When it comes to Italian food, some of the favorite parts of the meal for a lot of people are the aged meats like pepperoni or prosciutto that add a ton of flavor to the dish. Typically high in salt, aged for a while before being ready to use, and sliced thin, aged meat has a lot going for it. 

However, here in the United States, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the differences between salami, pepperoni, and other aged meats. Sure, they can taste different, but is that just a matter of the different spices, or is there something deeper at work making these meats different?

OriginNew York (by Italian Immigrants)Italy
Is there more than one type?Yes, but they tend to be very similarThere are many different kinds of Salami
FlavorPeppery, smokey, sometimes sweeter, rich with umami. Rich with umami, often slightly salty, but otherwise the flavor profiles can vary a lot. 
UsesPizza, pasta dishes, some salads, and more. There are so many types of salami, they can be used almost any way you can think of. Snacking to dinner, salami is everywhere. 

What is Pepperoni?

Pepperoni is often thought of as an Italian meat, but the truth is a little more complicated. 

While pepperoni was certainly created with Italian cuisine in mind, it was actually Italian immigrants in New York who first created this type of pepperoni. We don’t know if they were experimenting with different recipes trying to create something like Italian salami with ingredients that were more available in the United States, or if pepperoni was originally created to cater to American tastes, but it’s a true fusion food. 

At the core, though, pepperoni is a specific type of salami and is made using a lot of the same techniques as a traditional Italian salami. 

Different Types of Pepperoni?

There are some different types of pepperoni, but they are mostly based on slight variation on the recipe, as well as differences in the size of the pepperoni while it’s aging, and how long it’s allowed to age. 

Pepperoni is often sliced very thin and included as a layer in pizzas and other baked goods, which means it needs to pack a lot of flavor into a very small amount of the finished product. Some people like a spicier pepperoni, while other people add a little more sugar to bring out the sweetness of the other ingredients. 

But, pepperoni, large and small, are all based off the original recipes created in New York, and there hasn’t been a ton of variation since then. 

How Do You Make Pepperoni? 

Pepperoni is a combination of pork and beef, plus spices and salt and sugar to create a robust, peppery, savory, and sweet flavor that is complex and immediately recognizable. The bright red color of most pepperoni comes from the paprika, cayenne pepper, and occasionally from red wine included in the mix. 

All of the ingredients, including both kinds of meat, are ground together until they form a homogenous mix and the desired texture. Then, the grind is put into a sausage casing, which creates the signature shape. 

Like some other salami, pepperoni is then allowed to ferment for a time, which helps to develop the flavor and improves the texture of the finished product. 

Next, pepperoni is smoked until it reaches the desired color. Color is an important indicator of flavor when you’re smoking meat, so it can be more important than cooking time or temperature a lot of the time. 

Smoking also determines how moist the pepperoni will be when it’s finished. Longer smoking times lead to a drier, firmer product. Pepperoni is usually left pretty moist, however, which makes it softer, more pliable, and less likely to crumble. Perfect for thin slicing. 

From here, some people are ready to use the pepperoni, but many companies and home artisans allow the pepperoni to age further in a controlled environment. Like aging other meats, the aging time mellows and often improves flavor, and adds new flavors to the pepperoni over time. Aged pepperoni also often tastes spicier than fresher pepperoni. 

Delicious Pepperoni Pairing Ingredients

Pepperoni is a strong flavor, which makes sense since it’s a type of salami, but that means it calls for strong flavors from the other ingredients around it, or, very mellow creamy flavors that help reduce the harshness of the pepperoni. 

Mozzarella cheese, and really, any mellow white cheese, is a good pairing. 

Pepperoni works well with onions, olives, eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, leeks, bread, and almost any tomato-based sauce. Just remember that too much pepperoni, or other flavors that are too mellow, and you might not be able to taste anything but the pepperoni. 

Want To Experiment With Pepperoni?

It’s not hard to find recipes that use pepperoni for pizza, but here are some other recipes you can use to inspire your other creations. Since pepperoni is a New York creation, it’s no surprise that the New York Times has some great pepperoni recipes, like this pepperoni and lemon chicken! Or try America’s Test Kitchen’s Pepperoni and Sauteed Kale with Cherry Peppers for another delightful alternative. 

What Is Salami?

Salami is a bit of a catch-all term for any meat product that is spiced, fermented, and dry-aged. Some salami are also smoked to add additional flavors and to help improve the existing flavors in the salami itself. 

Typical salami is made from pork, but there are other variations, including pepperoni, which adds beef as well as pork to the grinder. 

Salami can be made from just about any red meat you’d care to try, though some meats, like mutton, venison, or goat, make for a much stronger flavor and either need heavier spicing or to be made with the meat in mind. These may call for a longer or shorter aging time as well, depending on what flavors the creator wants to promote. 

One of the main reasons that pork is so common is because it’s easy to get cuts of pork with a good fat-to-meat ratio for salami. Too little fat can leave salami dry, crumbly, and less flavorful, while too much can interfere with fermentation and aging and cause other problems. 

Salami may also be made with a sausage casing around the outside, or without one, or even rolled in spices or other ingredients to form a flavorful crust around the meaty interior. 

Different Styles Of Salami

There are a lot of different types of salami, since almost every meat, spice combination, and change in the aging process can lead to a very different end product. Let’s highlight just a few of them here. 

  • Genoa Salami: popular in the United States and elsewhere for its milder, sweeter taste, softer texture, and overall deliciousness, genoa salami, sometimes called summer sausage, can be included in recipes or even eaten on its own as a snacking salami. 
  • Sopressata Salami: Sopressata comes in both mild and spicy varieties, is made from pork and either black peppercorns or Calabrian red pepper flakes, along with other spices, and is encased and dried without smoking. Soft, sliced thin, and highly flavorful, this is one of the most common salamis you’ll find outside of Italy. 
  • Chorizo: fans of Chorizo might be surprised to learn that this sausage is actually more properly described as a Salami. The Spanish-Mexican flavor profile and brilliant color might be deceiving, but Chorizo, especially Chorizo logs, goes through a similar aging process to other salamis. Though, fresh and uncooked versions of this mix are also widely available and used more like sausage than salami. 
  • Wine Salami: There are actually many different types of wine salami, and any salami that incorporates wine as a significant ingredient, often taking the place of vinegar, can be considered a wine salami. However, the quality of the salami depends highly on the ability of the creator to anticipate how both the wine and the chosen meat will age together, and which flavors are most likely to emerge during aging.  

How Do You Make Salami? 

Salami is made using a similar process to pepperoni, though there are a lot more variations in the process depending on what kind of salami is being made. 

Since pepperoni is technically a type of salami, it makes sense that there would be less variation in the making of pepperoni than there is in the making of salami as a whole. 

However, there are some things that all salami has in common. For example, your chose meat or blend of meats is ground together with salt, sugar, and other spices and flavorings to your desired texture. The addition of wine, vinegar, or other liquids can increase the moisture content, leading to either a moister, softer, salami, or to increased aging to create a dry but highly flavored salami. 

The meat mixture is then put into a sausage casing, sometimes with an additional outer crust to contribute to the finished flavor. 

Salami is allowed to ferment and dry age to reach the desired flavors and textures. Some salami, like pepperoni, are also smoked. Alternatively, some salami goes through a brine process, or other additional steps to alter the flavors. 

Salami Recipe Ingredients To Experiment With

If you’re interested in making your own salami, you’ll likely want to start with pork before experimenting with other meats. Pork butt or shoulder are common cuts for use in salami making. You’ll also want salt, sugar, and a variety of spices like garlic, onion, thyme, rosemary, clove, anise, paprika, fennel, or others. 

Especially if you’re just getting started, you’ll also want a starter culture of the bacteria that make salami delicious instead of dangerous. There are a lot of different strains, and each produces a slightly different kind of flavor, so research and choose the one that’s closest to the flavor you want. 

If you’re looking for ingredients to pair with salami, you typically either want to lean toward creamy buttery flavors that complement the acidity and slight bitterness in salami, or lean into the acidity and pair with other acidic ingredients like sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and similar vegetables. 

Top Salami Recipes You’re Sure To Love

If you’re looking to get started making your own salami at home, All Recipes has a good homemade salami recipe that’s specifically designed to be delicious, but accessible to beginners. 

If you’re more interested in a recipe that helps you know what to do with salami, Food Network has an excellent Eggs in Purgatory with Salami recipe that is easy to put together, bursting with flavor, and a little different from the kinds of recipes you’re likely to have seen before. This is a great weeknight dinner, but also a simple recipe sure to impress houseguests. 

Wrapping Up: What are the key differences between Pepperoni and Salami? 

Pepperoni and salami have a lot in common, especially since pepperoni is technically a type of salami, but there are some differences in how they are prepared and how pepperoni tastes, compared with other salami. 

  • Pepperoni tends not to be aged as long as other kinds of salami. 
  • Pepperoni is a smoked salami, while many salami are not smoked and instead rely entirely on the aging and fermentation process to create flavor. 
  • Salami generally prefer to use natural sausage casing, while pepperoni commonly uses artificial casings. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: Which is healthier, salami or pepperoni?

The nutritional content of salami and pepperoni is generally pretty similar but can vary pretty heavily depending on the specific ingredients in the recipe, and how long the salami has been aged. Generally, salami and pepperoni are both pretty nutritious, but they can have a slightly different set of nutrients depending on how long they’ve been aged. 

Q2: How can you tell the difference between salami and pepperoni? 

Pepperoni is technically a type of salami, but the main ways to tell the difference are in the color of the meat, as well as the texture. Most salami is drier than pepperoni tends to be, which makes it stiffer. Salami is also often sliced even thinner than pepperoni, thanks to stronger flavors after a longer aging process. 

Q3: Which is spicier, salami or pepperoni?

Salami can vary quite a bit in spice, with some being incredibly mild and other being very spicey verging on extremely so. 

Pepperoni tends to fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, with some pepperoni being spicier, but also sweeter than others. 

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