Looking for a lighter pastrami recipe? You’ll love homemade turkey pastrami! Turkey breasts are brined, then smoked low and slow to achieve tender, juicy meat every time.
Turkey pastrami is a healthier spin on traditional pastrami. It has the same mouthwatering, smoked flavors as the classic but never leaves you feeling weighed down!
It’s one of my favorite homemade deli meat recipes to turn to when I’m craving an extra delicious turkey sandwich, salad, and even pizza.
Table of Contents
Why this recipe works
- Healthier version of a classic. Turkey pastrami has fewer calories and less fat than beef pastrami, but it never lacks flavor!
- Easy to make. The simple step-by-step instructions guide you through making your own turkey cold cuts in no time. As much as I love to oven-roast a turkey, this is so much easier.
- Cost-conscious. Store-bought and pre-sliced deli meat is super expensive, but making your own costs a fraction of the price.
- Perfect texture and flavor. The secret is to soak turkey breasts in a brine for five days, then finish them in a smoker to achieve the best flavor and texture possible!
What I love about this recipe is that like traditional pastrami, it makes the BEST turkey reuben sandwiches! All you need is some rye bread, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and a generous serving of Russian dressing and you’ll be making this deli meat on repeat.
Besides the turkey and some brining essentials, there isn’t much else that goes into this recipe. Here is what you’ll need:
- Turkey breasts. Pick up some fresh, skinless, and boneless turkey breast with moderate fat marbling. Organic or free-range turkey will have the best taste and texture.
- Brown sugar. Wondering where store-bought turkey pastrami gets its gorgeous caramelized crust? It’s all thanks to brown sugar. I tried this recipe with dark brown and light brown sugar, and I recommend the latter- it doesn’t have a super evident sweetness, which is what you want with deli meat (unless it’s honey ham).
- Pickling spice. This spice blend is usually made from mustard seeds, coriander seeds, dill seeds, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. Some recipes call for cloves or juniper berries, but I found it way too overpowering when I used it.
- Curing salt. It contains sodium nitrite (sodium erythorbate/sodium phosphate), which preserves the meat. Kosher salt will also work, but do not use standard table salt- this is important!
- Cinnamon and nutmeg. These warm, comforting spices pair perfectly with the juicy turkey.
- Filtered water. For a pure, neutral base for the brine solution.
Find the printable recipe with measurements below
How to make turkey pastrami
You may be surprised to learn that making smoked deli meats from scratch is easy and almost completely hands-off.
Step 1- Prep the brine: Heat the brine ingredients in a large pot or saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar is fully dissolved, let it cool before placing it in the fridge to chill overnight.
Step 2- Brine the turkey breasts: Place the turkey breasts in a non-reactive bowl and pour the brine over top. Cover, then let them soak in the fridge.
Step 3- Boil the turkey: Rinse the turkey breasts with water after brining them for 5 days. Place them in a pot, cover them with cold water, and heat to a boil. Once it boils, turn off the heat and let the turkey stand in the water for 20 minutes.
Step 4- Smoke the turkey: Place the turkey breasts in a smoker and smoke until they’re cooked through. Cool completely before slicing and serving.
Recipe tips and variations
- Add flavor to the brine. Play with the flavors in the brine by adding red pepper flakes, cayenne, or a dash of hot sauce or liquid smoke.
- Chill before slicing. It helps to chill the pastrami in the fridge overnight before slicing. Also, use a sharp knife so you can get the thinnest slices possible.
- Brine for longer. I recommend brining the turkey for 5 days in the fridge to achieve the most flavorful, moist, and tender results. If you are in a hurry to whip this up (I don’t blame you), brine the meat for at least 24 hours.
- Use mild chips to smoke. Complement the turkey’s natural flavors by smoking the breasts with mild hardwood chips or pellets, like cherry, apple, or hickory.
- Add a dry rub. If you’d like more spicy and smoky meat, rub the exterior of the turkey with some fresh black pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and a touch of brown sugar. If you want even more heat, add a dash of cayenne pepper.
To store: Store your homemade turkey pastrami in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
To freeze: Wrap the pastrami in a tight layer of plastic or foil, place it in a freezer-safe airtight container, and freeze for up to 3 months.
More smoked meat recipes
Frequently asked questions
The exact cooking times will vary depending on the size and thickness of your turkey breasts. Generally, a 2-pound brined turkey breast will take between 2 to 2 ½ hours to cook in a smoker.
The best way to tell that the turkey breasts are smoked to perfection is with a meat thermometer. Stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat and when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, it’s finished.
I highly recommend it! Brining the turkey not only infuses it with classic pastrami flavors but also helps tenderize and moisten the meat. Besides, nobody likes dry turkey!
Yes, this recipe works with skin-on turkey. If you choose to use these, remember to smoke the turkey breast skin-side down.
- 2 1/4 pounds turkey breasts skinless and boneless
- Add the brine ingredients into a large stock pot. Place the brine over medium heat and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Remove the brine from the stove and allow it to cool down to room temperature. Transfer the brine to a fridge and continue to chill overnight.
- Add the turkey breasts to a non-reactive bowl or container. Pour over the brine. Make sure the turkey is not overlapping too much. Add the plate on top of the turkey breasts so they are submerged completely under the brine. Add the plastic foil over the bowl or container and refrigerate the turkey for an hour or up to 5 days.
- Rinse the turkey breasts well and add them to a large pot.
- Cover the turkey breasts with clean water and boil. Turn off the heat and allow the turkey to sit in the water for 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, prepare your smoker and desired hardwood chips. Set the smoker to 275F.
- Place the turkey breasts onto the smoker and away from the fire. Smoke the breasts for 2-2 ½ hours or until the inner temperature reaches 170F.
- Allow the turkey to cool down completely before slicing.
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