When faced with the choice between a pastrami sandwich and a corned beef one, many deli-goers are unsure of the distinctions. Both meats are beloved staples of Jewish delicatessens, each with its unique flavor profile and preparation methods. Let’s delve into the details to understand what sets them apart.

Pastrami: A Closer Look

Origins and Preparation

Pastrami, originating from Romanian cuisine, is a form of preserved meat traditionally made from beef brisket, although cuts like the deckle or navel may also be used. The process begins with curing the meat in a brine solution infused with salt, sugar, and an array of spices including garlic, black pepper, coriander, and mustard seeds. After curing, the brisket is smoked and then steamed to achieve its characteristic tenderness and flavor.

Key Characteristics

Pastrami boasts a robust, peppery flavor profile enhanced by the smoking process. It is typically served thinly sliced, making it ideal for sandwiches, where it pairs famously with rye bread and mustard.

Pastrami or Corned Beef

Corned Beef: An Overview

Origins and Preparation

Originating from Europe and the Middle East, corned beef is another preserved meat, notable for its salt-curing process. Contrary to its name, corned beef does not contain corn but refers to the large grains of salt historically used in its preservation. The beef brisket is submerged in a brine solution rich in salt, spices like coriander, mustard seeds, and sometimes sodium nitrite for color retention. It is then either boiled or baked until tender.

Distinctive Traits

Corned beef is known for its pinkish hue and salty-sweet flavor imparted by the curing process. It is commonly associated with dishes like the classic Reuben sandwich, where it is layered with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing.

Comparative Analysis

Types of Cuts Used

While both pastrami and corned beef are typically derived from beef brisket, pastrami may also utilize cuts like the beef plate or shoulder, offering a broader range of flavors and textures.

Nutritional Considerations

Pastrami tends to be higher in sodium content due to its curing process, while corned beef also contains significant salt levels but varies depending on the brining method.

Serving Styles

Pastrami is often served hot on sandwiches, whereas corned beef finds its place in sandwiches like the Reuben or as a hearty main dish paired with vegetables.

Preparation Methods

Pastrami is distinguished by its smoking and steaming process, imparting a smoky depth to its flavor, whereas corned beef is characterized by boiling or baking, highlighting its tender texture and rich, salty taste.


Whether you lean towards the spicy zest of pastrami or the savory tang of corned beef, understanding their origins, preparation methods, and distinct characteristics enhances the appreciation of these iconic deli meats. Each offers a unique culinary experience, making them favorites in delis and homes alike.

Next time you’re at the deli counter faced with the choice, you’ll be equipped to make an informed decision based on your preferences for flavor, texture, and culinary tradition.