What is the Difference Between Corned Beef and Pastrami?

Corned beef and pastrami are two deli meat favorites often found piled high on sandwiches or platters. While they may look similar at first glance, corned beef and pastrami have distinct differences when it comes to ingredients, preparation methods, flavors, textures, and best uses.

Understanding the key differences between corned beef and pastrami allows you to best appreciate the unique qualities of each. Here is a complete guide comparing corned beef vs pastrami.

What is Corned Beef?

Corned beef originated as an Irish American dish often served on St. Patrick’s Day. It was named “corned beef” not because it contains corn, but because it was preserved with large salt crystals called “corns” of salt.

To make corned beef:

  • Beef brisket is cured in a brine solution usually for 5-7 days. This brine contains salt, spices like peppercorns and coriander, and curing salts for preservation and color.

  • The flat cut of brisket is typically used since it’s leaner.

  • After curing, the brisket is slow cooked, either braised or simmered until fork tender. This mellows the saltiness.

  • The cooked corned beef is served warm or chilled. It’s often paired with cabbage, potatoes, and carrots.

Due to its simple curing and cooking process, corned beef has a firm yet moist texture and a mildly seasoned beefy flavor. The lean meat takes on the subtle spices from the brine.

What is Pastrami?

Pastrami has Romanian and Turkish origins, gaining popularity in Jewish American delis. It involves additional preparation steps compared to corned beef:

  • Beef brisket, often the fattier point cut, is brined in a corned beef-like curing solution.

  • The cured meat is coated in a spice rub including coriander, black pepper, mustard seeds, and garlic.

  • Next, the meat is smoked to add flavor.

  • Finally, it’s steamed until extremely tender.

The smoking and steaming create pastrami’s signature smoky, intensely seasoned flavor. The additional fat in the brisket yields a tender and moist sliced meat.

Similarities Between Corned Beef and Pastrami

While they end up quite different, corned beef and pastrami start off in a similar way:

  • Made from beef brisket – Both use brisket as the cut of meat.

  • Cured in a brine – A salt, water, and spice brine cures the meat and adds flavor.

So both corned beef and pastrami begin with a brisket cured in a seasoned brine solution. But the preparation diverges from there.

Differences Between Corned Beef vs Pastrami

Here are the main ways that corned beef and pastrami differ:

Cuts of Meat

  • Corned beef uses the flat brisket which is leaner with less fat.

  • Pastrami uses the point brisket which has more marbling and fat for richer flavor.

Spice Coating

  • Corned beef has no spice coating aside from the brine spices.

  • Pastrami is coated in a bold spice mix – coriander, pepper, garlic, mustard seeds, etc.

Cooking Process

  • Corned beef is simmered or braised to tenderize the meat.

  • Pastrami is smoked then steamed for maximum tenderness and flavor infusion.


  • Corned beef has a firm, sliceable texture.

  • Pastrami is tender and shreds easily when sliced due to the point brisket’s fat and connective tissue.


  • Corned beef has a mild seasoned beef taste.

  • Pastrami is intensely seasoned, smoky, and salty.

Serving Styles

  • Corned beef is sliced thick or chunked to accompany boiled veggies.

  • Pastrami is thinly sliced for sandwiches piled high on rye bread.

While both make tasty sandwiches, corned beef’s firmer texture stands up to chunky cuts versus pastrami’s delicate slicing.

Corned Beef vs Pastrami: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some other common questions about the differences between corned beef and pastrami:

Which is healthier – corned beef or pastrami?

Corned beef is typically healthier since it uses the leaner flat brisket cut while pastrami uses the fattier point cut. However, both are high in sodium from the curing process.

Can corned beef be used instead of pastrami?

Yes, you can substitute corned beef for pastrami in recipes or sandwiches. However, the flavor will be less intensely seasoned. You may want to add extra spices to mimic pastrami’s taste.

What’s the best way to serve corned beef versus pastrami?

Corned beef is best served in thicker slices alongside boiled vegetables, or chunked in hashes or melts. Pastrami is best thinly sliced and stacked high on deli sandwiches. Adjust slicing accordingly.

Which takes longer to make – corned beef or pastrami?

Pastrami takes longer since it undergoes additional smoking and steaming steps compared to corned beef’s straightforward boiling or braising.

Which is saltier – corned beef or pastrami?

Pastrami is typically saltier due to dry-brining with spices versus corned beef’s plain water brine. The smoking process also adds saltiness.

How to Make Corned Beef and Pastrami at Home

Want to try making your own corned beef and pastrami? Here are some tips:

For homemade corned beef:

  • Choose a 3-5 lb flat brisket cut. Trim excess fat.

  • Make a brine using 2 quarts water, 1/2 cup salt, spices, and curing salt.

  • Submerge brisket in brine 4-7 days. Turn daily.

  • Rinse brisket. Place in pot, cover with water, add aromatics.

  • Simmer covered 3-4 hours until fork tender.

For homemade pastrami:

  • Choose a 3-5 lb point brisket cut. Leave some fat.

  • Make a corned beef-style brine and cure brisket 5-7 days.

  • Remove from brine and coat with a dry rub of black pepper, coriander, garlic, etc.

  • Smoke brisket 4-6 hours at 225°F until browned.

  • Steam over broth 2-3 hours until extremely tender.

  • Chill, then slice thinly across the grain to serve.

Be sure to research complete recipes for safest curing and smoking methods before attempting either at home.

Corned Beef vs Pastrami: Which is Better?

Whether you prefer corn beef or pastrami comes down to personal taste:

Choose corned beef for:

  • Mildly seasoned flavor

  • Hearty slices or chunks

  • Pairing with cabbage and potatoes

Choose pastrami for:

  • Intense smoky and salty flavor

  • Thin, tender slices

  • Piling onto deli sandwiches

Both make excellent additions to soups, chilis, hashes, and sandwiches based on the texture you want. Brining and smoking methods also influence the unique flavors of each cured beef product.

The Takeaway on Corned Beef vs Pastrami

While corned beef and pastrami start from similar brined brisket cuts, their eventual textures, flavors, and uses diverge. Pastrami becomes deeply seasoned and smoked, while corned beef retains a mild beefy taste.

Understanding the differences allows you to utilize corned beef and pastrami in ways that highlight their distinct qualities. Appreciate corned beef for its firm slices and pastrami for its smoky sliced stacks. Both are delicious deli additions!

Pastrami vs. Corned Beef


Does pastrami and corned beef taste the same?

They have a similar flavor profile, but pastrami is richer with a smoke-forward flavor while corned beef is leaner and drier (not in a bad way). You can use them interchangeably in most recipes—however, we prefer pastrami when it’s served warm.

Which is healthier corned beef or pastrami?

Though pastrami and corned beef have the same nutritional elements, like protein and fat content, they have different quantities of salt. The sodium content in corned beef is higher compared to pastrami. Because of this, many people consider pastrami healthier and more flavorful than corned beef.

Does corned beef turn into pastrami?

Basically you just put a simple dry rub on a corned beef brisket (bought from the store already corned) and then smoke it. It turns out that this makes some really tasty cheater pastrami!

What is the difference between pastrami corned beef and smoked meat?

The process: Pastrami is dry-cured, meaning the meat is lathered with sugar and salt until absorbed, then seasoned with spices and smoked. Montreal smoked meat is also dry-cured, but then soaked (like corned beef) to desalinate it before seasoning and smoking.

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