salt, and a blend of aromatic spices. 

Use a roasting pan to submerge the meat completely in the brine, ensuring it is fully covered. You can use a heavy plate to weigh the meat down and keep it submerged. Then use plastic wrap to cover the pan and let it brine for at least 5 days in the refrigerator, flipping the meat one per day.


Applying a Flavorful Rub

Once the brining process is complete, remove the meat from the brine, pat it dry, and set it fat-side up. You then want to apply a flavorful rub to enhance the taste of the pastrami. Creating a rub of freshly ground herbs and spices will give you the best results.

Here is a recipe for a homemade pastrami rub:


  • 1/4 cup coarse ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole yellow (white) mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder


  1. If you are using whole mustard seeds, crush them in a mortar and pestle or grind them in a spice grinder until they are coarsely ground.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
  3. You can store the rub in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.

To use:

  1. Rub the pastrami rub all over the meat, coating it evenly.
  2. Refrigerate the seasoned meat for 24 hours.
  3. Remove it from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before smoking.


  • You can also add other spices to the rub, such as cayenne pepper, chili powder, or allspice if you want to add a little more of a kick.
  • If you don't have a spice grinder, you can grind the whole spices in a food processor.
  • Be sure to generously coat the meat evenly with the rub, so that it is well-seasoned on all sides, creating a good crust when smoked. 


Selecting the Right Wood for Smoking


wood chips for smoking pastrami | tips for smoking pastrami | smoked pastrami


Choosing the appropriate wood chips/chunks is crucial to achieving the desired smoky flavor in your pastrami. Different types of wood impart distinct flavors, so it's essential to consider the meat's taste profile and your personal preference. Here are some popular wood chip options for smoking pastrami:

  • Hickory: Known for its robust and smoky flavor, hickory wood chips are a classic choice for smoking pastrami. They provide a rich, bacon-like taste that complements the beef beautifully.
  • Oak: For a milder yet still flavorful smoke, oak wood chips are a reliable choice. They add a subtle smokiness that enhances the natural flavors of the pastrami without overpowering them.
  • Mesquite: Mesquite wood chips offer a bold and intense flavor profile, making them an excellent option for those who prefer a stronger smoky taste. However, be cautious not to use too much and overpower the delicate flavors of the pastrami.


Mastering the Smoking Process

When it comes to smoking pastrami, low and slow is the key. Set up your smoker for indirect heat at a temperature of around 225°F (107°C). Place the pastrami on the grill grate, fat side up, and maintain a consistent smoking temperature throughout the cooking process.


Monitoring Internal Temperature

To achieve perfectly smoked pastrami, it is essential to monitor the internal temperature of the meat. Insert a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the cut, ensuring it doesn't touch any bone or fat. Aim for an internal temperature of around 195°F (90°C) for tender, melt-in-your-mouth pastrami. This temperature ensures that the collagen properly breaks down, resulting in a tender and delicious result.


Resting and Slicing the Meat

Once the pastrami reaches the desired internal temperature, remove it from the smoker and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing into it. This resting period allows the juices to be redistributed, ensuring a moist and flavorful result. 

When it's time to slice, do so against the grain to maximize tenderness and create bite-sized slices that are perfect for sandwiches or pairing with your favorite sides. You want to make sure that you are using a sharp slicing knife to cut thin, even slices. Aim for slices that are about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.


slicing smoked pastrami | tips for smoking pastrami | smoked pastrami
Katz’s Delicatessen


You Can Start Smoking Pastrami Perfectly Today!

Mastering the art of smoking pastrami requires attention to detail and the right techniques. By following these pro tips we covered above, you can achieve delicious results every time. 

Remember to start with a quality cut of beef brisket and allow enough time for the pastrami to brine and cure properly. Use a flavorful rub and maintain a consistent cooking temperature throughout the smoking process. Additionally, keep an eye on the meat’s internal temperature and make sure to let the pastrami rest before slicing. These tips will help you create tender, flavorful pastrami that will impress your friends and family. 

So fire up your cooker and enjoy the sensational flavors of homemade smoked pastrami!

Did you recently try your hand at smoking pastrami for the first time? Plan on trying it within the next few days after reading our tips? If so, leave a comment below. We want to hear all about it!

Ready to truly master smoking a variety of meats perfectly every time, grab your All-Access pass to BBQ Champs Academy today! Join the Champion Pitmasters in these one-of-a-kind virtual BBQ classes for in-depth, easy-to-follow instructions on smoking brisket, ribs, chicken, and pork butt. Plus, you’ll get insider tricks and tips unlike you’ll find anywhere else. 

Make sure to also click “Subscribe” on the BBQ Champs YouTube channel today to ensure that you catch all of the latest insider info, BBQ smoking discussions, and competition BBQ news, straight from the pros!

Sara Hansen

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