Sometimes meat can be so recognizable and yet completely mystifying all at once. You may have heard the name often and even eaten pastrami since you were a kid, but you might not have a single clue what it consists of (or the difference between pastrami and corned beef). Both appear similar at first, and their taste is quite alike as well. It can be difficult to tell the difference because they both appear frequently on sandwiches and a variety of cafe concoctions. Here's the difference:
Both are made from beef, but they are made from different cuts. Corned beef is made from brisket. Pastrami can also come from brisket, but more often it comes from the navel (the cut closer to the belly). The pastrami cut is more fatty and stand up to longer cooking periods. Because of this, pastrami is often paired with mustards to add acidity and cut the fatty taste somewhat. Corned beef is more of a blank pallet, where you can add whatever flavors you like.
Both pastrami and corned beef are cured with salt water, which preserves the meat and adds flavor. However, the cooking process is different for both. Corned beef is boiled while pastrami receives a smoking treatment. Pastrami is then often rubbed with additional spices and flavoring before being smoked.
Both cuts of meat are most often found on sandwiches. For corned beef, you are more likely to see it on reubens and other customized sandwiches on St. Patrick's Day in the United States. Often, cheese is added and melted while the bread is toasted. For pastrami, it is common to find it paired with other deli meats in a "combo" type of sandwich. New York City delis are known for their frequent use of pastrami.
Corned beef is typically lighter colored and consists of a milky pink color. Pastrami is darker pink and it has visible black edges and streaks from the smoking process. Some people prefer the uniform color of corned beef and others like the varied color and taste of pastrami.
Pastrami and corned beef are two classic cuts of beef that please hungry restaurant goers everywhere. They make great holiday meals as well, as they can be repurposed in a variety of ways. Just make sure to read up on the differences listed above to impress friends and family (and the local deli owner) when you order your next delicious sandwich.Share