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Jul 23, 2012 12:06 PM

What did I do wrong? (making pastrami with camerons stovetop smoker)

Ok, So I bought 2 cuts of beef brisket expecting to make pastrami. The first cut (which I believe is the cut that deli's use and was more expensive with less fat) and the second cut (which was a cheaper, fattier cut).
I brined for 6 days with cloves, peppercorns, salt, sugar, etc. (I couldn't find pink salt)
I dry rubbed for one day with mustard seeds, peppercorns and coriander.
I then bought a Cameron stove top smoker since I live in a tiny NYC apartment and there are barely any areas to BBQ.
I smoked on low for 2 hours on the stove top under low heat and when I uncovered, it looked like the meat had been steamed. So I turned it up to medium which is when the smoke started to come and you can tell the meat was smoking by all the smells.
After an hour, I put it in the oven for around 4 hours under 200-225.
Each piece was around 2 lbs and I sliced it, the inside was brown like brisket and dry.
I used hickory wood chips that came with the smoker and when I was washing it, the chips were black.
I read all of the directions and it didn't say to soak the wood chips and it said to use the rack (so that the meat wasn't sitting on top of the fat) but now i'm thinking maybe I should have let the meat smoke and cook on top of the fat and used the oven instead of the stove top.
What do you think? What did I do wrong? This was my first time using this smoker and making pastrami (which I would LOVE to make from home!)

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  1. The result is "like a brisket" because that is what you have. The leaner piece was "flat cut brisket" the fattier piece "point cut" together they make a whole brisket. Brisket is off of the chest plate of a steer , navel pastrami comes from a a lower cut (bottom of your sternum to your navel on a person.

    1. 3 things wrong:

      1. No pink salt.
      2. Using a Cameron stove-top smoker.
      3. Living where there are barely any places to BBQ.

      I'm only half serious - hehe {;-/) See? Guy Smiley face.

      If you want a true cured product, you gotta go with the pink salt. Not only does it give the meat the pinkish color, it also provides a cured tang to the flavor profile. Without it, the meat will be brown.

      I never used the Cameron stovetop. I'm assuming its "OK" for *small* stuff...I dunno a small fish or something. But for smoked brisket of any kind (I'm thinking pastrami, or Montreal Smoked Meat (a favorite of mine), or Texas BBQ), you need both temperature control and smoke control.
      I'm guessing its next to impossible to control either with the stove-top.
      It seems you steamed the meat for 2 hours then applied smoke for 1 hour. Essentially, smoking for only 1 hour and this after the meat has been somewhat cooked. Its likely not enough smoke.

      I don't know if you covered the beast when it went into the oven or not. If it wasn't covered, its likely going to dry out.

      Montreal Smoked Meat (MSM) is Pastrami's cousin. To do a proper MSM, I dry-cure a weighted brisket for 9-13 days, wash and soak in water for several hours, rub with a coriander/cracked pepper rub, weight and fridge overnight, smoke (I use an offset barrel smoker) for 4-5 hours at 225-250F, wrap in foil and into oven for 4 hours @ 260F, cool and fridge overnight, then steam for 5 hours.
      It also takes a bit of practice to 1. get to know your smoker and 2. get practically any smoked recipe correct.

      Maybe have a look here
      to see some trials and tribulations on MSM.

      I know you want to make pastrami at home and perhaps you can jury rig a smoker set-up, but I'm thinking the stove-top smoker is perhaps the wrong vehicle.

      Maybe have a looksee here as well...
      might help?

      1. Again without dashing your hopes on pastrami, have you considered making pastrami's other cousin (once removed), corned beef?

        1. Pink meat only comes if you use pink salt, but even without it, the meat should taste good if smoked/cooked properly.

          Since you just put it in the oven in the smoker, you still need to steam the pastrami to make it tender, either on the stovetop or with some water in a covered roasting pan. I made my own smoker and steamer in this recipe here:

          Hope this helps!

          Christine, CHOW Test Kitchen

          3 Replies
          1. re: christinegallary

            "Pink meat only comes if you use pink salt"
            I assume you mean pink meat only comes from nitrate/nitrite curing. Although pink salt might be an obvious choice, you can obtain pink meat via other means (I'm just syain).
            {;-/) Again, Guy Smiley....

            Your method looks great, I'm thinking 1986 would do well by it!

            1. re: christinegallary

              Thanks so much for your link. I saw that page a few times before trying it but I had an oventop smoker which came with smoke chips. Next time i'll just use regular wood chips.
              Question: It says here "Place the pan in the oven and smoke until the pastrami reaches 140°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 4 to 6 hours."
              Where do I put the thermometer? My oven doesnt have one and the lowest temperature it goes it 200 degrees. I do have a meat thermometer so can I use this? If so, where do I put it?
              Also I see that you did a dry rub/cure instead of the usual brine for x days and rub for x days. Does it make a difference?

              1. re: nyc1986

                You are not going to be able to produce the quality of pastrami with the stovetop smoker that you are expecting. Dry rub vs brining will make minor changes in the product, but be aware that the amount of pink salt will differ between the two methods. Once you have your product cured, it needs to be rinsed thoroughly and then allowed to dry overnight in the refrigerator. It should be smoked at an air temperature of 200-225 for three to four hours. Here's the problem, the stovetop smoker has to be heated to over 400 degrees to cause the wood to smoke. The hot air generated in the smoker will quickly 'sear' the outside of the meat which will not allow deeper penetration of the smoke flavor. Cold meat put in the cooler smoke (200-225) will allow the deeper penetration. Putting your smoker in a 200 degree oven will just slowly cook the meat as the wood will not smoke.

                Thermometers come in various forms. A thermocouple probe type with a heat resistant cord can be placed and left in the meat and attached to the display which would be out of the oven so the internal meat temperature could be monitored. An oven thermometer will read the air temperature in the oven. An instant-read is inserted into the meat and in about 6 seconds will give you the internal temperature of the meat, but it is not left in the meat while cooking.

                In your original post, you started the smoker on low heat which just dried out your wood producing steam that cooked the outer layers of the meat, and when you raised the temperature enough to make smoke, that cooked layer kept the smoke from penetrating. You want the smoke starting on cold meat for the best results.

                Good luck!

            2. nyc, i've owned a cameron for a few years now, and it is still a learning experience for me.
              i usually smoke the meat on stovetop, dry chips, and let it smoke a bit longer than i think is necessary, than move the cameron into the oven.
              the chips would end up black, because if they are "burining" on stovetop, they will smoke.
              for me, it seems that i am not giving enough time for smoking and cooking.
              i keep playing around with it, and i do, like the cameron.
              just a bit of an expense for the testings.
              have you smoked shrimp in the cameron? it is a killer!