We'd love to say that the first time we tried to make pastrami, it instantly worked. That, however, would be a bold-faced lie. The truth is, our pastrami has been changing and developing for the better part of a decade. It all began on the food truck, PORC. Josh and Trent, the two University of Michigan grads who owned it, missed really good deli. It was slim pickings in DC back in 2011. While they were already making highly-acclaimed barbecue, they figured they'd try to recreate the cured brisket they had at Zingerman's, Ann Arbor's famous deli. How hard could it be?
The PORC truck in 2014, Josh and Trent in The Washington Post in 2011
It's incredibly hard, it turns out. At the time they were working out of a soul food restaurant in the heart of DC, where they had exactly one shelf in the walk-in cooler. So, curing their own brisket was out. They decided to try a couple of corned beefs from the store, spice them up with black pepper, coriander, paprika and throw them in the smoker. And one after the other, the pastramis came out of the smoker, fresh and hot slices were sampled.One after the other, the rest was dumped into the trash. They went through more than 20 briskets before they felt they were making something "decent".
Eventually the boys got the hang of it and put the pastrami on the menu as an occasional special. It quickly was a hit and would often sell out in the first 30 minutes of them being on the streets. But the cramped kitchen and tiny smoker they used meant babying a few select briskets every week, slow-smoking them for over 18 hours. It was a labor of love more than anything else. They just really liked eating the stuff.
Kangaroo Boxing Club in 2013, a pastrami platter with bacon mac 'n' cheese
In 2012, the team expanded the "empire" and opened the cheekily-named Kangaroo Boxing Club with a couple of other friends. One of them was a Michigan buddy, Chris. Over the next few years, Chris and Josh kept discussing how the pastrami was so good, the best thing they made, and they had to figure out a way to sell it outside of the restaurant. But, space was still tight. Chris and Josh batted the idea of opening up a deli company around for years.
They had a great product, but no idea how to go from making just a few whole pastramis a week to making hundreds. Luckily, there friends at MeatCrafters, from whom they got fresh sausages, had the space and the expertise. But making great pastrami was no longer the goal. Jeb from Meatcrafters, Chris and Josh wanted to make the best. The recipe, everything from the curing spices, the rub, the source for the beef and how to smoke it was redone from the bottom up.
Jeb made batch after batch, tweeking everything along the way. He got granular about what woods to use (pun fully intended), at what temperatures to smoke the meat, how coarse the black pepper should be. Does it need more paprika? More smoke? Less smoke? How's the mouth-feel? He ate sample after sample, followed by a not so great increases to his blood pressure. But the quest had to continue. And then one day, they did it.
Jeb holds that first winner in 2017
After six plus years of experimenting, tasting, tweaking, trying again, they finally had made the best pastrami ever. All was right in the world. Today, we are very proud to offer this modern miracle of gustation to you. Pile it high on thick-cut rye with a good smear of mustard, and share it with good friends. Buy it here.