Pastrami is a popular deli meat that adds a bold, smoky flavor to sandwiches and charcuterie boards. But did you know you can make a healthier version at home using turkey? Turkey pastrami has all the big, savory flavors of traditional beef pastrami but with less fat and calories. Read on to learn how to make your own deli-style turkey pastrami right in your own kitchen.
Overview of Turkey Pastrami
Turkey pastrami starts with boneless, skinless turkey breast that is brined, smoked, steamed, and sliced thin. The brining process helps keep the turkey moist and adds seasoning throughout the meat. Smoking gives it that iconic pastrami flavor and appearance. Steaming at the end ensures it’s fully cooked through.
The entire process takes several days from start to finish, but active cooking time is minimal. And the hands-off process means you can let the meat do its thing while you tackle other projects. The end result is high-protein, low-fat turkey pastrami with old-world deli flavor.
Benefits of Turkey Pastrami
There are a few reasons why you might want to make turkey pastrami rather than traditional beef pastrami:
- Lower fat and calories: Turkey breast is extremely lean and has about half the calories per ounce compared to beef. This makes turkey pastrami better for your heart and waistline.
- More protein: Ounce for ounce, turkey breast has more protein than beef. So you’ll get more muscle-building, satiating protein from turkey pastrami.
- Versatile ingredient: Turkey pastrami can be enjoyed the same way as beef pastrami. But its milder flavor also allows it to shine in more dishes like omelets, salads, and sandwiches.
- Cost savings: Buying deli turkey pastrami can be expensive. Make your own at home for a fraction of the price.
Making turkey pastrami requires some special equipment:
- Meat injector – Used to inject the brine deep into the turkey breast. This helps ensure even seasoning and moisture.
- Large pot or bucket – For brining the turkey. You’ll need a vessel large enough to submerge the turkey.
- Smoker – Necessary for giving the pastrami its classic smoked flavor. A charcoal or electric smoker works best.
- Digital meat thermometer – Allows you to accurately monitor the temperature of the meat.
You likely already have other necessities like foil, tongs, and a cutting board. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty details!
For the brine:
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1⁄2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1⁄4 teaspoon curing salt (optional)
For the turkey:
- 3-4 lb boneless, skinless turkey breast
Follow these steps to make perfectly seasoned and deliciously smoky turkey pastrami:
1. Prepare the Brine
In a large pot, combine the brine ingredients with 1 gallon of water and bring to a boil. Stir continuously until the salt and sugar fully dissolve. Remove from heat and let cool completely before using.
Once cooled, place the brine in the refrigerator or a large bucket. Submerge the turkey breast in the brine. Use plates to weigh it down if necessary.
Let the turkey brine for 12-24 hours. The longer it brines, the more seasoned it will become.
2. Rinse and Dry Turkey
After brining, remove the turkey breast and rinse it under cool water. This washes away excess salt from the exterior.
Pat the turkey completely dry with paper towels. Let it air dry for about an hour until the outside feels tacky. This helps the smoke stick better.
3. Smoke the Turkey
Preheat your smoker to 225°F. Use hickory, apple, or cherry wood chips for best flavor.
Place the turkey directly on the smoker grates. Smoke for approximately 2-3 hours until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
Maintain the smoker temperature at 225°F and add more wood chips as needed to keep smoke consistent.
4. Steam the Turkey
In a pot fitted with a steamer basket, bring water to a boil. Place the smoked turkey in the basket, cover, and steam for 30 minutes. This finishes cooking the turkey to a safe internal temperature.
5. Chill and Slice
Once steaming is complete, transfer the turkey to a sheet pan and refrigerate uncovered for 1-2 hours until completely chilled.
Finally, slice the turkey as thin as possible. Aim for 1/8 inch slices.
Now you’re ready to enjoy your homemade turkey pastrami!
Serving and Storage Tips
Your freshly sliced turkey pastrami is ready to enjoy! Here are some serving ideas and storage tips:
- Pile it high on rye bread for classic pastrami sandwiches. Add Swiss cheese, mustard, and sauerkraut.
- Wrap in lettuce leaves for a low-carb option.
- Add to omelets, frittatas, and breakfast tacos.
- Use in lieu of ham in sandwiches and paninis.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 5-7 days.
- Freeze sliced turkey pastrami for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before using.
- Chop and add to salads, pizza, baked potatoes, and more.
Now that you know how to make this deli classic at home, you can create turkey pastrami anytime a craving strikes! Adjust the flavors to your taste by tweaking the brine and smoke time. Serve it up on sandwiches, in scrambles and hash, or on a hearty charcuterie board.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What meat is best for making turkey pastrami?
Boneless, skinless turkey breast is ideal. Opt for turkey labeled as “deli style” if you can find it. The thicker cut holds up better to brining and smoking.
2. Do I really need to use a meat injector?
Injecting the brine helps ensure the turkey breast is seasoned throughout. But you can omit this step if needed. The brine will still penetrate but perhaps not as deeply.
3. What wood should I use for smoking?
Hickory and apple wood give the best classic pastrami flavor. Cherry wood lends a slightly sweeter note.
4. Can I use a roast instead of smoking?
Oven roasting won’t give you quite the same flavor as true smoking. But you can roast the brined turkey at 300°F until it reaches 165°F internally.
5. How do I get perfect thin slices?
Chill the cooked turkey well before slicing thinly against the grain. Use a sharp deli slicer, carving knife, or mandoline for best results.