One of my favorite wild game meals is elk pastrami. I serve it on rye bread, topped with swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and stone-ground mustard. It’s phenomenal, and very easy to make. Think of it as your simple corned beef but with added layers of complexity from smoke and spices. Although the process of making pastrami takes several days, the reward is worth the wait.
I like to use elk round or sirloin roasts for pastrami because of their uniform shape and lack of tough connective tissue. You can also use roasts from the back legs of deer or antelope, as well as brisket meat from large animals like moose or buffalo. A three-pound hunk of meat is about right. You can use smaller or larger pieces, but you’ll need to adjust the brining period accordingly.
3 lb elk round roast or equivalent from any horned or antlered game.
1 gallon water
2 tablespoons pink salt or Instacure #1
1 cup kosher salt
¾ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons pickling spices
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon mustard seed
- In a non-reactive pot or crock, add brine ingredients to the water. Gently heat and mix until salt and sugar is completely dissolved. Place in the refrigerator until chilled.
- In a non-reactive container, add the meat to the brine, making sure the meat is completely submerged. Cover with lid or tightly seal with plastic wrap.
- Brine in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
- Remove meat from the brine, rinse thoroughly, and then allow it to dry for an hour.
- Cut a small test piece, fry it and taste. If it’s too salty, soak the meat in cold water for an hour or two, rinse and dry.
- Next add the rub to the surface of the meat. You’ll want to generously coat it with the rub mixture.
- Place in a smoker preheated to 225 degrees and hot smoke the meat until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. You can also do this on a grill over low heat. Smolder wood chips in an aluminum pie tin in order to add smoke.
- The final step is steaming the pastrami in a 275 degree oven. Add an inch or two of water or stock to a roasting pan then place the meat on a wire rack above the liquid. Cover tightly with lid or foil to ensure the liquid steams without escaping the roasting pan. Steam the meat in the oven for one to one and half hours.
- Remove from oven and allow the pastrami to rest for at least ten minutes before slicing.
You can serve the venison pastrami warm or cold. Slice thinly and make classic pastrami sandwiches with rye bread, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and mustard. Store the leftovers in a Zip-Loc bag or tightly sealed Tupperware in the refrigerator and pastrami will keep for weeks.
Brody Henderson is a hunter, fly fishing guide, writer, wilderness production assistant for the MeatEater television show and MeatEater’s editorial contributor.