Smoking a Corned Beef Brisket (The Making of Pastrami)

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Smoking a Corned Beef Brisket (The Making of Pastrami)

On St. Patrick's Day, there's no better way to get your “Irish” on than by smoking a couple of corned beef briskets in your backyard but don't you go and forget about this great hunk of meat for the next 365 days.. it's too darn good to only eat it once a year!

Helpful Information
  • Hands-on Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 8-10 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 240°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: 190-200°F
  • Recommended Wood: Hickory, Cherry or Maple (a mixture of these is great)
What You’ll Need
What to Purchase

You'll probably see these everywhere now that we are this close to St. Patricks day and they usually run in the 3-4 lb size. You are looking for one that feels tender, has about a quarter inch fat cap and has a fairly even thickness.

Other than that, there's not much to it.

If you are interested in wet curing your own corned beef briskets, check out this post on the forum.

Step 1: Prep for Cooking

The long, drawn out portion of making pastrami is in the curing of the brisket. Since we are purchasing the meat already ready to go, the final steps in preparing and smoking it is very easy to do and other than taking a little time in the smoker, it is hard to get wrong.

Optional Test/Remove Some of the Salt

Cut off a very small slice of the beef and do a quick fry on it using a skillet. If it's perfect, then continue but if you find that it is saltier than you like (common problem), you can do something about that at this stage in the game.

  1. Place the brisket in a pan of water in the fridge for 2 hours.
  2. Test again
  3. If it's good now, then proceed, otherwise, change the water and soak it for 2 more hours
  4. Test again, hopefully it's good now so you can proceed to the mustard and seasoning

Place the meat down in a pan to keep things less messy.

I recommend using some brown spicy mustard or your favorite Dijon mustard to help my original rub (get the recipes here) stick to the top and sides of the brisket.

Slather on a thin coat.

my original rub (get the recipes here) is the cat's meow and the bees knees on a whole lot of things including this corned beef brisket.

Be generous with it!

After a few minutes, the tiny bit of salt in my rub pulls some of the juices to the surface and makes the rub look wet.

That's exactly what you want.

Flip it over to fat side up and do the same thing again with the mustard and more of my original rub (get the recipes here). Be sure to get the sides with mustard and rub as well.

Believe it or not, the corned beef brisket is now ready for the smoker.. see how easy that was?

Step 2: Set Up the Smoker

Let the brisket sit there in the pan while you go get the smoker ready.

Any smoker will work as long as you can maintain a temperature of 240°F with indirect heat and provide smoke for about 4-5 hours.

I used a pellet smoker, the Camp Chef Woodwind, one of my favorite types of smokers right now. I love cooking with real wood and having this kind of flexibility and ease of use!

If you use a smoker that has a water pan, fill it up as well.

When the smoker is ready to go, it's time to get cooking!

Step 3: Smoke Time

You can place the meat directly on the smoker grate if you like but it's also completely ok to leave it in the pan. Just place the pan on the smoker grate and leave it there while it cooks.

This also makes it easier when we cover it later with foil.

Using a Thermometer

I highly recommend using a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the meat while it cooks. My thermometer of choice was the Thermoworks “Smoke” but if you have something different that's ok too as long as it's accurate.

The “Smoke” is a dual probe, remote meat thermometer and connects to an app on my phone via an optional Wifi gateway. This allows me to go about my day, even go to the store or anywhere else I please and still know exactly what's going on with the temperature of my smoker and the meat.

You can also use a handheld thermometer such as the Thermapen or ThermoPop to check it now and then and see where the temperature is.

If you can feel of the brisket with your fingers and guess the temperature AND actually get it dead-on every time, then you may not need a thermometer. The rest of us, need a little technology to get it right and there's nothing like getting it perfect every time with no guess work.

Step 4: Cover or Wrap

Once the brisket reaches 150-160°F , it's a good idea to wrap or cover the meat with foil to allow a little braising. This will tenderize the meat even further.

My brisket was in a pan so it was really easy to throw a piece of foil over it for a while.

Once the brisket hit about 185°F, I removed the foil to help the crust to firm back up.

Step 5: Finish and Serve

Corned beef briskets are often tenderized with papain and other ingredients from the factory to help make them end up more tender so the finish temperature is sort of dependent on the tenderness factor.

I sometimes use a long skewer to check the tenderness once the meat hits about 190°F and I dont' call it done until I can push the skewer in with very little resistance. This is usually anywhere from 195 to 200°F.

When the pastrami is finished, remove it from the heat and keep foil tented over it for at least 30 minutes before slicing into it.

Please note that my rubs and barbecue sauce are now available in 2 formats– you can purchase the formulas and make them yourself OR you can buy them already made, in a bottle, ready to use.

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Love the sauce and rub recipes. So far I have used them on beef ribs, pork ribs, and different chicken parts. Can't wait to do a beef brisket. Texas rub is great as well!

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Love the original rib rub and sauce! We have an annual rib fest competition at the lake every 4th of July. I will say we have won a great percent of the time over the past 15 years so we are not novices by any means. However, we didn't win last year and had to step up our game! We used Jeff's rub and sauce (sauce on the side) and it was a landslide win for us this year! Thanks Jeff for the great recipes. I'm looking forward to trying the Texas style rub in the near future!

Michelle M.

I tried the rub on a beef brisket and some beef ribs the other day and our entire family enjoyed it tremendously. I also made a batch of the barbeque sauce that we used on the brisket as well as some chicken. We all agreed it was the best sauce we have had in a while.

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Printable Recipe

Smoking a Corned Beef Brisket (The making of Pastrami)
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
10 hrs
Total Time
10 hrs 10 mins
With St. Patricks day around the corner, my attention has turned to smoked corned beef brisket otherwise known as pastrami. There's no better way to get your "Irish" on so grab a couple of corned beef briskets and let's get the party started!
Author: Jeff Phillips
What You'll Need
  1. Place the corned beef brisket into a pan, fat side down, for ease of cleanup.
  2. Slather a thin coat of Dijon mustard on the top and sides of the brisket.
  3. Apply Jeff's original rub (get the recipes here) generously all over the top and sides of the brisket and let it continue to sit until it get's a "wet" look. (about 10-15 minutes)
  4. Flip the brisket over to fat cap up and repeat the mustard and rub on the fatty side of the brisket.
  5. Let the brisket sit while you go get the smoker ready for cooking at 240°F using indirect heat.
  6. Place the pan of brisket on the smoker grate and let it cook until it reaches about 160°F.
  7. Cover the top of the pan with a piece of foil and let it continue cooking with just heat until the meat reaches a temperature of 195-200°F.
  8. Use a skewer or toothpick to check for tenderness. It should have little to no resistance when inserted.
  9. Let the meat rest with a piece of foil loosely tented over the top for approximately 30 minutes before slicing.

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2018-07-27T15:10:15+00:00By |21 Comments

About the Author:

Long time Industrial Engineer turned self-proclaimed fire poker, pitmaster and smoke whisperer and loving every minute of it!


  1. Dick July 29, 2018 at 7:03 am - Reply

    This is not Pastrami!! Two entirely different things. Corned beef is wet cured, pastrami is dry cured! Don’t forget to steam the pastrami.

  2. dick bengraff July 28, 2018 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Jeff i use your rub regularly and like it BUT it is not going to produce Pastrami.
    Pastrami to taste like pastrami must have heavy cracked pepper and coriander seed. some add dry mustard and a bit of brown sugar. Also perhaps some garlic and onion powder.
    Your smoking directions are ok but copious black pepper and coriander is what makes corned beef into pastrami.
    Thanks for a fine site!

    • Jeff Phillips July 30, 2018 at 12:46 am - Reply

      Fortunately, my rub contains a lot of coarse ground black pepper. I love black pepper and it would only make sense that I would incorporate a lot of that stuff into my products. Like you say, “true” pastrami usually has coriander which you can easily add if you like depending on your taste. I’m a big fan of traditional recipes.. I also like to color outside of the lines and encourage others to do the same.

  3. Denise Hooper July 27, 2018 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Core out a head of cabbage and throw a beef bullion cube and some butter in it wrap loosely in foil it tastes fantastic smoked also

  4. Robert Leitner July 3, 2018 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    I need to prepare this the day before serving, but I am not sure when to slice it, and how to re-heat it. I’m assuming I should put it in the fridge while it is still whole (once it cools down a little). Should I slice it before re-heating it or after? How should I re-heat it?

    • Robert Leitner July 5, 2018 at 9:46 am - Reply

      So…. I ended up putting it in the fridge whole, which worked out well, as I was able to skim off the fat when I took it out of the fridge the next day. Then I heated it for about an house in a covered dish at 275 degrees for about 1 hour. Then I removed it from the oven, sliced it, put the meat back in the liquid, and put it back in the oven at 275 degrees for another hour or so. I served it with slider buns, and it quickly vanished. It was amazing!

      My only disappointment was that there were no leftovers. 🙁

  5. Dean J Elliott June 17, 2018 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    When using a prepackaged cb (that comes w the little cellophane package of pickling spices) do you need to do anything with those pickling spices? Just finished my pastrami, had a bite but it seemed like I missed something with the pickling spices.

  6. Robert Leitner June 15, 2018 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    The “Printable Recipe” shows both prep time and cook time of 23 hours and 54 minutes.

    • Jeff Phillips June 15, 2018 at 11:41 pm - Reply

      Thank you for letting me know.. this has been corrected.

  7. Ron B. May 19, 2018 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    Never heard of Pastrami w/out a blanket of cracked pepper!

    • Jeff Phillips May 19, 2018 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      Ron, you can definitely add more cracked pepper if you like. My original rub has a lot of coarse black pepper and that’s what I use.

  8. Steven Francis April 7, 2018 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    My wife does not like corn beef, at all. However, when I fired up my Bradley 4 rack, electric and smoke one, she loved it.
    I followed the directions, for the most part. It was slathered with a stone ground mustard and a variation of Jeff’s rub. The meat was full of flavor and did taste like pastrami. And it was so tender.
    Thanks for the recipe. I just put another cb in about an hour ago and look forward to sharing it with her.

  9. Thom Edgar March 30, 2018 at 12:44 am - Reply

    I slow cooked 3 cb briskets and smoked one for a St Paddy party. The general consensus was I should have done it the other way! Big hit!

  10. Jeff Brennan March 24, 2018 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    What are your thoughts on the vent on the top of the smoker – open or closed? Using an electric smoker and they say to have it open for jerky and fish as it removes moisture. I have keeping it open about a quarter to try to build the bark up.

    • Jeff Phillips March 26, 2018 at 4:30 pm - Reply

      On most electric smokers like the Masterbuilt, I recommend the top vent be left full open at all times.

  11. Rick March 21, 2018 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    As noted, soaking in water cuts the salt and I did that twice. I would make at least twice as much as you think you’d need due to shrinkage. I also steamed the meat for an hour before serving and then put in the over on high to try and crisp the coating, but the aroma and taste was AWESOME! I had slow cooked a corned beef in crock pot (water, vinegar, onion and garlic powder) and sliced reuben and pastrami sandwiches in half and everybody got some of both.. ZERO left overs.

  12. Tom March 15, 2018 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Jeff, I have used this recipe before but I think I didnt put any salt into the rub. Have you ever done that? Thanks

    • Jeff Phillips March 16, 2018 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      I have not tried leaving the salt out of the rub but it sounds like it work really well since these corned beef briskets do tend to be on the salty side. You can also soak them for 2-12 hours changing the water every 2 hours to remove a lot of that salt.

  13. Tom March 15, 2018 at 8:28 am - Reply

    I have done this a lot. The resulting pastrami is very tasty and tender.
    One issue I have run into is that the commercial corned beef winds up getting reduced in volume by at least 1/3
    This can result in a very salty end product.
    You can soak it in clear water for a day before smoking or parboil is for 15 minutes and that can reduce the saltiness.

    • Rick March 21, 2018 at 1:04 pm - Reply

      Concur on both the size reduction and the need to soak in water. I swapped the water out once. But, the only thing left after my church small group met was some beef juice on the plate.

  14. Les C. from woodland ca. March 15, 2018 at 8:12 am - Reply

    The CB needs to be soaked in several changes of water or it will be to salty.

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