The (I couldn’t think of a better name than the) Ultimate Pastrami Burger (…so yeah…)


Last month the Joy of Kosher started The Kosher Connection, where a bunch of kosher food bloggers got together for a “Link Up” and everyone that was a part of it, would make something that had to do with the theme of the month. I missed last month’s link up, but I’m proud to be a part of it this month. For this month, the theme was grilling, and I decided to knock your socks off with this here post…so you might want to get some socks, because…well, we might be knocking them off…just sayin’.

So remember when I made pastrami? Of course you do! It was awesome. Well it got me thinking, you know how when you order a “pastrami burger” you get a regular hamburger topped with a few pieces of pastrami? Well that’s been my experience, and don’t get me wrong, I like it, but I wanted to make an actual pastrami burger…a burger that’s made from pastrami. My brain juices were flowing, and I thought – hey let’s take a piece of cow (the navel section, which you can read up on in the original pastrami post), cure it in the typical pastrami brine, and then grind it, and form burgers out of it. Genius right? I know…

Now before we go further, let me stop your wondering, and clear up a few things. First – yes I am awesome. I know that’s been plaguing you. Second – if this is the way people have been making typical pastrami burgers this whole time, and I’ve just been oblivious to that, well then I apologize, and I take back that being awesome thingy (well some of it). I came up with this idea, and kind of ran with it, so just let me pretend that I’m changing lives here.

Ok, so as you’ll recall, pastrami traditionally means that the meats been cured, allowed to dry, then coated in coriander and black pepper, then smoked, and then steamed. Since I’m going to be grilling them, we’re going to skip the steaming step, and instead, we’re just going straight to the gluttony step…my favorite part.

Ok so like last time, it starts with a piece of cow which comes from the navel, which is a little further down from the brisket, which is traditionally the cut used for pastrami, however it can be done with brisket (just ignore the foodie snobs who will say you can’t…it might not be as good, but it will still work). Then the meat takes a nice long bath in some salty solution, otherwise known as a brine. The brine classically calls for sodium nitrite, aka pink salt, which is what cures the meat. If you want to know more about pink salt and what it does to the meat, well check out the previous post on pastrami. Now you can certainly leave it out if you want, but I left it in.


After about 3 days in the brine, I took it out, and let it dry in the fridge. This drying forms what’s known as a pellicle, and allows the smoke to better adhere to the meat, however I don’t know how much of a difference it made here because we ground the meat, but I did it anyway.

So after about a day drying in the fridge, it was time to make the burgers.

Now I know most of y’all don’t have your own meat grinder, and while there are ways to grind meat in the food processor, I don’t really know the halachic ramifications of that (yeah, everyone once in a while, I decide to be somewhat frum), but I’m crazy, and I do actually own one, so let’s get grinding shall we?


In order to grind your beef properly, you need to make sure everything is super duper cold. You see, you want the meat and fat to smoosh through the dye (the thingy with the holes), and you don’t want the fat to melt, so to ensure that, I cut the meat in cubes, and placed all of it in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

While it was getting cold, I toasted my coriander and pepper, and ground it in a spice grinder.


Right before grinding, I combined the meat with the spice mixture, and passed it through the grinder.


When I was ready to make the burgers, I formed a ball of meat, and then with this handy dandy burger press that I bought for $2 in Wegman’s, to form these perfect burgers.


If you’re one of the normalites, and don’t own a hamburger press, you can obviously form the patties with your hands, but one thing to know, is you have to be very gentle when handling the ground meat. You have to make sure to not over handle and mix too much, or the meat will become tough. So no squishing, and no over mixing.


I made a wood chip packet by placing a bunch of wood chips (not soaked!) in a foil packet, closed it up, and pierced some holes on top, and placed it directly over the heat in my grill, and allowed it to start smoking.


(Isaac I know you’re going to say something, so here’s my 2 cents – when you soak the wood, the wood can not go over 212 degrees until all of the water has boiled out, and most of the steam will be water, and not from the combustion of the wood, which is what you want. So don’t soak the wood, and you’ll have more of a woody smoke than if you did…need more proof? Click here)

Now I don’t have a charcoal grill, and yes I understand gas isn’t as good, blah blah blah, but I live in an apartment building, and I figured a charcoal grill is a little on the dangerous side (yet for some reason, I don’t feel the same way about a gas grill, either way..). So on my gas grill, I made a 2 zone grill, that is, I turned on one side, and kept off the other side. That way, we can cook with direct heat, and indirect heat. Direct heat is synonymous with grilling, and is quick and high temperature cooking, whereas in-direct heat is called bar-b-queing, and is slower, and cooler temperatures.


Anyway, after the grill was nice and smoky, I placed the burgers over the cool part of the grill (ie – over indirect heat) to let it cook slowly, and absorb a nice amount of the smoke, and after about 10-15 minutes on the cool side (depending how cool/hot your grill is), I moved it over the hot temperature to get that nice sear, and that’s it.


I served it on a toasted bun, with some homemade chipotle mayo (recipe to follow…when I feel like it!), pickles, and red onions.


The overall reception to these life altering burgers, was that they were…life altering. Am I right guys? (I’m talking to you Naftali, Baila, Rikki, and Chaim).

Well this was fun wasn’t it?

Thanks for stopping by, and since you’ve made it this far, I’m going to share something with you. If you want to do this without all of the hullabaloo that I went through, you can combine ground beef which is destined for hamburgers with some toasted coriander and black pepper, and I’m sure the results will be really good. Let me know.

Interested in seeing all of the other people that are a part of the link up? Of course you are! Well click on that little frog like thing-a-mabob, and you’ll be able to see all of the other creative stuff the other kosher bloogers came up with. Do it for mankind.

The Ultimate Pastrami Burger


  • 1 3-4 lb navel cut of beef
  • Brine for pastrami (see ingredients here)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • Wood chips for smoking


  1. Place beef in brine for 3 days in the fridge.
  2. After 3 days, take out of the brine, and discard. Pat beef dry and place on a cooling rack in the fridge for another day or so to fully dry (you can leave it in the fridge drying for up to a week)
  3. About 30 minutes prior to grinding, cut the meat into roughly 1” cubes, and place in the freezer.
  4. While the meat’s getting cold, toast the coriander and black pepper in a skillet over high heat, until fragrant, about 3 minutes, and grind the spices in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.
  5. Combine the meat and spices, and run through your meat grinder.
  6. Form balls of meat, cover with plastic wrap, and press down with the burger press.
    Alternatively – you can form the burgers with your hand, but one of the keys with making burgers is to not over handle your meat, or it will get tough.
  7. Start a 2 zone fire, by turning on half of your burners if you’re using a gas grill, or if you’re using a charcoal grill, place all of the coals on one side, leaving the other side empty.
  8. Place a 1/2 cup of wood chips in a foil packet, and place over direct heat, and allow to smoke for at least 5-10 minutes.
  9. When ready to grill, place the burgers over the cooler side of the grill, and allow to cook for 10-15 minutes, until almost done, and then move it to the hot side, and sear on both sides for 1-2 minutes.
  10. As with any meat, allow it to rest for at least 5-10 minutes before chomping away.


Pastrami – part Deuteronomy

Since I got a ton of requests to finish yesterday’s post (and by a ton, I mean 3 people…hey at least it’s more than my 11th grade teacher thought of me…he told me he’ll visit me in jail…yeah…couldn’t make that up if I tried), I’m actually attempting to finish it a mere 1 day week after it was started. I know, talk about a go getter!

Anyway – yesterday (side note – I really did start this the day after the last one, but obviously got side tracked, like the champion I am) we left off right after the meat had a nice little bath, for three days, in a brine, composed of pink salt, and a whole bunch of stuff. We’ll wait if you need time to catch up.

The next step toward awesomeness is allowing the meat to dry. The main reason for this is to form a “pellicle.” A pellicle is a layer of coagulated protein that will allow smoke to adhere better to the surface, and since the next step will be smoking this here bad boy, it’s really important to develop a pellicle, and it’s really not that hard. All you need to do is take the meat out of the brine, wipe it down to dry it, and just let it hang out on a rack for a day or two in the fridge. The longer the better. After a certain point it really won’t matter, but it’s better to “overdry” it, than to “overcure” it. You can even leave it drying in the fridge for up to two weeks after. Once that’s done, we’re ready to contemplate smoking.


You see, I live in an apartment, I don’t own a smoker, and there are three options that I figured I had. One was to smoke in my bbq. What I would do was, wrap a whole bunch of wood chips in aluminum foil, poke a bunch of holes, place it on one side of the grill over high flames, and then place the meat on the other side without any flame on. This is what they call a two zone grill, and you would be bbq-ing using indirect heat, while infusing the meat with smoky goodness. (One note on bbqing, if you place your food directly over the heat source [be it coals or gas] you’re technically “grilling,” where as if you place the food not directly over the heat source, and it will cook via indirect heat, you’re technically “bbqing.” So grilling is not synonymous with bbqing…just wanted to set that record straight.)

Another option I had was to rig some sort of smoker. I was considering making one out of a cardboard box like Alton Brown did, and my blog-eague (blog + colleague) did over at crazytastykosher. The problem was, 1) I didn’t have the necessary tools to make it and 1a) I’m lazy, and didn’t want to get it.

As luck would have it, discussed how to make pastrami by oven smoking it. The basic gist of it is to wrap the meat and all of the wood chips in one giant pouch, and let it smoke in the oven. The oven would provide the heat, and the pouch would keep in the smokiness. It seemed like a great idea, so I decided to give that one a try.

First I toasted some more spices, but this time only black pepper and coriander, which when you smell it, will be the classical combination that makes pastrami, pastrami.


After a quick toast, I ground them in a coffee grinder, and coated the meat with it. Then, I took my roasting pan, and put two ginormous pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil across the bottom, and placed the soaked wood chips over the bottom, and the hunk of brined muscle on a cooling rack, so it stayed suspended over the wood chips.


I stuck my thermometer in the meat, and wrapped the whole kit n’ caboodle up, like a huge thing of leftovers.


I cooked it until it was 150 degrees, and when cool, placed in the fridge until it was ready for steaming.


To steam, you place the meat in a pan, with about an inch of water, and cover tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil, and set the oven to 250ish (ie low), and let it steam until fork tender, for like 2-3 hours. However you could steam it for even longer. On Chef Ruhlman’s post on making pastrami, I actually asked him how one could do this for a Shabbos lunch, and he said you could smoke it Friday afternoon, and put the oven at 200, and let it steam until lunch the next day, even for 14 hours (it’s the first comment in the comments section on that post).

Ok, now’s the moment of truth y’all have been waiting for…how did it come out?

Well, I don’t have such great pictures, but I’m gonna level with you. The pastrami was mostly a success, it was really tasteful, not dried out, and is something I would definitely make again However, there was one major flaw to it. The smoking obviously didn’t do it justice. There really wasn’t an intensely deep smoky flavor, and while I might be able to achieve that next time by adding liquid smoke (which I’m not totally against…haters gonna hate), I don’t think that’s the right way of going about doing this. Next time, I would either smoke in the bbq, or in an actual smoker. Actually in the recipe in Charcuterie, it says a lot of pastrami recipes call to cold smoke (that means to smoke it without cooking it by doing it in a cold environment, and requires a really expensive smoker to do that), and then hot smoke it. Now while most people can’t cold smoke at home, he does say to make extra sure that the meat spends a lot of time smoking, and in order to do that, you need to keep the oven really low, so it doesn’t cook fully before it can get smoked up. Something I wasn’t all too careful about.

I served it to my family when I was up in New York for Shabbos (it was literally 3 months ago, back in March), and dear family, feel free to comment on whether I was suffering from “I-made-it-myself-so-therefore-it-had-to-be-good- itis,” which is very common for me (“woah these chocolate scrambled eggs are awesome” is something I wouldn’t be surprised comes out of my mouth…although it never did, and that kind of made me throw up in my mouth…but i digress).

I even had some leftovers for some supper on sunday, and re-steamed it, and made myself a pastrami sammich with spicy mustard and pickles, my favorite. And even that was pretty darn good also.


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sorry for the crappy pictures.

Anyway, to recap – pastrami is awesome, and not really that difficult to make. This go around was good, but definitely needs some improvements, but I wouldn’t deem it a failure, in fact I would go as far as saying it was a success! Suck that 11th grade teacher!


adapted from Michael Ruhlman’s Chacuterie


The Brine:

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1.5 cups (350 grams) salt
  • 1 cup (225 grams) sugar
  • 8 teaspoons (42 grams) pink salt
  • 1 tablespoon (8 grams) “pickling spice” (recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup (90 grams) packed, dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced

For the Rest:

  • 1 – 5 lb beef brisket, or beef navel
  • 1 tablespoon (8 grams) coriander seeds (toasted)
  • 1 tablespoon (10 grams) black peppercorns (toasted)
  • Wood chips for smoking (I used hickory)


  1. Combine all of the brine ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the brisket, and bring to a simmer, stirring until everything dissolves. Allow to cool
  2. When cool, place brisket inside, and place a weight over top of it to ensure it stays submerged (I actually took a little of the brine, and placed it in a ziploc bag, and placed that over top of the brisket)
  3. Place the whole thing in the fridge for 3 days
  4. Remove the brisket from the brine, rinse it, pat it dry, and allow it to dry. I placed it on a cooling rack in the fridge for 4 days, but you can leave it there for up to 2 weeks, if needed.
  5. When ready to smoke, however you decide to smoke it, grind the toasted coriander and peppercorns, and coat the beef evenly with it.
  6. Hot smoke the beef until an internal temperature of 150 (longer it smokes for, the better)
  7. To steam the pastrami, pre-heat the oven to low (anywhere under 250 should be fine), place about an inch of water on the bottom of the pan, place the pastrami inside, and cover tightly. Steam until fork tender, about 2-3 hours, but you can definitely go longer (for sure up to 14 hours if needed, but I would make sure there’s enough water in the pan, and that the oven isn’t too hot), and that’s it.


Pickling Spice:


  • 2 tablespoons (20 grams) black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons (20 grams) mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons (20 grams) coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons (12 grams) red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons (14 grams) allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon (8 grams) ground mace
  • 2 small cinnamon sticks, broken into little pieces
  • 24 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons (6 grams) whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon (8 grams) ground ginger


  1. Lightly toast the first three ingredients, and then smash them with the side of a knife, or in a mortar and pestle
  2. Add the remaining spices, mix well, and store in a tightly sealed plastic container.


One of the things I’ve been really wanting to make ever since I read through Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie has been pastrami. I feel like it’s my duty as a Jewish individual to attempt pastrami sometime in my life. Just to clarify – pastrami is the brisket cut of the cow (more on that in a second), which is cured in a brine (aka – “pickled”), then smoked, and then steamed.


The brisket, as you can see from this fancy picture, is just under the chuck, and on top of the leg. It’s technically around where your collarbones are (ie it’s the cows “pecs”). Let’s take a break for a second, and talk about meat/muscle.

Meat is muscle, and is made up of mainly water, protein, fat, and connective tissue. When you cook any type of meat, the chemical experiment that you are actually doing is applying heat to the proteins, which causes them to “denature” (which is science talk for – “unwinding the jumble of stuff”), and further heating then causes these proteins to set in a rigid structure which pretty much holds the water in (that’s why raw meat is squishy, and cooked meat isn’t as squishy). The heat also melts the fat which can lubricate the proteins. Meat is “done” starting at 125 (for rare) and is considered burnt well done at 160. You know how when you bite into a burnt piece of protein it feels dry and chewy? Well that’s because all of the proteins are so rigidly attached that it squeezed out all of the water (for example – did you ever make scrambled eggs, and there’s water in the pan or on your plate? that means you over cooked it…same thing, because eggs are also a whole bunch of proteins).

When it comes to muscles, the more the muscle is used, the more flavorful the actual meat (ie the protein in it) will be, but the tougher it will be. That’s because the more the muscle is used, the more connective tissue it will develop. Connective tissue is great, because when it melts, it “gelatinizes,” i.e. – it turns into gelatin. (Well, really only the collagen that’s found in the connective tissue turns into gelatin, but I’m assuming that’s more than you bargained for). Now since a cow stands on all four legs for pretty much all of it’s life and is constantly bending it’s head down to eat, the farther from “hoof and horn” the more tender the meat will be, because those muscles are used less and therefore less connective tissue. And the closer to hoof and horn, the more connective tissue it will develop, and the tougher it will be. Now there’s a caveat – remember how at 160 the proteins are for all intents and purposes, dog food? Well, the connective tissue only starts to break down at about 154 and all the way up to 175ish, so you would have to over cook your meat, and then cook it some more in order to get that luscious, unctuous gelatin. Hey science, what gives??

Turns out, when we eat, what we taste is really how our brains perceive it. Lets say for example you eat a piece of meat that’s so over done, it most likely will taste like pencil shavings on its own, but if there was a way to coat each of those dried out muscle proteins with some, say, gelatin, well your brain will think it’s eating something super delicious, and really you’ll be none the wiser. Well that’s kind of what’s happening here. Even though technically speaking the meat is overcooked, the gelatin that was extracted from the connective tissue coats the dried out meat, and tricks your brain into thinking that it’s super moist and delicious.

Another thing to note is, when they say “at 154 degrees the collagen will convert into gelatin,” that doesn’t mean that the second the temperature reads 154 on the thermometer a switch goes off, and boom – gelatin. Like with any reaction, it takes time. How much time is hard to say, but the name of the game is gentle heat, so you can cook it for a long time, but not over cook it too much.

In a nut shell – the farther from “hoof to horn” the more likely you can cook your meat to 125 and enjoy masticating on some muscle, and not have to worry about it being “chewy” because of the connective tissue in it, however, the closer to hoof and horn (I think I officially reached the limit I can say the words hoof and horn in this article), the more likely you will need to slowly cook the meat to at least 154, and probably more, so you can gelatinize your meat, and stuff your face.

Obviously there’s more to talk about on the science of meat cookery, but that’s all the jibber jabber I got for now  let’s get a cookin’.

It all starts with a piece of brisket, and one of the classical cuts for pastrami is from the navel section (which probably comes more from the plate or flank primal, but I ain’t no butcher).


Anyway, like I said the first stop for the delicious pastrami-to-be is a nice soak in some salty water, with some other spices. Because I like to take things to the next level, I decided to make my own pickling spice, which I got from the book, and as always, toasting your spices before using them, always brings more flavor to the party. So into the pan goes peppercors, mustard seed, and the coriander seeds, and toast them just until they’re fragrant (we don’t want them to burn), and when they’re done I lightly cracked them in a mortar and pestle. Add to that red pepper flakes, allspice, mace, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, and some ground ginger, and there you have it, your own pickling spice, for all your pickling needs. Now you only need 1 tablespoon of the pickling spice, and this makes a heck of a lot more than that, so for of you normalites out there, you can actually buy pickling spice, but like I said, I take it to the next level.

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For phase 1, ie the brine, combine the 1 tablespoon of pickling spice, with salt, sugar, pink salt (more on that in a second), dark brown sugar, honey, garlic, and water, in a pot large enough to hold the meat, and bring the water to a simmer until the salt and suger are dissolved. Allow to cool completely, and place the meat in the brine with something on top of it, to make sure it stays submerged, and keep it in there for 3 days in the fridge.


About the pink salt. There are really two types of “salts” that are pink. One is “Himalayan pink salt” which is good ole’ NaCl (sodium chloride), which comes naturally pink, and has a distinct taste to it, but is still just NaCl. The pink salt we used today is a mixture of regular table salt (NaCl), and about 6% NaNO2, aka Sodium Nitrite, plus a pink dye, so you know that this here stuff isn’t just plain old regular table salt, and then proceed to eat too much of it, and die. Wait…you can eat too much of this stuff and die? Um, I’m not really sure, if that’s something I want to be eating…is something you might say, right? Well, that’s true, but guess what, eat too much of anything and you’ll die, so just be careful with this stuff, and don’t pour it on everything you eat (plus, you’re already eating it if you’ve ever eaten corned beef, pastrami, salami, etc…). As you can see, this NaNO2 goes by the name “Insta cure #1,” and you don’t need that much of it (only 8 teaspoons in this application) because a lot goes a long way.


The purpose of the pink salt is really three fold. One – as a preservative, two – for color, and three – to prevent the fats in the meat from going rancid. Back in the good old days, they didn’t have that luxury of putting meat in the fridge, so in order to preserve meat, they would add saltpeter (which is potassium nitrate), and they discovered that it would keep the meat longer. The way it did this was – the nitrite part would prevent the potentially deadly botulism spore from thriving in the oxygen-less environment of the brine. Since potassium nitrate has inconsistent results, nowadays we use sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate (NaNO3). In general sodium nitrIte, which is Insta-cure #1, is used for quicker preserved meats, and sodium nitrAte, aka Insta cure #2, is used for longer applications (such as making salami, and that sort of stuff).

Truth be told, since we do have refrigeration, to make pastrami or corned beef, this stuff isn’t really necessary, but then again, it wouldn’t be an authentic pastrami, but yeah, if you’re afraid of it (which you shouldn’t be), you can make it without it (but I wouldn’t).

Ok, so since, you’re probably at the point where you want to kill me for going to much in depth in chemistry talk, I’m going to leave it at here, and pick up the next time I decide to un-lazify myself, and post something…probably another 3 months or so. If you are interested in hearing more about any of this stuff, just go ahead and comment either here or on facebook, or you can just shoot me an email.