Friday, October 29, 2010

Cold Smoking Pastrami and Chilpotles

This is part 2, continued from here.

I turned the tongue in the curing brine every day for 10 days, then took it out and rinsed it well in cold running water.

Next, to cook it: 
First I lightly sauteed some onions, celery, carrots and garlic in a little olive oil.

Put the tongue, veggies and about a dozen peppercorns in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Put a lid on the pot and lower temperature to a slow boil for 2-4 hours, depending on size of the tongue. It is 'done' when a knife pierces it easily without resisting. Remove the meat, rinse and allow to cool enough to handle. Discard the remains in the pot.

Remove the skin from the tongue. I found the skin fairly easy to remove in thin slices. Somehow I had thought it would peel off like a hide, but mine didn't.

The instructions for cold smoking the corned tongue to make pastrami call for letting the tongue air-dry for an hour, which I did, then put it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. It's a little too windy to try and cold-smoke it today, and the tongue may need to dry again after being bagged.

Next, prepare the Pastrami Rub. There are all sorts of recipes, and I chose a simple one for my first try. Other recipes included a variety including salt, mustard seeds, brown sugar, honey and minced garlic.

Pastrami Rub
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons juniper berries
Medium-grind the spices together, and keep in an airtight jar in the refrigerator if not using immediately.

By the way, that manual grinder shown above works somewhat okay for smaller spices like peppercorns but won't 'bite' into larger ones like the juniper berries. The grinding mechanism with somewhat rounded teeth is plastic and I don't think it will last long anyway. I ended up using my electric spice grinder, which is a Braun coffee grinder I use only for spices. To clean it of strong spice residues and oils, I grind some dry beans, or rice kernels.

I'm thinking that since the corned tongue is dry, maybe a light oil or even honey coating will help the rub adhere better. I may even add some minced garlic as I love garlic!

Next is to assemble the cardboard smoker. 

I used a cardboard box with 2 pieces of rebar stuck through the sides to hold the grille, which is a cake rack where the legs had broken away. I would have used a cardboard box qith a lid but my grille wouldn't fit the box I had. This box will get covered with heavy-duty aluminum foil as a lid; the holes in the box ends were taped over with aluminum tape used for HVAC duct work. I used the same tape to tape the flex pipe to the fittings.

The tubing to bring the smoke from the fire is a piece of flexible aluminum duct made to vent household clothes dryers. I just cut a hole in the side of the box and stuffed it in an inch or two.

The firebox is a new portable grill I bought at Lowe's for $6.95 at the end-of-season sale. 

The galvanized vent fittings (used to vent gas water heaters) sitting on the stove will connect to the dryer vent hose and fit almost perfectly over the adjustable top vent in the stove.

This was my first 'trial' set-up, but I decided the cardboard box should sit higher so the tube for the smoke is at more of an angle so the smoke rises through it better.

This looks better to me, but it isn't connected to the firebox since I have a fire already started.

Fire started, applewood chips to flavor the smoke sitting ready. (The chips soaked overnight.)

I poked a meat thermometer through the smoker box. It won't measure the low temps for cold smoking, but at least I'll know if it's too warm!

I'm starting by smoking the jalapeño peppers since they can take a higher temperature to dehydrate as well as smoke them. In the future, I'll need sides on my rack to keep small things like peppers from rolling off and under the rack. I will also need a deeper box if I want to smoke sliced bacon draped over a rod above the rack.

The coals were still pretty hot when I added some applewood chips. My insta-read thermometer said 150ºF, just 5º higher than what I want for the peppers. However, it dropped a little when I closed the vent on top of the grill about halfway. Seems to be plenty of smoke...

Seen from farther away...

Another problem to solve is keeping the smoke tubing centered over the vent in the grill. I don't want to actually attach it since I will need to add more charcoal and more wet chips for a longer smoke time. For now, the garden rake holds it against the wind!

Fixed the smoke tubing support with a couple of bricks. I've had to add a handful of wet wood chips about every half hour to keep the smoke generating. I wonder if wood pieces (sticks an inch or two in diameter) or chunks might be better? I've also tinkered with the air intake (vent opening below the coals) and exhaust (top of the firebox) to keep a good slow fire and smoke going. That will be a learning curve, I'm sure.

Although it is smoking rather well, it is much too hot for 'cold smoking' where the temps need to be 60ºF-90ºF for several hours. Glad I didn't start with the corned tongue!

Next Day Update: I need to fiddle with this contraption more to get cooler temps in the smoke box... so for now, the corned tongue is in the freezer. The peppers didn't dry much in 2-3 hours, probably because I left them whole. This morning I cut the tops off and split them open, and started smoking them again when the coals had died down enough. It's windy and I've had to add another layer of bricks to keep my chimney in place.

Watch for a Part 3 when I (finally) smoke the tongue for pastrami.

Update: I just got a real cold smoke generator and in February 2011, I will be smoking the above tongue for pastrami, and some bacon I have curing. Look for it!


  1. Great article on a technique for smoking that I knew nothing about. I love that you document each step with pictures! I, for one, love smoked tongue and am going to try this out when we get our next side of beef. Thanks for creating such an interesting blog. I've enjoyed and benefited from your postings.

  2. Cool that you'll try it, and Thanks so much for commenting!

    There will be a delay before I can get back to this 'experiment' as I have a trip out of town scheduled.

  3. Love the smoker! And thanks for all the info. =0)

  4. Thanks! I hope to get a permanent smoker box built next spring or summer.

  5. what a cool idea :) and it looks so easy to make, man I don't eaven need my hubby's help to make that :) thanks Darius :)

  6. Z: I have switched to a cold-smoke generator inside the box because I can keep temps much cooler. I'm still working out the sawdust for filling it, and have seen a prototype homemade for under $20 that I may try to build. It has better control for the sawdust burn to generate smoke.


I'd love to hear what you think about my posts! We all learn together.