Sensational Smoked Turkey Pastrami

  • By: Jack Mancuso

Sensational Smoked Turkey Pastrami - Cuso Cuts

The smell of turkey smoking, low and slow, wafts through the entire neighborhood. Around me, people are sticking their heads out the back door to see where they should “show up” unannounced for a visit. Quick, hide the meat!

Smoked turkey pastrami is moist and richly flavored. It’s so good that the National Turkey Federation has several recipes dedicated to the use of this lunch meat. The trick is finding a tried-n-true recipe you know will work every time.

Grab your spices, grilling tools, knives, and cutting board, and let’s get started.

What is Pastrami?

First things first. What exactly is Pastrami? Pastrami traditionally uses a tough cut of meat like beef brisket, placed in brine initially, for a specific time, to cure it.  The main difference with Turkey is that using a traditional Pastrami brine seems to make it tough. So, I’ve changed this recipe with necessary adjustments that delight adding a hint of lemon for brightness.

Smoked Turkey Pastrami Ingredients

4-5 pound Turkey Breast

Smoking Wood: Hickory or pecan


Quart: Filtered water

¼ cup Brown sugar

¼ cup Sea salt

¼ cup Juniper berries

¼ cup Peppercorns, cracked

3 Bay leaves

1 tsp. Thyme

1 tsp. Lemon zest

1/8 cup sweet or smoked paprika

1 tsp. Red pepper flakes

8 Cloves smashed garlic cloves


¼ cup Juniper berries

¼ cup Dark brown sugar

1 tsp. Mustard seed

1 tsp. Chipotle seasoning

Instructions for Brining the Turkey

  1. Warm all the ingredients for the brine in a large saucepan. Make sure the salt and sugar dissolve completely.
  2. Let cool.
  3. Place the turkey breast in a pot that will fit in the refrigerator, or in a large resealable bag. Pour the brine into either. If you are using a bag, add another over top to avoid leaking (and set both into a low plastic container, again just in case).
  4. Turn the turkey in the pot or bag several times for the next 48 hours.
  5. Remove, dry well, and set aside while you prepare the rub.

Directions for the Rub

  1. Put the rub spices into a grinder. Don’t process until powdery, you want some texture.
  2. Apply to the turkey and refrigerate for another 24 hours.

Smoking the Turkey Pastrami

  1. After soaking and draining your wood, get your smoker to about 220-225 degrees F (similar to 3-2-1 ribs).**
  2. Place the turkey breast skin-side down in the smoker
  3. Cook it for 2-2.5 hours until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees F.
  4. Let it rest
  5. If you don’t need it on the same day, I suggest letting it rest for 24 hours. The flavor increases.
  6. Slice it up for sandwiches using a good cutting board. Once sliced it lasts for about a week in the refrigerator (if people aren’t snacking at midnight!). You can freeze it safely.

** You can do combination charcoal and wood smoking, if you wish.

Tips & Tricks

If you plan to reheat the whole or sliced turkey pastrami in the oven, wrap it in foil. Put it on the middle rack of your oven set to 250 degrees. Test it after about 45 minutes to see if you’re happy with the temperature.


The main variations you can make to your smoked turkey pastrami come in the form of side dishes, condiments, choice of cheese, and other sandwich toppers. Starting with a foundation of Rye Bread is nearly cannon.

Always toast the bread or roll to keep things from getting mushy.

Side Dishes

Some of these work as toppers too, like coleslaw. The tang from the cabbage makes a flavor marriage made in heaven.

Green salad

Roasted Potatoes (make aluminum packs filled with spices for single serves)

Cup of soup (great for a chilly day)


Gouda (Smoked)





Bread and butter pickles

Dill pickle slices

Ground mustard

Horseradish sauce


Red Onions


Sliced Tomatoes

Russian dressing

Pit Master’s Memo

In 1936, the word Pastrami appeared in the United States, in print. The best guess is the word came from Romanian or Armenian immigrants using similar terms for dried meats.  Pastra, in Romanian, means to “conserve food.”

At this juncture they used brisket, lamb, or turkey, all of which was brined because it preserved the meat when dependable refrigeration didn’t exist. Over time, Pastrami became an iconic Jewish deli dish served on rye.

From the Bar

Medium Body Red Wine (fruity)

Hop-heavy IPA

Sour Martini


Water with orange or lemon

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