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 56 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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95 Comments

  1. Hello Hank. I am looking very forward to making this recipe. In my case, I will be using a 4.5 lb elk round roast. Regrading salt, instacure, and time, I want to make sure that I’m not overshooting the mark here – particularly on the instacure. Does the below look correct for a 4.5 lb roast? Thank you!

    40 grams of salt
    5 grams instacure
    9 days in fridge

  2. This is absolutely fantastic. I’ve made pastrami out of whitetail and elk rounds and sirloin tips with wet brine recipes 5 or 6 times. I had mixed success with the saltiness of those finished products and figuring out brine time. This was my first attempt with a dry brine. I used both top rounds and both bottom rounds off a whitetail and vac sealed all 4 together. I was worried the weight difference of the two cuts would factor into final salt content, but the salt and cure penetration was perfect. It’s safe to say I will never wet-brine pastrami again. Color, texture, and moisture content were also perfect. Thanks, Hank. Once again, you’re the best!

  3. Is there a way to do a great sandwich meat without a smoker? I have a 4.2 lb “boneless roast” of elk that I’d love to turn into juicy pink sandwich meat (ideally pastrami-style), but no smoker. Options I do have include pressure cooker, slow cooker, or roast in the oven…would one of those be better for a large hunk of sandwich meat? Thanks!

    1. Amy: Absolutely. Make corned venison instead. Similar to this recipe, but you simmer the cured meat instead of smoking it.

      1. I made the recipe and I can see where it would work, I am sure I messed up somewhere but I can’t figure out where. I followed the recipe and the only thing I changed was I have a cure I use for jerky that is salt and sodium nitrate mixed I have to assume is similar to the instacure #1 . When I finished the meat, the outside edge about a 1/2” all around is right color and texture but the very center is still a little grey and kind of mushy- where did I go wrong? And how can I prevent this next time ?

      2. Garrett: I’m sorry that happened. First, the cure needs to be sodium nitrite, not nitrate. But the “ring” problem is because the meat didn’t cure long enough. It can take a week or so with a big hunk for the cure to penetrate to the center. When in doubt, let it cure longer. The salt will preserve the meat so you’ll be OK.

  4. Looking forward to making this. my husband hunts and I am Greek. In Greece they have pastruma, similar but very, very thinly sliced. They said it’s origins are from Middle East, from camel meat?

  5. 5 stars isn’t enough! We doubled the recipe (2 elk roasts) and they both turned out moist and unbelievably flavourful. This will definitely be a staple, thanks Hank!

  6. I tried this with both an aoudad roast and backstrap. It turned out great. Next up: goose breasts and a bison brisket.

  7. worked perfectly using a couple of hind quarter muscles. delicious, great texture and deep ruby meat. perfect for a Reuben with homemade sauerkraut and sourdough pumpernickel bread. can’t be beat! wish I could post a picture.

  8. Hi!
    I love trying new venison recipes as my husband is a hunter. However we live in an apartment, for now, and do not have access to a smoker. Is there any alternative I can do so I can still try this awesome recipe!? Thanks!!

  9. So I over did it upon reading recipe closer.
    Make a ton of your stuff and always turns out great. Thanks a lot. Most recent was the Senegalese mafe. A great addition to the tasty venison shank options!

    But back to pastrami. I had 4.2 lbs of meat and then used 6.3 grams of Prague powder #1. It’s been vac sealed with that in for about 30 hrs at this point. Think I should take it out now since I added 2 grams more curing salt than needed or just rinse more thoroughly when I take it out tomorrow? Should also say that it is 4 1 lb roasts all in vac bag together. Each coated with the cure. Thanks in advance. Keep up the awesome.
    Alberta Canada.

    1. Jordan: I think you should be fine. The curing salt at that level isn’t harmful. You might notice that the meat will be, well, vivid, when you cook it, but hey…

  10. I made this for family with our last venison roast from last fall along with a homemade rye bread. My first time making both. I smoked the pastrami with a hardwood mix on a pellet smoker and followed the recipe to a T. We had the BEST hot venison pastrami on rye sandwiches! I will be making this recipe again very soon. Maybe I’ll try it with a back strap or the goose pastrami next. Thanks for posting your recipe!

  11. Thanks for another excellent recipe. I’ve made this two or three times now and it was great each time.

    Also, big thank you for replying to Stuart’s question, it was the same one I had.

  12. Hank
    I tried Meateater elk pastrami recipe.
    It calls for 4 to 5 day brine then smoke them steam.
    Turned out great but kind of dry.
    Will vacuum sealing cure make it more moist or did the steam dry it out?
    Bill in Boise

    1. Bill: So I don’t do the steam method because I use a different cut of meat. Real beef pastrami is done that way because it’s basically cooked exactly like Texas brisket, only with no. 1 cure. Cured, smoked, cooked in a wet environment to break down connective tissue. Just like brisket. I get around that by using better roasts from the hind leg with no connective tissue to speak of. That way you don’t need the steaming step, and you can smoke the meat to an internal temperature of about 140F and be done. It works much much better, but then you can’t use my recipe, for, say, a shoulder or neck.

      1. Thanks, Hank
        I have 1 more elk round and I will try your process today.
        PS I tried your jack rabbit stew recipe I saw on Meateater. Man that was really good over polenta.

  13. I have an elk brisket that I’d like to use for this recipe. It weighs 4 1/2lbs. I’m curious, with the long and flat shape of the roast should I cure it for 8-9 days? Or less time?

  14. This is one of the best Venison recipes I have ever tried. My friends agree. It takes a little time, but well worth the wait. Thank you for this, I will making more right away!

  15. Love the goose pastrami recipe so decided to try this as well.
    From your recipe it takes roughly 2 days of cure time per pound of meat.
    If I have a 2 # piece of venison, but only 3 days to cure, can I cut it in half and cure it in 2-3 days versus 4?

  16. Hank! Question from Seattle –
    This online recipe says 10g kosher salt per lb., which is approx 2%.
    The SAME recipe in your book Buck Buck Moose page 265 says “For every lb of meat, you’ll need 22g of kosher, which is ~1.5 Tbps.” That’s 2X+ the amount.
    Can you confirm the right % salt for weight in grams? 1.6-2% is listed on a few other websites, but that’s for beef pastrami. Thanks in advance, didn’t see this exact question on the most recent 2-3 pages of comments. And big fan of all the recipes- I have 3 of the books, all great!

    1. Stuart: Both work. The one in the book is an old style cure that works, but you will need to monitor the cure so it doesn’t get too salty. The one one the website is an equalization cure, which requires you to massage the salt into the meat, and vac seal it to properly cure, but it will never get too salty.

  17. I have this recipe bookmarked (for good reason) but I was feeling adventurous and googled “venison pastrami.” To my delight, this link was the first hit. It is a tried and true recipe in our kitchen, and almost a ritual to make with at least one of the footballs off every deer I harvest. Give it a try. You will not be disappointed!

  18. Wow. This turned out better than I expected despite the smoker catching on fire ? ? Ended up finishing it up in the oven. I used a venison bottom round. The pastrami had excellent flavor and wasn’t dry. ? Made Rueben’s even though traditionally made with corned beef. Homemade sourdough rye and homemade sauerkraut…yummmmy! Thanks for sharing your recipe. I will be sure to tell all our hunter friends ?