One of my obsessions over the last few years has been scheming to create the elusive—or perhaps nonexistent—hunter beef pastrami. It’s a basic brisket rubbed in Pakistani hunter beef spices that’s smoked and then steamed until buttery tender. I’d dabbled with hunter turkey breast in the past, but when Friends of the Food Chain Barn & Company Pit Master Gary Wiviott and coauthor Colleen Rush asked if I wanted to contribute a recipe to their recently released Low & Slow 2: The Art of Barbecue, Smoke-Roasting, and Basic Curing, I knew the time was nigh to bring hunter beef pastrami into the world.

So in keeping with our recent local cookbook recipe features, I give you Wiviott’s Pitmaster Hunter Beef, along with recipes for my hunter beef rub and the cucumber raita you’ll want to dress it with. This is clearly a complicated business, though if you’ve been through the prequel it shouldn’t be a problem whether you use a bullet smoker, a Big Green Egg, or a kettle grill. The nice thing about the new book is that there are tons of interesting new recipes for things that don’t take nearly as much time as a brisket, pork shoulder, or even ribs—cooks like wings, hot-roasted smoked duck, tri-tip, smoked snapper, and beef back ribs.

Pitmaster Hunter Beef
This recipe combines my Smoked Corned Beef technique with an unusual spice rub to make hunter beef (think: Pakistani chopped corned beef). The technique is a shortcut to pastrami—I cut out the traditional curing step and start with a raw packer-cut corned beef, which is a wet-cured or brined brisket. Then I soak the corned beef for at least 48 hours (and up to 72 hours) to leach most of the curing salt out of the meat, because a low-and-slow cook concentrates the meat’s saltiness. If you don’t soak the corned beef, you’ll end up with a salty meat brick. Be sure to use a full, packer-cut corned beef, not a corned beef flat, which is too lean and will turn to shoe leather in a smoker. (You can also substitute a smaller corned beef cut from the point of a brisket. Be sure there’s a good layer of fat attached and cut the rub and cook time based on the weight of the meat.)

Serves 16 to 18

PREP TIME: 48 to 72 hours to soak the corned beef


COOK TIME: 6 to 7 hours

1 (10- to 12-pound) raw corned beef brisket
3⁄4 cup Hunter Beef Rub (recipe follows)
cucumber raita (recipe follows)

Large plastic food-safe container
4 to 5 wood chunks
Aluminum foil
Digital instant read thermometer

2 to 3 Days before the Cook
Rinse the corned beef under cold running water and pat it dry with paper towels. Trim away the excess fat the same way you would trim a packer-cut brisket, leaving at least 1⁄4 inch of fat. Or, if you’re new to running a smoker for more than 4 hours, keep the fat cap intact to protect the meat from drying out.

Place the corned beef in a plastic, food-safe container large enough to fit the entire piece of meat and fill the container with enough cold water to completely submerge the meat. Set a dinner plate or platter on top of the corned beef to keep it submerged.

Cover and refrigerate the meat for at least 48 hours or up to 72 hours. Every 12 to 24 hours, completely drain the water and add fresh, cold water. Change the water at least three or four times during the soaking process.

1 Hour before the Cook
Remove the corned beef from the water and set it on a rimmed baking sheet. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and generously season both sides with the Hunter Beef Rub. Allow the meat to reach room temperature.

30 Minutes before the Cook
Start a lump charcoal fire in your cooker and top the fire with two to three fist-sized wood chunks. Once the charcoal is engaged, adjust the vents so that the cooker runs between 225°F and 250°F. It may take 10 to 20 minutes for the temperature in your cooker to stabilize.
When the temperature in the cooker is stabilized, place the meat fat-side up on the grate of the cooker.

Every Hour in the Cook
Keep an eye on the cooker temperature. If it is running hotter than 250°F or drops below 225°F for more than 10 to 15 minutes, adjust the vents or restock the charcoal to modify the temperature. To increase the temperature, you may need to restock the fire with a chimney of lit charcoal if the cooker is running low on charcoal. Or, if there is plenty of charcoal but it is not completely engaged, you may need to open the vent(s) slightly to increase airflow, which will ignite more charcoal and increase the temperature. Slightly close the vent(s) to decrease the temperature. Give the cooker 10 to 15 minutes to settle in to the new temperature before adjusting the vent(s) again.

If you are using a water pan, check hourly and refill as needed.

2 Hours into the Cook
Flip the corned beef fat-side down.

4 Hours into the Cook
Flip the corned beef fat-side up. Wrap aluminum foil around 2 to 3 inches of the tapered edge of the flat. Add 2 wood chunks to the fire and assess the charcoal to determine if you need to restock.

5 Hours into the Cook
Check the temperature of the meat with an instant-read thermometer poked in several places (flat, middle, and point). This check is a reference point to see how close the meat is to 180°F. For a chef’s treat, slice off a piece of the fatty point. This crunchy, salty, fatty, smoky-with-a-hint-of-spice bite should reassure you that everything is going fine with the cook.

6 Hours into the Cook
Start checking the temperature of the meat every 20 to 30 minutes until it reaches 180°F and a meat fork slides in with slight resistance.

AT THE END OF THE COOK: The target internal temperature is around 180°F. A piece of meat this size can plateau between 150°F and 175°F and hold the temperature for several hours—so be patient. When you think the corned beef is ready, stick a two-tined fork in the middle to test the texture. There will be some resistance— remember, this isn’t a tender low-and-slow brisket, but the fork should slide in easily. When the meat is done, remove it from the cooker, wrap it in foil, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing. If you want a more tender, moist pastrami-style texture, follow the steaming directions.

After the cook, or after steaming the meat (see directions below), shred the meat with a fork while the meat is still warm. Use a cleaver to chop the strands of meat to a uniform size and incorporate the bark. Serve this shredded meat with paratha or naan bread, sauteed onion and green bell pepper, and cucumber raita.

Steaming Smoked Corned Beef/Hunter Beef
I prefer the sliceable texture of smoked corned beef as is, but others like the tenderness of classic, steamed pastrami. If you want to hold the meat a few hours before serving or achieve tenderness of classic pastrami after the meat has been refrigerated, you’ll need to steam it in a roasting pan.

Preheat the oven to 250°F. Place the meat on a rack set inside a roasting pan above 1 to 2 cups of liquid (water, stock, or beer). Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil. Place the covered roasting pan in the oven and steam the meat for up to 2 hours. If you are reheating meat that has been refrigerated, steam it until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F.

Hunter Beef Rub
Makes about 1 1⁄2 cups
4 tablespoons cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons ground cumin

3 tablespoons ground coriander

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder

5 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons onion powder
4 teaspoons garlic powder

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground mace
Combine all of the rub ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to blend. The mixture can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

Cucumber Raita
A classic condiment in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, raita lends a sharp, bright, and cooling note to highly-spiced meats. It’s an excellent foil to the spices in the Hunter Beef Rub, but it also works with smoke-roasted lamb or even as a unique sauce for lamb spare ribs rubbed with a curry blend. I’ve been known to add 1/4 teaspoon of habanero powder to give it even more oomph.

Makes 4 cups

1 quart plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 English cucumber, grated on a microplane
3 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.