What Cut of Meat Do You Use to Make Pastrami?


Pastrami is a popular sandwich meat, commonly found alongside corned beef in delicatessen meat cases. It gets its unique flavor from curing in a spice rub or soaking in brine, followed by being encrusted with whole peppercorns and smoking. The meat can also be made from wild game or turkey. The meat source for pastrami determines what cut is used.

Beef Pastrami

  • Like corned beef, beef pastrami is commonly made from beef brisket. It can also be made from beef plate, shoulder, tri-tip, blade or beef round cuts. The cut of meat has to be large enough and have sufficiently substantial texture to stand up to the curing and smoking processes. Some beef pastrami is partially hot-smoked and then finished off by steaming or simmering.

Wild Game Pastrami

  • Pastrami can also be made from wild game such as venison, elk, moose or bear. Brisket, top round, shoulder, tri-tip and blade cuts of these all make good pastrami, as do eye of round roasts. Since the cuts of meat from these animals are so large, often weighing 10 or more pounds, they are often halved prior to curing and smoking to save time and space in the refrigerator.

Turkey Pastrami

  • When consumers became more health conscious and began monitoring their fat intake, conventional beef pastrami became less popular. Turkey pastrami started showing up in deli cases as a healthy alternative. Made from ground and seasoned skinless thigh and drumstick meat, turkey pastrami has the same peppery coating and spice ingredients as beef pastrami and is similarly cured and smoked. However, it is about 95 percent fat-free, so it's a more nutritious choice.

Curing and Processing

  • Before curing meat for pastrami, it should be well trimmed of fat, gristle, skin and any other imperfections that would make it tough or difficult to carve. Wash the meat under cold running water, blot dry with paper towels and place it in a large container made from noncorrosive material, such as plastic or glass. Refrigerate the meat while you make the curing brine. You'll need a commercially produced curing mix, available at butcher shops and online sources, to make pastrami. Combine the curing mix with 2 teaspoons each of garlic and onion powder; 1 teaspoon each of ground red pepper, white pepper, oregano and paprika; and a half teaspoon each of powdered allspice and ginger. Rub the mixture into the meat and coat it with a light coating of light corn syrup and coarsely ground black pepper or whole black peppercorns. After the meat has cured, proceed with smoking or a combination of smoking followed by steaming or simmering.

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