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Pastrami vs Corned Beef: What’s the Difference?


Pastrami Queen Hero
Pastrami Queen Sandwich

Pastrami and corned beef are preserved meats made from beef, usually brisket to be exact. Both pastrami and corned beef are sliced and served at delis and sandwich shops. 

But there is one key difference to these similar Jewish deli meats: pastrami is smoked and corned beef is not smoked. The cuts of meat are also different. Both are delicious eaten alone, but they are also popularly enjoyed as the meaty base for iconic sandwiches.

What is Pastrami?

Pastrami is a deli meat made from beef that is brined and smoked. Brisket is traditionally made from a cut called the navel, located below the ribs, but it’s also frequently made from the brisket, which itself is comprised of the fattier “point” (also called deckle) and the leaner “flat” (also called “first cut”). 

To make pastrami, the brisket is brined. It is then seasoned with herbs and spices like salt, coriander, mustard seeds, and black pepper. It is then smoked and steamed, yielding juicy and tasty meat. 

Pastrami can trace its roots to Eastern Europe, specifically Romania. It gets its name from pastirma, an air-dried cured and seasoned beef that is popular in Europe and the Middle East. Pastrami is sliced and often served piled high in sandwiches.

Liebman's Kosher Deli Sliced Pastrami
Liebman’s Deli | Sliced Pastrami
Wexler's Deli Whole House Smoked Pastrami
Wexler’s Deli | House Smoked Pastrami Sandwich

What is Corned Beef?

Corned beef is a deli meat made from brisket, located near the cow’s lower chest. Corned beef is cured, brined with a variety of spices, and then boiled to super-tender perfection. 

Corned beef also can trace its roots to Eastern Europe, although it’s also commonly found in Ireland. Corned beef is most commonly served with cabbage (in the traditional Irish preparation) or on rye bread with a schmear of mustard to make one of the most popular Jewish deli sandwiches.

Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen Corned Beef Brisket
Kenny & Ziggy’s Delicatessen | Corned Beef Brisket
Junior's Restaurant Corned Beef & Pastrami
Junior’s Restaurant | Corned Beef & Pastrami Sandwich

What is Better: Corned Beef or Pastrami?

Meat lovers often debate which is better, pastrami or corned beef. The answer: it depends! Some people may prefer the smokier, oftentimes more flavorful pastrami while corned beef has a markedly different flavor profile.

Read More: What is Wagyu: Explained

Is Pastrami Less Fatty Than Corned Beef?

Because the navel tends to be fattier than brisket, pastrami may have slightly more fat than corned beef. When it’s made from brisket, the amount of fat depends on whether it’s cut from the point or flat. In Jewish delis, customers can usually specify whether they’d like their sandwiches lean or fatty.

Why is Pastrami so Delicious?

Pastrami is delicious for several reasons:

  • The cut: The navel is more marbled than the brisket, which is what’s used to make corned beef. 
  • The preparation: Pastrami is smoked and then steamed whereas corned beef isn’t smoked. 
  • The flavor. Pastrami is more flavorful because it’s brined before being rubbed with a flavorful seasoning blend whereas corned beef is only brined. Some pastrami rubs also may include sugar.

Is a Reuben Better with Corned Beef or Pastrami?

Whether a Reuben sandwich is better with corned beef or pastrami comes down to personal taste. Reuben sandwiches are made with either sliced corned beef or pastrami. The meat is sandwiched between rye bread and topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing. No matter which meat you use, your Reuben sandwich is going to be delicious.

Most Famous Pastrami & Corned Beef

Grab a wad of napkins and bite into two of the most iconic Jewish deli sandwiches ever: pastrami sandwiches, and corned beef sandwiches.

Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen Pastrami Sandwich

Kenny & Ziggy’s Delicatessen Pastrami Sandwich Kit

Houston’s Kenny & Ziggy’s Delicatessen is an authentic New York delicatessen opened by Ziggy Gruber. The deli’s team expertly house-cures its brisket into deliciously tender “regular” corned beef and “first cut” corned beef. They also perfectly smoke and flavor their “regular” pastrami and “first cut” pastrami and pastrami sandwich kits.

Liebman's Kosher Deli _ Pastrami or Corned Beef Sandwich Kit

Liebman’s Kosher Deli Pastrami or Corned Beef Sandwich Kit

Liebman’s Kosher Deli is the last old-school deli in the Bronx. The kosher deli makes old school corned beef sandwiches and pastrami sandwiches with classic traditional recipes and love. Bite into a taste of New York with your choice of pastrami or corned beef DIY sandwich kits.

Pastrami Queen Sandwich Kit

Pastrami Queen Pastrami Sandwich Kit

The iconic kosher New York deli Pastrami Queen serves some of the tenderest and juiciest pastrami. This classic Jewish deli handmakes pastrami sandwiches on fresh rye bread from Orwasher’s Bakery. Each sandwich is served with deli mustard plus a side of garlicky sour and half-sour pickles.

Read More: The Best Pastrami Sandwiches in NYC & Beyond

No matter how you slice it, Goldbelly’s pastrami and corned beef are a cut above the rest. America’s best delis and sandwich shops are shipping their famous corned beef and pastrami meats and sandwiches nationwide on Goldbelly! Shop the pastrami sale now.