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.



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.