Pastrami and corned beef are both delicious examples of processed and cured meats, but they can be very different when you’re using them in the kitchen. Whether you’re looking to prepare a classic St. Patrick’s Day dinner, or want to make a delicious Reuben or just a great sandwich in general, you need to know the differences between the two. 

Peppered roast beef pastrami slices on paper with grains of coloured pepper.
Pastrami On Butcher Paper Photo Credit DonG/Shutterstock
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A lot of people love both pastrami and corned beef, but they aren’t the same thing, contrary to popular belief. Here’s what you need to know. 

PastramiCorned Beef
FlavorsSmoke, black pepper, corianderSalt, peppercorns, bay leaves, Sour
Typical CutThe brisket or deckle can also be made from lamb or goat. From Beef brisket, often the flat. 

What Is Pastrami?

Pastrami was originally created in Romania, and, like a lot of heavily spiced and cured meats, was likely used as a way to help preserve fresh meat so that it would last longer. It just so happens that this recipe tastes better and is more popular than a lot of the other curing methods used at the time.

Pastrami probably ranks right up there with bacon and ham for some of the most popular cured meats. 

It also used to be made from many different cuts of meat from several different kinds of livestock. Pastrami could be made from beef, lamb, mutton, and even goat. The recipes differed a little from animal to animal and even family to family, but the salty brine and cracked pepper coating remained consistent. 

Pastrami was also made from various cuts of meat, but usually meat with a relatively high-fat content. That fat helps to absorb the salt and the flavors, which also makes this method of preservation a lot more effective. 

Pastrami is normally fully cooked when it’s sold, which is one of the reasons it’s often sold pre-sliced into sandwich meat. 

Different Styles Of Pastrami

There are a lot of different styles of pastrami. The most common kind of pastrami here in the United States was largely popularized in Jewish delis, which means that it’s usually kosher, made from a single meat, and almost always made with beef brisket. 

Of course, that more popular version of the meat isn’t the only version. 

It can still be made with other types of meat and can sometimes be done with other cuts of meat besides the brisket. 

How Do You Cook With Pastrami? 

Pastrami is an incredibly popular ingredient to add to sandwiches, sometimes even casseroles, wraps, bagels, and other things that you can add pastrami to. You can also make pastrami at home if you’re comfortable with aging and curing meats. You can even start with corned beef to save yourself a few steps in the process! 

Pastrami Ingredient Pairings To Experiment With

Pastrami tends to be best paired either with sweet, creamy, or acidic things. So caramelized onions, pickles, potato salad, sweet potatoes, vinegar, and coleslaw are all good pairings to add to Pastrami. Olives are another good option. 

Beans are also a popular addition, especially baked beans since the sweetness can help cut the flavor of the pastrami and refresh your palate so you can taste all the layers and spices in your pastrami again. 

Top Pastrami Recipes You’re Sure To Love

Here is an easy recipe to help you make smoked pastrami at home, starting with corned beef and adding the additional processes and spices needed to make pastrami. 

Once you have some pastrami, here is a delicious recipe for a hot pastrami sandwich you can make at home. 

What is Corned Beef

Corned beef is a little different. Since corned beef isn’t smoked as part of the preservation process, it can be sold raw and often is. That means that you have a few more options for how you want to cook it and what kinds of things you want to make with it. 

But, at the core of corned beef, it’s pretty similar to pastrami. Corned beef is salt-cured, with added spices to provide flavor and other benefits. It’s often covered in a seasoned crust similar to pastrami, though the spices can vary between pastrami and corned beef. 

Corned beef is also always made with beef, and almost always made with brisket. 

Different Types of Corned Beef

Corned beef is almost always made with the brisket, but it can be split between the three different ways that briskets are prepared. You can have a brisket flat corned beef, a brisket point corned beef, or a whole brisket corned beef. 

Remember that brisket flats are leaner than the point. One of the tricks with choosing a good corned beef is making sure you get a good balance of flat and muscle meat since the curing process means that some of the most flavorful parts of the beef are around the edges with the seasoned crust. If you have to trim extra fat off of the meat you’re quite literally cutting away flavor. 

So, you ideally want to find a corned beef brisket that was trimmed before the curing process began. Or, if you’re worried about the high fatty content of corned beef, consider choosing a brisket flat instead of the point or a whole brisket. 

How Do You Cook With Corned Beef? 

Corned beef is a pretty versatile cut of meat. Brisket always benefits from low and slow cooking, and corned beef is no exception. However, corned beef can cook a little faster than a regular brisket because it’s been through more processing and curing, which helps break down the texture of the connective tissue, making the meat a lot more soft and tender. 

Delicious Corned Beef Pairings

Corned beef and cabbage are a fantastic pairing and one of the most classic options. Potatoes and other root vegetables like turnips and onions are a good option. You can also pair corned beef with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, garlic, noodles, and other ingredients. 

The nice thing about cooking with corned beef is that it’s strongly favored and can add salt and help season other ingredients in your food as the fat renders out. So you want to choose ingredients that will absorb some of that flavor and complement it. 

Mustard creates a complementary flavor for corned beef and can be brushed on your corned beef during roasting if you want to get more of a savory flavor or bring out the vinegar in the corned beef. 

Great Corned Beef Recipes You Should Try

There are a lot of fantastic ways to eat corned beef. To start, here is a classic recipe for corned beef and cabbage that you can easily make at home and customize to your taste. This is a classic preparation, including the optional mustard and horseradish you can serve with!

For a less traditional option, this corned beef and noodle casserole is a rich and filling option, with peas or mixed vegetables adding some nutrition to the meal as well! 

For even more ideas, these 25 recipes are meant for canned corned beef, but you can use fresh as well. And here are 21 classic Irish side dishes you can pair corned beef with for a delicious and traditional meal! 

Wrapping Up: What are the key differences between Pastrami and Corned Beef? 

Both of these preparations can be made with beef brisket, and they even use some of the same salt-curing methods and seasonings. However, there are some differences. 

For one thing, corned beef is rarely made with any other cut of meat, while pastrami was traditionally made with beef, lamb, mutton, or goat meat. Since those other animals have different distributions of muscle and fat, pastrami can also be made with other cuts of meat, though brisket and similar cuts are preferred. 

Don’t worry, unless you’re buying from a specialty butcher, you’re almost certainly buying beef brisket pastrami. 

The other big difference between pastrami and corned beef is that pastrami is almost always fully cooked before you buy. Corned beef is cured, but usually needs to be cooked at home unless you’re buying a deli meat cut of cooked corned beef. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: Which is better, corned beef or pastrami? 

It depends on your preferences. Pastrami tends to have a stronger smokey flavor, and a stronger flavor in general, which is part of why it tends to be sliced thin when it’s served. Corned beef often has more of a sweet and sour flavor rather than a smoked flavor. 

Which one you prefer probably depends on your personal preferences, which option you tried first, and the cuisine you grew up with. 

Q2: Do corned beef and pastrami taste the same?

Both of these meats have some similar flavors and that’s because they go through a similar process of curing and cooking. A lot of people have noticed the similar peppercorn flavors. Both are salty, and both use peppercorns as a primary flavor, but a lot of the other flavors are pretty different. 

So, there are a lot of similarities, but there are also some subtle differences. So we won’t say that corned beef and pastrami taste the same, but we can also understand why it might seem like it when you first taste them. 

Q3: Should a Reuben be made with corned beef or pastrami?

A traditional Reuben is made with corned beef, but you can use either of these meats for a delicious Reuben. So, if you prefer pastrami, go with pastrami! If you prefer corned beef, go with corned beef! 

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