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A Pastrami Reuben for St. Patrick's Day

Call me an iconoclast, but I believe there are better ways to celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick (March 17) than by emptying a vacuum-sealed pouch of corned beef brisket into a pot of boiling water with cabbage wedges. Even if you're a homesick Irishman, it doesn't sound like anything to, well, write home about.
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Photo by Rob Baas.

Call me an iconoclast, but I believe there are better ways to celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick (March 17) than by emptying a vacuum-sealed pouch of corned beef brisket into a pot of boiling water with cabbage wedges. Even if you're a homesick Irishman, it doesn't sound like anything to, well, write home about.

What is worth writing home about is a Reuben sandwich made with home-cured, home-smoked pastrami. But don't take my word for it. Our grill wrangler/recipe tester, Rob Baas, pronounced my smoked pastrami Reuben "the best thing" he'd ever made at home, and Rob does a lot of smoking and grilling.

We calculated you'd have just enough time to make your own pastrami before St. Paddy's Day. Which you will then turn into the most remarkable Reuben of your life.

Traditional? No. But a saint who tolerates green beer would surely approve of spice-encrusted, smoke-blasted brisket on rye, right? There's even cabbage, albeit in the form of sauerkraut.

Active hands-on time is short. But the beef brisket flat requires a 7-day cure in a garlic- and onion-infused brine. In my experience, the brine penetrates the meat at the rate of about 1/4 inch every 24 hours. Tip: You can hasten the curing time by injecting the meat with brine after 2 days; insert the needle parallel to the grain of the meat.

Like corned beef, the Reuben was the product of American ingenuity. It's a melting pot of flavors--cured beef brisket, Swiss cheese, German sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Jewish rye bread. Legend has it this landmark sandwich was first assembled in 1914 by Arnold Reuben at his restaurant on 58th Street in New York City.

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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Project Smoke on public television. His web site is BarbecueBible.com.