How to Make Pastrami from Corned Beef – A Step-by-Step Guide

Pastrami is a deli favorite that combines salty, smoky and spicy flavors for a sandwich that can’t be beat. While you can buy pre-sliced pastrami, making it yourself from corned beef results in a far superior product. With just a few simple steps, you can turn corned beef into amazing homemade pastrami right in your own kitchen.

In this guide, you’ll learn all about how to transform store-bought corned beef into tender, flavor-packed pastrami through a process of desalinating, seasoning and smoking the meat low and slow. Let’s get started!

Overview of the Pastrami Making Process

Here is an overview of the basic process for making pastrami at home:

  • Start with corned beef – Use a quality pre-brined corned beef brisket as the base.

  • Desalinate – Soak the corned beef in water overnight to reduce excess saltiness.

  • Apply a rub – Coat the corned beef with a spice rub full of flavors like pepper, coriander, garlic and brown sugar.

  • Smoke the meat – Smoke the corned beef low and slow until fully cooked through and tender.

  • Steam – Finish by steaming briefly to further tenderize and enhance juiciness.

  • Chill and slice thin – After cooking, chill the pastrami completely before slicing it very thin to serve.

Follow these basic steps, and you’ll have incredible homemade pastrami that puts the deli version to shame!

Step 1 – Start with Corned Beef

A good quality corned beef brisket is the foundation for making excellent pastrami. Here’s what to look for when selecting your meat:

  • Choose the flat cut – The leaner flat cut brisket works better than the fattier point cut for uniform cooking.

  • Pick a size – Shoot for around a 3-5 pound corned beef brisket to feed 4-6 people. Go larger for big groups.

  • Find a quality brand – Look for brands like Niman Ranch that use high quality beef and curing methods.

  • Inspect for quality – Ensure the corned beef has a deep red color and firm texture with minimal liquid in the packaging.

The corned beef provides the salty, seasoned flavor base while the smoking and steaming finish the transformation into pastrami.

Step 2 – Desalinate the Corned Beef

Corned beef packs a salty punch, which you’ll want to temper before making pastrami. Desalinating removes some of that excess saltiness for better flavor balance:

  • Submerge in water – Place the corned beef in a container and cover completely with cool water.

  • Soak overnight – Let the corned beef soak in the fridge for 8-12 hours.

  • Change the water – Drain and refresh the water halfway through for more thorough desalinating.

  • Rinse well – Once done soaking, rinse the corned beef under cool water to wash off surface salt.

Desalinating for the right duration prevents the final pastrami from being overly salty. Now your canvas is ready for lots of flavor!

Step 3 – Make and Apply a Spice Rub

A flavorful spice rub is what transforms desalinated corned beef into true pastrami. Here are some tips for making and applying an awesome rub:

  • Use whole spices – Start with whole versions of spices like black peppercorns, coriander seed and mustard seed. Grind them up coarsely.

  • Include aromatics – Garlic powder, onion powder and paprika add savory aromatic notes to the rub.

  • Sweeten with brown sugar or honey – A touch of sweetness from 1-2 tsp brown sugar or honey balances the spices beautifully.

  • Bind with oil – Lightly coat the corned beef with oil first so the rub sticks well.

  • Apply liberally – Pack on the spice mix thoroughly, coating all surfaces. Press in with your hands so it adheres.

The rub provides the signature spicy, earthy pastrami flavors. Now it’s time to lock them in!

Step 4 – Hot Smoke the Corned Beef

Smoking transforms the corned beef into true pastrami by cooking it gently while infusing rich smoke flavor:

  • Set up smoker for 225-250°F – Use indirect heat with wood chips, chunks or pellets for smoke. Apple, hickory and oak work well.

  • Insert a probe thermometer – Monitor the internal temperature of the thickest part of the meat.

  • Maintain temperature – Keep the smoker between 225-250°F for even slow cooking.

  • Smoke until 205°F internal – The brisket is done when it hits an internal temp of 200-210°F.

  • Rest before slicing – Let the smoked meat rest wrapped for 30 minutes before serving.

Proper hot smoking ensures the pastrami cooks fully while taking on that quintessential smoky flavor.

Step 5 – Give it a Steam

A brief steam after smoking helps further tenderize the meat and enhances juiciness:

  • Bring a pot of water to a boil – Place a steaming rack in the pot with 2-3 inches water.

  • Suspend pastrami over steam – Set the smoked corned beef over the rack, not touching the water.

  • Steam for 30 mins – Steam until the internal temp reaches 210°F for well-done.

  • Wrap and rest – Remove from steam, wrap in foil and let rest for 30 minutes.

Steaming ensures your homemade pastrami finishes perfectly moist and fork tender.

Step 6 – Chill, Slice and Enjoy!

After steaming, let the pastrami fully chill before slicing it for sandwiches and platters:

  • Chill overnight – For easier slicing, refrigerate the pastrami until completely cold, ideally overnight.

  • Slice very thinly – Use a sharp knife to cut paper-thin slices across the grain.

  • Stack on rye bread – Pile pastrami high on slices of fresh rye bread with mustard.

  • Serve any style – Enjoy your homemade pastrami hot or cold on sandwiches, nachos, in pasta, salads and more!

With this easy process, you can now make restaurant-caliber pastrami at home for a fraction of the price. Experiment with different rubs and wood smoke flavors until you find your favorite.


  • What cut of beef makes the best pastrami? The beef brisket flat cut has the right meat-to-fat ratio for making juicy, flavorful pastrami.

  • How long does it take to make pastrami? Plan for 8-12 hours including desalinating, smoking at low heat and steaming. The brisket needs to cook low and slow.

  • Can I use wet brining instead of corned beef? You can opt to brine a fresh brisket yourself, but starting with pre-brined corned beef speeds up the process.

  • What wood is best for smoking pastrami? Hickory and oak give classic smoke flavor. Fruit woods like apple and cherry also pair well with the spices.

Homemade pastrami might take some time, but it’s a fun weekend project that yields incredible results. The taste payoff is well worth the effort!

Easy Homemade Pastrami – How to Turn Corned Beef Into Pastrami


Can you make pastrami from store bought corned beef?

This recipe works because it’s easy! You don’t need to make your own brine or wait a week like a lot of recipes call for. Simply take a store bought corn beef brisket, soak in cold water to remove some of the excess brine, then season and smoke!

What’s difference between pastrami and corned beef?

Corned beef is made from the leaner flat brisket. Pastrami is made with point brisket, which contains more marbling and fat. Pastrami can also be made with other cuts of beef, such as deckle (a lean shoulder cut) or navel (aka beef belly, which comes from the plate, a juicy section just below the ribs).

Is a Reuben sandwich made with corned beef or pastrami?

A Reuben sandwich is typically made with corned beef. It would taste great with pastrami too, it just wouldn’t be a classic Reuben! Bottom line: You can’t go wrong with either of these flavor-packed deli meats.

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