Venison Pastrami

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Sliced venison pastrami recipe
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Venison pastrami is one of the great things to do with hind leg roasts.

If you’re not familiar with pastrami, or just know it as some random lunch meat, it’s cured, smoked, spiced meat, usually beef, that is often steamed before slicing. We owe our love of pastrami to Eastern European Jews — pastrami sandwiches are always best eaten from Jewish delis — and variants of this meat exists all over that part of the world.

Here in California’s Central Valley, where I live, our local Armenian population enjoys basturma, it’s own version of pastrami. I’ve long made goose pastrami, which was a favorite of Romanian Jewish people back in the 1800s. I like it with Canada goose breasts.

I highly recommend that you use a single-muscle roast, ideally from the hind leg, or even backstrap for this recipe, as this is a lean, smoked meat that you’ll end up slicing thin and serving in a sandwich.

venison pastrami, ready for a sandwich
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

If you use larger cuts, you will have silverskin or connective tissue in your roast that will not soften when you eat it. But that’s where the steaming comes in. I rarely do this, but here’s how to steam pastrami if you need to:

  • Preheat your oven to 275°F.
  • Set a big roasting pan in the oven and pour boiling water in it so the water is about 1 inch deep.
  • Put a rack in the pan to keep the pastrami elevated over the water level.
  • Ideally you cover this whole shebang with foil to keep the steam in, but you can also just keep the oven closed. It’ll work.
  • Insert a thermometer into the thickest part of your pastrami and pull it when it reaches 165°F. Let the meat rest 30 minutes, still covered, before slicing.

Salt content varies. I like my pastrami on the salty side, because it’s served cold and the human perception of salt is limited with cold foods. I have taken to using a set amount of salt based on the weight of the meat. I like 2 percent, so 20 grams in a 1000 gram roast. Don’t go lower than 1 percent, or higher than 3 percent.

A word on the curing salt. The 3 grams I call for will actually be enough to cure up to about 3 pounds of venison. A general rule is to use 0.25% Instacure based off the weight of the meat, so a 1000 gram roast would use 2.5 grams of Instacure. Do not use much more than I call for, though. If you used 3 grams in this case, it’d be fine, but don’t accidentally use, say, 6 grams.

Keep an eye on your venison’s internal temperature when you are smoking it. A piece of backstrap can be ready in 90 minutes in a hot smoker, which to my mind isn’t enough time on the smoke. Try to keep your smoker at 200°F or cooler; I like to keep it at 165°F, which lets me smoke the meat for a solid 3 to 4 hours.

What wood? Your choice. I prefer oak, maple or hickory for this, followed by walnut, pecan or cherry.

Once you make your venison pastrami, it will need to be eaten within a week or two, or you’ll need to vacuum seal and freeze it.

Venison pastrami recipe
5 from 58 votes

Venison Pastrami

This recipe can be scaled up if you need to. Remember the salt and cure ratio is this: 2% of the weight of the meat in kosher salt, plus 0.25% - that's one-quarter of one percent - of the weight of the meat in curing salt No. 1. Can you skip the curing salt? Yes, but it won't look or taste like store-bought pastrami. 
Course: Cured Meat
Cuisine: American
Servings: 2 pounds
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients 

  • A venison roast, hind leg or backstrap
  • Kosher salt (see recipe notes)
  • Instacure No. 1 (see recipe notes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon caraway seed
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed juniper (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus 3 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup brandy, red wine, vinegar or water
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely ground coriander

Instructions 

  • Weigh your venison.
    For every pound of meat, you’ll need 10 grams of kosher salt and about 1.5 grams curing salt. Mix the salt, curing salt, sugar as well as the thyme, celery seed, caraway, juniper and the teaspoon of black pepper and grind them all together in a spice grinder.  Pack the venison with this mixture, massaging it into the meat. Vacuum seal or put the meat into a Ziploc bag or closed container and set it in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. A general rule is 2 days per pound of meat. If you’re unsure, leave the meat in one more day than you think you need to. This salt ratio will prevent the meat from getting overly salty. 
  • Rinse the cure off the venison and pat it dry. It’s fine if you have a little bit of the cure stuck to the meat, but you don’t want too much. Put the venison on a rack in the fridge and let it dry uncovered for up to a day.
  • Dip the meat into the brandy — or really any other liquid you want — and then coat thoroughly in the 3 tablespoons of remaining black pepper and ground coriander seed. I like to grind this myself so the texture is a little coarse, a little fine. Press it into the meat well. 
  • Smoke the venison at about 165°F to 200°F until the interior hits 145°F, which takes me about 3 hours. Let the pastrami cool and eat as lunch meat, or on crackers or whatever.

Nutrition

Calories: 106kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 4mg | Potassium: 95mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 53mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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96 Comments

  1. Hey Hank,
    I’m not against instacure, just wondering if you’ve tried this with Morton Tender-Quick, or if it wouldn’t work at all?
    I’ll have to pick up some instacure, and actually save a roast for once and try your recipe this Nov. Looks amazing.

    1. Cody: Tenderquick is totally different, so the recipes need to be designed differently. I just never use it.

  2. Hi there i just want to confirm this is a dry cure recipe as i dont see any water to make a brine?

      1. Thank you, one more question i get the salt and instacure %. The rest of the spice i also increase per weight i assume your spice is for 1000gr of meat? Never tried this dry cure method always used brine would like to experiment and see the difference

  3. 3rd time making this with an elk sirloin tip roast. Even my friends who are unsure about venison, love this recipe. I haven’t bought store bought sandwich meat ever since I found this recipe. It’s amazing.

  4. This looks fantastic. But one question: why the notes about the salt ratio and curing salt ratio for this brine but its not mentioned in the corned venison recipe? Wouldn’t the science of the cure/brine be the same for both in that portion of the recipes?

    1. Scott: Yes, it works with that, too. I wrote those recipes many years apart, and have not yet updated the corned venison recipe to include that option.

  5. I’ve now made this pastrami recipe with elk and white tail backstrap and have served both to several friends who have raves about it. Truly an excellent way to prepare venison – and easy! As usual, a recipe from Hank is a great recipe.

  6. Due to unscheduled work I ended up leaving the four pound moose roasts in the fridge for about 9 days but the cure still didn’t penetrate all the way through the roasts I used, guess I will let them go even longer next time. The center was cooked to 145 degrees so there was a small section in the center that cooked but not cured, it was still good though. I got about half way through grinding up the peppercorns and coriander using a mortar and pestle when my wife reminded me of the old coffee grinder, needless to say that was a lot quicker.

  7. Hands down, the most favorite recipie so far. Even the buddy who got me hunting and grinds almost everything but the backstraps loved this pastrami!

  8. Do yourself a favor and make this recipe. It is especially incredible while warm and fresh from the oven!

  9. Just made this for the first time. Love the moist, tender peppery goodness! We will definitely be making this again in my household!

    1. John: Yes, it will work with moose, and no need to take it to 165F. That is way too high a temp in my book. I smoke very slowly to an internal of about 140F.

  10. I love this recipe! Making it for the 3rd time now. With 7 bottom round (?) roasts this time. Those are the rectangular roasts. I can never remember which is what. It’s an easy recipe, fun to make, and your friends will never guess that it’s venison. LOL I have a friend with a big green egg smoke it for me. He takes one and I have 6 left to eat. Yummmmm!

  11. Great pastrami recipe for venison. I followed it mostly, except I added some brown sugar to the rub before smoking. Comes out delicious.

  12. I made this recipe a couple of time with some small roast from a deer I harvested this fall. It was excellent. So I took the heart, opened it up, cleaned out all the valves and used this recipe. It was fantastic. I smoked the meat on my Trager grill. It tool about 4 hours to get the internal temperature to the required heat. I am currently curing two more roast.
    Everyone that has sampled this pastrami loves it.

  13. Second time i made this recipe with venison roasts and wont be the last time! Great recipe!!! Thanks! Whats the best way to store the unsliced pastrami?

  14. I just killed my first deer and butchered it myself. This recipe was texted to me by a friend/hunting partner, and it sounds delicious! I’m going to try it, probably with one of the round roasts. I did wonder, though, how long the pastrami will keep once it is cooked. I know the sodium nitrite makes it pretty refrigerator stable once it is cured, but I don’t know how long it lasts after cooking.

    Thanks!

  15. I’m going to make this with an elk roast and I can’t wait to try it!

    Question, can I freeze the roast, thaw it and then make this at a later date?