Backyard Kiawe-Smoked Pastrami

Backyard Kiawe-Smoked Pastrami Reuben Sandwich

With St. Patrick’s Day still a vivid memory from last week, another reminder of this festive Irish holiday may be those extra slabs of vacuum-packed Corned Beef Brisket you probably stocked up on while they were on sale. While its immediate destination may be your freezer chest, another thing you might wanna’ consider doing with it is making home-made Pastrami!

The thought actually never occured to me, but was suggested to my mom by the local supermarket butcher who was helping her choose the best cuts while she was shopping. I think this was at the Hawaii Kai Foodland. He said these corned beef briskets also make great Pipikaula (Hawaiian style beef jerky), but we’ll save that project for another day.

So here — post-St. Patrick’s Day — mom has ALL these extra corned beef briskets. Like enough to maintain Jurassic Park for a day or two (yeah, right). So she calls me up and asks me to search online how to make home-made pastrami using the stuff. At first I was a little skeptical and hesitant to put in the effort, but once I discovered making pastrami involved busting out the smoker, I said SHOOTS!… let’s do this!

To which I landed upon a great set of instructional video demonstrations over at The guy didn’t provide a written transcript of the video, so I had to listen carefully and rewind a few times to get everything so I could put it down on paper.

Here’s how it’s done according to, which is pretty much what I followed, except I swapped out his “barbecue mustard” which he noted as being sweet, with regular mustard (actually I used Dijon, which is better!) and added sugar to the rub, which most other home-made pastrami recipes call for, anyway.

Making Pastrami using store-bought corned beef brisket

Corned Beef Brisket – approximately 6-8 pounds (2 briskets)
1 cup mustard

Pastrami Rub – In a bowl, combine the following:
3 tbsp ground coriander seeds
3 tbsp. garlic powder
3 tbsp. black pepper (fresh cracked pepper even better)
3 tbsp. brown or cane sugar

Trim corned beef of excess fat, then wash and dry surface. Puncture the meat using a meat tenderizer tool or sharp fork.

Evenly the coat the trimmed and tenderized corned beef brisket with mustard, then dust rub to evenly coat all surfaces. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 12 hours.

Fire up your smoker, aiming for around a 200 degree temperature. Place brisket unwrapped on smoking rack and smoke for 3 hours. Then wrap it tightly in foil and cook another 2 hours at same temperature. Remove from smoker and let stand wrapped in the foil, and also wrapped in a towel for 1 hour. Allowing it to “rest” for the extra hour will allow the juices to redistribute back inside the brisket.

What? You think I’m just gonna’ provide a text recipe and that’s it? No way, Jose! Let’s do this “Tasty Island Style”!

Here we have the Corned Beef made by Reddi Gourmet…

The butcher recommended this brand, saying the quality of these brisket cuts were just as good as the leading McCoy brand, at a fraction of the (sale) price. Cool.

Here we have the brisket after being washed thoroughly under cold water…

That’s the underside. Here’s the topside with the fat cap…

The Big Iron Barbecue man (we’ll name him Mr. BIB from here on) said to trim some of the excess fat off, so that’s what I did…

Believe me, there was a LOT of excess fat on these briskets. I’d say at least a pound’s worth after I trimmed whatever I could.

After trimming the fat, you need to help tenderize the meat even more by pricking it with something sharp. Mr. BIB had one of them handy-dandy multi-blade meat tenderizers, but I didn’t have one, so instead kept jabbing at it with a 2-pronged meat fork…

Do it vigorously. Take your anger and frustrations out on that bad brisket. lol After tenderizing it like this, it’s ready for the rub.

Either before or after preparing the briskets, mix the dry rub. I used whole coriander seeds that I put in a small food processor to granulate it, then combined it with equal parts cane sugar, black pepper and garlic powder…

Clockwise from top left above: Cane Sugar, Black Pepper, Garlic Powder and Granulated Coriander Seed

You should SMELL this rub. It smells so good! Like you just walked into a deli or sausage shop. Must be the coriander.

Now that you have the Pastrami dry rub mixture ready, evenly coat the briskets with your favorite mustard. In this case what I had on hand was Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard, so went with that…

This will not only add a layer of flavor, but also will help the dry rub stick to the brisket. The wine in the Dijon should also help the dry rub flavor penetrate slightly into the surface of the brisket. I’m pretty sure any mustard will do though.

Once you got it coated with mustard, wash your hands, dry it and then evenly sprinkle the rub over the entire surface of the brisket…

No scade, choke ’em (don’t hesitate, be generous) lol. Just make sure to reserve half the dry rub for the other side. Then pat the rub down into the mustard coating with your fingers. This way it won’t just fall off when you flip it to do the other side. Now flip ’em over and do the other side, same thing with the mustard, then the dry rub…

Pat the dry rub down on that side as well, then you wrap each brisket tightly in plastic wrap…

Then place them in the refrigerator and let it sit at least 24 hours to let the dry rub absorb into the meat…

You might want to put something underneath them in fridge like I did, just in case any juices leak out, although that ended up not happening.

The next day (or two), bust out your smoker. Yay! Actually, just like the smoke meat demo I showcased the last time, this time again I’m using the same 22″ Weber kettle grill as my smoker. It works like a champ every single time.Using that same method, I cut up a disposable aluminum pan to act as a heat sheild, weighted down and held in place by another pan full of water…

The charcoal briquettes are located to the right under the heat shield. This next photo perfectly illustrates how effective that heat shield (pan) is..

No, I didn’t “Photoshop in” that flame. It’s the real HOT deal.

You’re gonna’ need smoking wood, which in this case I used non other than Kiawe (Mesquite)…

Those two pieces were enough for the entire 3 hour smoking process. Soak them in a pail of water at least an hour before your smoking session.

After the fire dies down and the coals begin to ash over, throw on your soaked Kiawe wood…

Now place the cooking grate on the grill and begin adding the meat. Woohoo!…

Oh, make sure to remove the plastic wrap before putting the brisket on the grill. Melted plastic-flavored Pastrami wouldn’t be good.

What I didn’t mention yet is that I’m actually killing two birds with one stone during this smoking session. While, no, I’m not gonna’ also smoke a bird or chicken, I am also gonna’ be making more Big Island Style Smoke Pork. Oou’right! So here the marinaded pork goes onto the grill next to the seasoned corned beef…

There shouldn’t be a problem with cross-flavoring, as the meat drippings will just fall underneath, not side by side, possibly resulting in some kind of hybrid smoke pork/pastrami flavor. Although that just might be interesting if it did! “Pastramiyaki”, perhaps? Hmmmm… I just might try doing that some day!

What now? Cover it and let’r smoke!…

Keep the vents under the grill and on the lid open for maximum air flow.

The coals and Kiawe wood – which the latter will eventually turn into coal itself once the water evaporates – lasts easily over an hour, so no need open the cover and check it at least until then. Once there’s no smoke wafting out, then open it and check the pyre.

Never guess the cooking temperature when you’re smoking. Always use a thermometer. In this case I use my old faithful Cooper meat thermometer, which gives a chamber reading that’s close enough…

As you see, it’s at 220 degrees Fahrenheit, which is exactly where I want it. Once the Kiawe wood starts to burn, the temperature goes up another 40 degrees, as Kiawe is a very HOT burning fuel. Much, much hotter than charcoal briquettes. Lower and slower the better, but that’s OK, even 260 is fine.

After 3 hours of smoking, it looks like this…

Ahhhh..ooooohhh…aaaahhhhh. lol Of course the pieces of pork closest the heat source are gonna’ cook the most, but that’s ok, those pieces are still moist and tender, thanks to them being brined. Since this was my first time smoking pastrami, I kept them safely in back, as I wasn’t sure how the heat would affect the outcome.

Mr. BIB said the corned beef needs to smoke for 3 hours exposed like this. Then after 3 hours of smoking, you wrap them up in aluminum foil…

Then they go back on the grill, to which in this photo, it’s already 4 hours into the cooking sequence…

After the 3 hours of smoking, I stopped adding any more Kiawe, as at this point I only wanted them to cook, not smoke. That’s the fine art of smoking meat, which is knowing just how much smoke to apply. Too much and the meat can taste too smokey, or worse yet, bitter. I’ve found 3 hours using Kiawe is the perfect time span for the smoke pork.

At this 4 hour point, I removed the smoked pork, which, as you see, they’re done. You can tell not only by the caramelized sugar from the marinade, but also the slightly blackened edges and firmness to the pork, which should feel similar to pressing your finger on the palm of your other hand.

The corned beef/pastrami needs to go for another hour, making that 3 hours of smoke-cooking and 2 hours cooking, for a total of 5 hours.

I’ll go into more details on the smoke pork in another post. From here on let’s concentrate on this Corned Beef-turned-Pastrami project.

Continuing to follow Mr. BIB’s instructions, the now smoked and cooked pastrami should be wrapped in a towel and let rest…

Let them rest wrapped-up in the towel for at least an hour to allow the juices to redistribute in the meat. Then unwrap them and bust it out.

Here’s what the finished results looks like…

Let’s cut a piece and try it!…

Supah ono! Quite a “bite” from the cracked pepper. The pastrami itself is very moist and tender, and surprisingly not as salty as I expected it to be. About as salty as any typical summer sausage. The smoke flavor is a bit too intense though. At least by itself when eaten alone. I’d knock 1 hour off the smoking time next time. Perhaps it’s because I used Kiawe, which is easy to overdue, depending what it is you’re smoking. Or maybe I’ll try a different wood next time, like Guava.

Still good though. Some folks may like the super-smokey taste, but I’m a little more discriminating about it, being I’m the one making it.

Since I’ll be using this to make Pastrami and Pastrami Reuben Sandwiches, I let it chill in the fridge overnight to “harden” up….

This will make it easier to slice thinly, as I don’t have one of them fancy motorized deli meat slicers.

After slicing up that entire Pastrami brisket, it looks like this…

Gotta’ love that coriander-peppery crust on the edge of each slice. Good stuff!

There’s an ongoing debate on the “perfect” pastrami sandwich, which you can read all about here.

While I’m not an expert of the dish, I do know that no matter what, a great Pastrami or Reuben sandwich has to be made with Rye Bread. It’s gotta’! Personally I prefer DARK Rye…

While the classic Reuben may call for Russian Dressing, I couldn’t find any already made in neither Safeway nor Foodland (I’ll have to check Whole Paycheck next time), so I opted to go with the next best thing, Thousand Island Dressing…

One site I read suggested the best way to HEAT pastrami is by “steaming” it in a pan with just a small amount of water, which is what I did…

I then let the water reduce and poured it over the Pastrami after I placed it on the dark Rye bread. To which I ended up with this sandwich…

This Backyard Kiawe-Smoked Pastrami Reuben Sandwich I made is simply “steamed” Kiawe-smoked Pastrami, with Sauerkraut in the middle of the Pastrami layers, melted Swiss Cheese on top, in between pan butter-toasted Dark Rye bread with Thousand Island dresssing. Oh, with 2 dill pickle wedges on the side.

How is it? FAN-TAS-TIC! I’m usually not one for heavy “meat-loaded” sandwiches, but this one is exceptionally ONO! Easy 4-SPAM Musubi rating. Possibly 5.

Notice I don’t pile the Pastrami to ridiculous, inedible heights, as I like to be able to actually BITE into my sandwich. There’s just enough Pastrami in this to compliment, without overpowering all the other components.

I wonder if “Kiawe-smoked” could command another $5 tacked on the price of the sandwich if I were to offer this on a restaurant menu? Hmmm. Perhaps add “Big Island” for good measure. lol. As for that “Backyard” title, it simply means “home-made” in a grillin’ kinda’ way.

Next I’ll try making a Vietnamese style Banh Mi sandwich using this Kiawe-Smoked Pastrami. Now THAT sounds promising!

Well there you go. In case you’re looking for other things to do with your corned beef brisket (because you know, that must have crossed your mind a few times), here’s another opportunity to hone your meat-smoking skills and make some home-made Pastrami. I think you’ll be really happy with the results. I am.


20 thoughts on “Backyard Kiawe-Smoked Pastrami

  1. Pomai, I’ve never said this before, but OMG, OMG, OMG!!!! I love pastrami, but what’s available in Hawaii (up until you busted out your pastrami-making skills) is kind of blah, so I can only drool over your amazing creation.

  2. That is an excellent tutorial on smoking corned beef to make pastrami. Well done!
    I wonder what if using oak wood would make a difference in flavor.

  3. Okay, living up here on the east coast we have plenny of pastrami and personally I do not like it! My haole hubby likes to boil water, take off heat, then add the pastrami to it to “soak” for little bit. Then slap it in between two slices of bread with lots of mustard! But your recipes and photos here make it look so ultra ono!

  4. Pomai Dude Man, You Cooking Again!!!!

    Awesome sandwich. I like hot pastrami on dutch crunch roll with mustard and the works. The roll inside is toasted first.

  5. Wow, hot pastrami sound so good. It does have more flavor when it hot on a grill sandwich roll. When I was in San Francisco had it at Uncle Vitto on Bush St. and hop on cable car to Pier 39 afterward.

  6. That looks amazing. You’re my hero dude.

    Man, if only I could cook as good as that. Good thing I’m still young (18) and I have a lot to learn. From whom did you get your cooking skills?

  7. I just have to say………..It looks great. I am really happy the video was useful and your descriptions with the pictures of that great food are top notch.

    My hat is off to you. Great job. Great looking food, and great blog.

    Stay in touch,

  8. Mr. BIB! (BigIron) What an honor to have the teacher of this recipe stop by. Glad to hear your approval of my execution of the dish. It turned out great.

    Ricky, watch Food Network more than MTV, and you should do well. lol Seriously, I get plenty of my skills watching the cooking methods used by the pros on the Food Network. I love Sam Choy’s Kitchen every saturday at 6:30pm on KHNL. Great show for learning how to make local style dishes. I find cooking shows very educational, yet entertaining at the same time. My girlfriend has a college degree in culinary arts (MCC in da’ house!), so she gives me a few helpful tips as well. Essentially I think, if you can read (a recipe), you can cook. Using the best quality ingredients you can get your hands on helps as well. Hope those tips helps.

    Shelly, yup, the Pastrami gotta’ be hot. Preferably steamed.

    Kimo, dude, yup, cookin’ again. Actually, errr, umm…. smokin’! lol

    East Coast Wahine, what I like about putting the pastrami in water to heat up, is that it removes some of the saltyness, making it more balanced in the sandwich and not overpowering. Your hubby’s got it right.

    Kat, actually I’d say this more “semi home-made”, as the corned beef brisket is already brined.

    Nate, great point about the type of smoking wood. I sent an email to “Mr. BIB”, asking what type of wood he used. Perhaps Kiawe might be a bit too “sharp” for beef. Perhaps something a little more mellow might be better. The Kiawe (mesquite) still works though, but I think knocking off an hour on the smoke time might be a little better, at least with that type of wood.

    Molly, OMG, like, thanks! lol

    Marvo, gotta’ admit, in comparison, this Kiawe-Smoked Pastrami ‘n Swiss on Dark Rye Sandwich will make any microwaveable frozen breakfast sausage sandwich that you’ve reviewed in the past taste like utter HELL. lol

  9. Pomai,

    First of all, thank you.

    I’ve always thought of smoking a corned beef brisket and I’ve always wanted to make my pastrami sandwich.

    You took care of both for me. Everyone loved it. My wife brought some to her work and everyone drooled when they smelled it while she was heating it up.

    Her boss asked if he could try some so she brought him some the next day and he loved it.

    I only made one brisket on my first run, next time will be two, may even be three.

    Again thanks


  10. Joe, glad to hear your corned beef-turned-smoked pastrami turned out a winner. Awesome! You really shouldn’t thank me though.. “Big Iron” is the man! (see comment and link above).

  11. Aloha Pomai,

    Great Posting on Pastrami. I love the stuff. Fun part is making it yourself and sitting outside playing with the grill/smoker.

  12. I’m surprised that you seemed to consistently cut your brisket with the grain, rather than against it. I don’t know why you did this, but STOP IT!! It will be much more tender if you cut it against the grain…

  13. Billy, great observation, and certainly MY BAD for doing that! Ack! I didn’t realize I was (horrifically) cutting it WITH the grain until you pointed it out.

    Thankfully it wasn’t tough at all thanks to the long cooking time, plus that at least it was cut very thin. Also how I heated it up in the pan with water, which helped out, moisture-wise. I still have some of that homemade smoked pastrami in the freezer. Next time I make a sandwich, I’ll be sure to cut it AGAINST the grain.

    I seen one of them motorized Deli Slicers in Costco recently. Looked like a very good quality consumer model. IIRC it was around $200.

    Val, glad you enjoyed the post. Always fun grillin’ ‘n smokin’ meats.

  14. St. Patrick’s day is right around the corner, so I’ll take advantage of the corn beef specials and pick some up. Gonna fire up the smoker and do some Pastrami….

    Shoot…might as well get some pork butt and make smoked meat while i’m at it.

  15. Val, great idea. Don’t forget the dark rye bread, swiss cheese, russian or thousand islands dressing, sauerkraut and the poi!

  16. pomai! i read this a long while ago….i have a weber just like you for many years….but never thought of using it to smoke. anyways….i’m a huge fan of central california “santa maria style” bbq. you may have heard of “bbq tri-tip” before. well, its simple enough–you put garlic salt + pepper (some folks add a smidge of msg). and then you grill it on an adjustable grate (you can lower or raise) bbq. a secret ingredient to santa maria style bbq is red oak–it’s quite smoky and distinctive in taste ๐Ÿ™‚ i pretty much did what you did, by moving the coals/smoking wood to the side. i got lazy however and didn’t put up a heat shield. take a look here:
    to see how i did it. notice the very tasty ‘koge’ edges ๐Ÿ™‚ anyways i’m going to try to tackle pastrami next ๐Ÿ˜€ i’ll let you know how that goes ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Raph’, damned, that looks ono! “Koge” crust indeed! Nom-nom-nom. gotta’ fight for that part! Speaking of woods, I recently attended a meat smoking competition where I met one of my readers there named “Crash” who was in the competition. Nice guy. He gave a few blocks of Cherry and Peach smoking wood, which I here, when you’re smoking meats in a COVERED smoker, you should always use a fruit-based wood, as Mesquite and Hickory can make the meat taste bitter.

    Being you’re Vietnamese, you also gotta’ try making a Pastrami Banh Mi!…

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