So I woke up early Saturday (6 AM) to get to work on the pastrami that had been in a brine for 3 days, and having fallen asleep at 2 AM the night before, I was in zombie mode and totally forgot to take pictures. I’ll try to remember everything that went wrong and keep them in mind as lessons for next time. I refer to the meat as either brisket, corned beef, or pastrami: they are all the same piece of meat, but representative of the different stages of the cooking process. Brisket is the raw, uncooked, unbrined meat, corned beef is the meat after brining, and pastrami is the meat after smoking.
Get Some Rest
Obviously, I needed to be well rested to be on my A game. I was spilling stuff all over the place, forgetting this, forgetting that… just bad planning by me.
But onto what happened with the pastrami:
Use a Container that Actually Fits
That flat tupperware container that I thought would be perfect for the brine did not work out. Usually when you put something in a brine, you weigh it down with a bowl or plate to keep the entire piece of meat submerged in the brine. When setting up the brine, I put a plate on top of the meat and covered it with the tupperware lid. This ended up being too tight of a fit, and the bottom of the plate completely cut off the meat from the brine. As I pulled the corned beef out on Saturday, the first thing I saw was a giant circle of pink in the middle of the meat. The pressure from the lid onto the plate and onto the meat prevented a whole section of the meat from soaking up the brine.
Athough I’m not absolutely certain yet, the effect of the tight container is that when finished cooking, the center of the pastrami was that greyish-brown color of regular cooked meat. I’m guessing this is due to the brisket not absorbing the pink salt from the brine. Hopefully Test 1 will prove this case.
Give Yourself Some Time
I wanted to get up at 5 AM to give myself a headstart towards a 1 PM lunchtime goal, but as the best laid schemes of mice and men go, I woke up at 6. This put me in a time crunch of sorts, as I wasn’t sure how long it would take to smoke. Most websites say about an hour per pound. To start, I tried to get as much smoke on the meat with as little heat as possible. The first hour I had the smoker going at 150 degrees, but fearing that I would not have enough time to get the meat up to 150 within the next 4 hours, I brought the smoker up to 200. Within 3 hours in the smoker, the center of the pastrami had already reached 150.
Know How Deep Your Roasting Pan/Rack Is
Test 1 is definitely going into a steamer rather than a roasting pan. I failed to use a little common sense and filled the roasting pan with an inch of water as specified in Charcuterie. My roasting rack hangs lower than an inch from the bottom of the pan, so when I dropped the rack with the pastrami into the pan, a lot of the spices came off in the water.
Along the same lines, I think the 1″ depth of the water goes towards gently roasting/steaming the pastrami, but since I had dumped about half of the water out, the pastrami cooked in the oven much faster. Just use a steamer and these problems won’t occur.
There weren’t enough people around for Test 1, so I took it out of the brine and it’s chilling in my fridge. I hope it keeps for next weekend. Still deciding whether to make a corned beef w/ cabbage, or stick w/ the pastrami thing.