Homemade Pastrami from Brisket – The Cure

If you've ever wanted to make your own pastrami at home for St. Patrick's day or just because you like the stuff, then the time is now. This tutorial is part one of two– I will walk you through the easy steps of preparing and curing your own brisket.

In part two (located HERE), I'll show you how to do some final preparation and then smoke it to turn it into something absolutely juicy, tender and mouth watering!

Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cure Time: 6-10 days
  • Cook Time: N/A
  • Smoker Temp: N/A
  • Meat Finish Temp: N/A
  • Recommended Wood: N/A
What You'll Need
  • Packer brisket or brisket flat (trimmed is ok)
  • Curing brine (below)
  • Pickling spice
  • Large brining container with lid (food-safe plastic or stainless steel)

To Make 1 Gallon of Curing Brine

  • 1 gallon cold water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon (equivalent to 1 ounce) of curing salt #1
  • ¾ cup Morton's coarse kosher salt
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
IMG 0492 1000x715Please 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.

Step 1: Trim the Brisket

I purchased a 16 lb prime grade packer brisket from my favorite local warehouse store and decided to remove most of the outer fat since it had so much fat marbling in the meat.

Here's the one I got, fat cap side down:

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As you can see, removed the big pocket of fat on the side of the brisket first:

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I then flipped it over to fat cap side up.

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Because my aim is to cure this brisket and then smoke it, I removed most of the outer fat so the cure could have direct contact with the meat.

I went a little crazy with it but as you can see, plenty of intramuscular fat to keep it moist while it smokes.

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You do not have to be as brutal as I was about it and if it's a choice brisket or has less fat marbling, it's probably a good idea to leave at least some of the fat on the flat (left side of image above) of the brisket. The point (right side of image above) of a brisket is pretty fatty and can stand to have most of the outer fat removed regardless of the grade.

This thing is ready for curing!

Step 2: Make the Curing Brine

This recipe is a slight modification of “Pop's Brine”, a recipe that has been used for a very long time by Pops, a member at SmokingMeatForums.com passed down from his father who owned a grocery/meat store for many decades.

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This curing brine is not based on the weight of the meat and requires no heating to make. It is extremely easy and anyone that uses it, rarely uses anything else. I have used it for bacon and a number of other things including this homemade pastrami with the addition of pickling spices.

The maximum allowed concentration of curing salt is 3.84 ounces per gallon of water and Pop's brine uses 1 ounce (equivalent to a heaping tablespoon) per gallon. Not only does it work marvelously well, it is only 26% of the maximum allowed ratio so it's very safe.

If you can't find curing salt #1 locally, you can grab some on Amazon for around $10 for a 2-lb bag.

This is the kind I use:

curing salt 1

I ended up needing 3 gallons of curing brine for my 16 pound brisket so I had to triple the recipe.

Make Pop's brine by adding a gallon of cold water to a pitcher or other non-reactive container. I used a large stainless steel pot since I was multiplying the recipe.

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First add the curing salt #1 and the coarse kosher salt. When you first add these, the water will be very cloudy

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Stir for about 2 minutes or until it returns to clear again. This is a way of knowing when the salt has been completely dissolved.

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After the water is clear again, add the brown sugar and stir until it's dissolved.

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The curing part of this brine is complete but since it's going to be pastrami, we need to add the traditional pickling spices to give it the correct flavor profile. I purchase pickling spice already made up but you can make your own if you have your own recipe.

Step 3: Toast the Pickling Spices

I recommend about 2 tablespoons of pickling spice per gallon of water AND I recommend toasting it before adding it to the water. This is not something you have to do but I feel like it helps to bring out the flavors a little better.

Place a iron skillet on the stove and heat it on high. Pour your pickling spices in the pan and keep the spices moving around for about a minute or until you start smelling the aroma.

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Quickly transfer the toasted spices into the water and give it a stir.

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Step 4: Begin the Cure

Place the brisket down in a large food-safe plastic, glass or non-reactive container and pour the curing brine over the top to cover.

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As I mentioned, I ended up needing 3 gallons to cover this big hunk of meat and because my pan was pretty large. I made 2 gallons initially and then went back and made another gallon real quick when I saw that I needed it.

Once covered, the brisket tried to float so I placed a heavy plate on top and then a zip top bag filled with water on top of that to keep the meat submerged.

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I did not have a lid for this pan so I covered the best I could with foil.

I recommend writing the planned finish date on the foil with a sharpie.

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I don't do these often but a large dedicated brining pan with a fitted lid would sure be nice.

Place the container in the fridge.

Step 5: The Wait

I recommend curing at least 6 days but you can go as much as 10-12 days if you want or need to. Because St. Patricks day is just 12 days away, how long you cure will be determined by how quickly you can get what you need and what day you plan to cook it once it's finished curing.

Every day during the curing process, go out to the fridge, remove the cover and flip the brisket over to make sure the cure is able to move through the meat evenly.

Don't stress if you miss a day somewhere but try to do it everyday and it will reward you.

See part 2 where we smoke this thing up– HERE

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Jeff’s Smoking Meat Books

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Printable Recipe

IMG 0425 featured
Print Recipe
4.34 from 6 votes

Homemade Pastrami from Brisket – The Cure

In this recipe, I will walk you through the easy steps of curing your own brisket to turn it into something absolutely juicy, tender and mouth watering!
Prep Time30 mins

Ingredients

  • 1 Packer brisket ((A flat or trimmed version is fine))
  • 2 TBS Pickling spice ((store-bought))

Curing Brine

  • 1 gallon Water cold
  • 1 tablespoon Curing salt #1 ((heaping))
  • 3/4 cup Coarse kosher salt ((Morton's))
  • 1/2 cup Brown sugar ((dark recommended))

Instructions

Trim the Brisket

  • Trim all of the fat from the larger point end and to at least 1/4 inch or less on the flat end. If the brisket has plenty of fat marbling, you can remove all of the fat.

Make the Curing Brine

  • Add the curing salt and the coarse kosher salt to the water and stir until it becomes clear (about 2 minutes)
  • Add the brown sugar and stir until dissolved.

Toast the Pickling Spices

  • Heat an iron skillet over high heat and place pickling spices in the pan to toast. Keep the spices moving for about a minute or until you smell their aroma.
  • Transfer toasted pickling spices to the curing brine and stir.

Begin the Cure

  • Place the meat into a large food-safe plastic, glass or non-reactive container. Pour brine over the meat to cover.
  • If necessary, weigh the meat down with a plate and/or a zip top bag filled with water to keep the meat submerged.
  • Cover the container and place in the fridge.

The Wait

  • Keep the meat in the fridge for 6-10 days flipping the brisket every day for more even brining/curing.

20 Comments

  1. Robert Dovale November 7, 2021 at 9:17 am - Reply

    5 stars
    I’ve made this pastrami a few times and I really like it. I do have a question. If I use my chamber vacuum sealer and seal the brisket while it’s curing, will that cut down the curing time? And if so by how much?

    • Tom April 5, 2022 at 6:06 am - Reply

      i have same question, have you had any luck or tried it? all vac sealer will really do is just remove all air.

  2. Sherri adams April 15, 2021 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    How long do you smoke it for?

  3. Mike October 10, 2020 at 9:37 pm - Reply

    5 stars
    Is Mortans tender quick just like kosher salt?

    • Jeff Phillips October 19, 2020 at 1:43 pm - Reply

      Totally different product. Kosher salt is just salt that is flaked and tends to dissolve easily in water. Tender Quick is a mix of salt and chemicals that work together to cure meat.

      • zshamrock April 19, 2021 at 1:34 pm - Reply

        hello Jeff,, long long time follower, 0 posts, but after I tried this awesome recipe I wanted to thank you for the website and ask you a simple question. I had been looking elsewhere near me to buy the pink salt. no one sold it so I ordered Morton TQ on the net.. because of the size I also had to make a triple of the recipe on the bag(1 cup/ 1gal) it turned out SO SALTY it could not be eaten.
        I did soak it for 6 hours and changed the cold water every hour. I then rinsed it really well before putting your rub on it. will you please tell me if you have a recipe for cure that doesn't have so much salt?
        I am sure you have so many people asking you for help constantly. if and when you have time I would very much appreciate your input….
        If it's Broke,, it Probably Needs Fixin'

        • Jeff Phillips April 19, 2021 at 11:09 pm - Reply

          I only use Curing salt #1.. Mortons TQ is a completely different product and has very different ingredients. I recommend ordering the stuff I use on amazon at https://www.smoking-meat.com/curing-salt-1 and you will get much better results.

  4. Dick October 3, 2020 at 11:22 am - Reply

    2 stars
    Pastrami is cured with a dry rub. Not a brine like corned beef.

    • Jeff Phillips October 6, 2020 at 6:15 pm - Reply

      Dick, sort of like making bacon, you can dry rub or wet rub as long as the ratio of pink salt is correct. it's still bacon regardless if which method you use and likewise pastrami. Is this the way that is most used around the world.. I have no idea but it is a legitimate corning method.Pastrami is more about the smoke than the cure.

  5. Larry March 15, 2020 at 7:36 am - Reply

    4 stars
    Jeff,

    Why is the curing salt needed?

    • Jeff Phillips March 15, 2020 at 10:57 pm - Reply

      The curing salt along with the pickling spice is to give it that unique flavor.

  6. Andrew Powell March 12, 2020 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    How many people will this serve? I’ve got a 13lb in the brine now. Will have plenty of sides.

    • Jeff Phillips March 12, 2020 at 11:37 pm - Reply

      I usually purchase 1 lb per person + 2 lbs. It will cook down about 40-50% during the cooking process which gives you ½ lb per person and a little extra.

      With that in mind, the 13 lb brisket will feed about 11 people.

  7. Ed Carpenter March 12, 2020 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Can you skip part one and just buy a corned beef and proceed to step 2 ??

    • Jeff Phillips March 12, 2020 at 1:36 pm - Reply

      Yes.. you can do that.

      • Jay January 10, 2022 at 11:18 am - Reply

        Do you need to desalinate in pure water when done curing?

        • Jeff Phillips January 10, 2022 at 12:03 pm - Reply

          Jay, I recommend rinsing the meat once it's finished curing and then test a small piece in a frying pan. If it's too salty, you can then soak it for a few hours in fresh water to remove some of the salt but this is rarely needed if you follow my recipe for curing. I use less salt than most in my curing brine and it works great and does not create an overly salty piece of cured meat.

  8. James Anglin March 12, 2020 at 9:05 am - Reply

    Jeff, In one of the pictures I saw a container of Coriander, but I didn't see it in the recipe. Is it part of the pickling spice? How much is needed?

    • Jeff Phillips March 12, 2020 at 1:40 pm - Reply

      Sorry about that.. the coriander was already in the pickling spice so I decided to not use it any extra in the curing process. I used the coriander in the rub that I put on the brisket after it was cured.

  9. David March 5, 2020 at 9:38 am - Reply

    I avoid the brining part altogether and buy a corned beef brisket. Wipe of the slime and soak it for a few hours changing the water once or twice to remove the salt and use a rub made up without the salt. Works like a charm. Plus, corned beef goes way down in price in the days before St Patrick's Day and I have plenty of room in my freezer.

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