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Pastrami vs Corned Beef – What Are the Main Differences?

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Pastrami vs Corned Beef, side to side comparison
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Pastrami vs. Corned Beef – what do you think? These are two iconic deli meats, but they differ in their origins, preparation, and flavors. Corned beef has Irish roots, while pastrami traces back to Romania or Turkey. Corned beef is cured in a salt brine, while pastrami undergoes a more complex process of curing, smoking, and steaming.

These distinct methods result in corned beef’s salty, peppery taste and pastrami’s complex, smoky profile. Appreciating the nuances between these beloved deli classics can enhance your dining experience and help determine which best suits your palate.

7. Pastrami vs Corned Beef – Origins

Corned beef originated in Irish communities and is a staple for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The term “corned” refers to the large grains of salt, known as “corns,” used to cure the beef. On the other hand, pastrami has roots in Romanian and Turkish cuisines.

In Romania, pastrami was made with pork or mutton, while in Turkey, pastirma was made with beef. These recipes were brought to America by immigrants who adapted them using brisket, a cheaper and more readily available cut of beef.

Interesting Fact: The word “pastrami” comes from the Romanian word “pastrama,” which means “to preserve meat.” It was adapted to “pastrami” in America to sound more like the Italian salami, which was more familiar to consumers at the time.

6. The Cuts of Meat

The Cuts of Meat - Corned Beef

Corned beef and pastrami both start with beef brisket, but the cuts used are different. Corned beef is typically made from the leaner flat cut of the brisket. This cut is preferred because it is easier to slice and has a firm texture.

In contrast, pastrami is made from the fattier point cut of the brisket. The additional fat in this cut helps keep the meat moist and flavorful during the long cooking process.

Interesting Fact: During World War II, corned beef was a crucial part of soldiers’ rations. Its ability to be canned and preserved made it an ideal protein source for troops on the move.

5. Preparation Methods

The main difference between corned beef and pastrami lies in their preparation methods. Corned beef is cured in a brine solution containing salt, water, and various spices like garlic, bay leaves, and mustard seeds. After curing, the meat is boiled or slow-cooked.

Pastrami, on the other hand, undergoes a different process. After curing in a brine similar to that of corned beef, the meat is coated with a spice rub that includes black pepper, coriander, and garlic. The pastrami is then smoked and steamed, giving it a distinctive flavor and texture.

Interesting Fact: In the early 20th century, New York City delis would engage in “pastrami wars,” where each deli tried to outdo the others by claiming to have the best and most authentic pastrami. This competition helped refine the pastrami recipe to what we enjoy today.

4. Flavor Profiles

The flavors of corned beef and pastrami are quite different due to their preparation methods. Corned beef has a savory, slightly salty flavor with a firm texture. The boiling process allows the meat to retain moisture and results in a tender but not overly fatty dish.

Pastrami, however, has a richer, smokier flavor. The smoking process infuses the meat with a deep, robust taste, and the steaming ensures it remains tender and moist. The spice rub adds an additional layer of complexity, making pastrami a more flavorful option. Maybe a good idea, as I like, is to add fresh sage.

Interesting Fact: Some pastrami recipes include a secret step of applying a coat of molasses before adding the spice rub. This not only helps the spices adhere better but also adds a subtle sweetness that balances the smoky flavor.

3. Serving Styles

Corned beef and pastrami are served in different ways, reflecting their unique flavors and textures. Corned beef is often enjoyed with cabbage, potatoes, and carrots, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. It is also a key ingredient in Reuben sandwiches, where it is paired with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread.

Pastrami is typically sliced thin and piled high on sandwiches, particularly on rye bread with mustard. It can also be used in various other dishes, such as pastrami hash, or as a topping for salads.

Serving Styles - Pastrami vs Corned Beef

2. Health Considerations

When comparing corned beef and pastrami, it’s also essential to consider their nutritional profiles. Corned beef is leaner, which may appeal to those watching their fat intake. However, it can be high in sodium due to the curing process.

While richer in flavor, Pastrami contains more fat and calories. Both types of meat should be enjoyed in moderation, especially for individuals with dietary restrictions related to sodium or fat intake.

1. Cultural Significance

Corned beef and pastrami hold important cultural essence. Corned beef became a symbol of Irish-American cuisine and is widely celebrated during St. Patrick’s Day. It represents a connection to Irish heritage and is a comfort food for many.

Pastrami, associated with Jewish delis in America, is a staple of New York cuisine. It reflects the culinary influences of Eastern European immigrants and has become an iconic part of the American deli experience.

Cultural Significance - Pastrami vs Corned Beef


Pastrami stands out due to its rich, complex flavor and tender, juicy texture. The preparation process of curing, smoking, and steaming imparts a deep, smoky taste, enhanced by a robust spice rub. This creates an unmatched explosion of flavors.

Pastrami’s versatility also makes it more appealing, fitting well in various dishes beyond sandwiches. Its cultural significance, particularly in New York delis, adds to its allure. Personally, I like more pastrami.

Enjoying pastrami on rye at a renowned deli like Katz’s is a connection to a rich culinary tradition. While corned beef has a savory, salt-cured flavor and firm texture, pastrami offers a more compelling and flavorful option.

Corned beef is solid, especially in traditional dishes like corned beef and cabbage or the Reuben sandwich, but the intricate preparation and sensory experience of pastrami make it the clear choice.

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