Recipe: Homemade Pastrami

Story by Jim McGrody, Director of Culinary Services at Rex Hospital. Photo by Hal Goodtree from Pastrami King on 23rd Street in Manhattan.

Cary, NC – I am kind of a sandwich snob. I love complex flavors, high quality meats and cheeses and, of course, the bread has to be perfect.

Searching for the Perfect Sandwich

I have spent a lot of time over the last few months developing new high-end sandwiches for our grill menu. I had created a pork burger version of the Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich. This is made from seasoned ground pork grilled and topped with a sriracha aioli and marinated vegetables with fresh cilantro, jalapeno and lime. This mouthwatering sandwich is then served on a crusty sesame cemita roll giving it a crunchy texture and an authentic taste.

Another great sandwich we have  is called the ” Bavarian” which is uncured ham, smoked provolone cheese, grilled onions with caraway seeds and our “house made” pickles. We serve this with a horseradish mayonnaise on a German pretzel roll. These are both awesome and have incredible flavors, but I was still looking for more. I wanted the quintessential sandwich on our menu.

I wanted something people would crave.

Brining Things – Taking the “Plunge”

I had been playing around with brining my own corned beef. I take beef briskets and place them in a brine with curing salt, Kosher salt, pickling spices and water. I then brine them for 10 days. This corned beef is better than you can buy. It has an amazing depth of flavor and texture that store bought corned beef just cannot match. In addition, the pride and satisfaction of making your own is really quite rewarding.

All Hail! Pastrami!

Having this beef made me think about Pastrami, the sexy cousin of corned beef. Pastrami is the king of all sandwich meats, this is the meat that Katz’s Deli in NYC has made famous.

Pastrami has the depth of flavor of corned beef with the addition of cracked pepper, coriander, garlic and crushed red pepper. It is then slow smoked over wood chips until moist and tender. What could be better than this? I have never made beef pastrami before but I sure was going to give it a try.

I took some charcoals from my BBQ pit in the back yard, gathered some hickory wood chips, loaded my car, and went to work. Once there I took some raw corned beef briskets from our brine. I rubbed it with the peppercorn coriander rub and I placed it over my charcoal and burning wood chips.

5 hours later, I had what I was looking for, homemade pastrami. It was so easy to do and the taste and texture is far superior then store bought.

From now on, I will never buy pastrami from a store. I will make it right in my back yard.

Recipe: Homemade Pastrami

Here is how you make it.


  • 5-7  pound raw corned beef brisket (must be corned beef brisket, not regular beef brisket and it must be raw)
  • ½ cup whole black peppercorns
  • ½ cup whole coriander
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper


  • Place all spices in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and pulverize until a coarse grind is achieved.
  • Rub spice mixture liberally over meat on all sides.
  • Place in a smoker using indirect heat. Smoke for 1 hour then cook until meat is tender( up to 4  more hours) and is fork tender.

Allow to cool slightly and slice very thin ACROSS the grain. Place between two slices of Jewish rye bread with some good mustard and you will have the King of Sandwiches… made by the king or queen of your back yard grill.

Stay tuned for more backyard recipes.


Jim McGrody is the Director Culinary Services at Rex Healthcare in Raleigh and Author of “What We Feed Our Patients”, a widely recognized book on how chefs are changing hospital food forever. Follow Jim on Twitter @blackhatchefs for more recipes and cooking tips. Or check him out on