Which is Fattier: Corned Beef or Pastrami?

Corned beef and pastrami are two iconic deli meats that have become staples in Jewish and Irish-American cuisine. Both are made from beef brisket that has been cured and seasoned, but there are a few key differences that impact their flavor and fat content.

Overview of Corned Beef and Pastrami

Corned beef starts with the brisket being cured in a brine solution typically containing salt, spices, nitrates, and sometimes sugar, for anywhere from 3-10 days. This both preserves the meat and infuses it with flavor. The brisket is usually the flat cut which is leaner. After curing, the corned beef is gently simmered until tender.

Pastrami begins in a similar brine, also using brisket. However, pastrami more often uses the fattier navel cut. After brining, pastrami gets additional seasoning which can include coriander, black pepper, garlic, and sometimes sugar. The biggest difference comes next – pastrami is smoked low and slow to add that distinctive smoky flavor. It is then steamed until fully cooked.

So while they share some common steps, smoked pastrami emerges with a more complex, intensely flavored profile compared to the straightforward corned beef.

Which is Fattier: Corned Beef or Pastrami?

When it comes to fat content, pastrami is fattier than corned beef. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Cut of meat – Pastrami usually uses the navel cut which contains more fat marbling, while corned beef uses the leaner flat cut of brisket.

  • Smoking method – The low, slow smoking process for pastrami gently renders fat and bastes the meat, keeping it juicy and adding flavor. Corned beef doesn’t get smoked.

  • Serving style – Pastrami holds up better when served warm, the heat melting the fat and enhancing moisture. Corned beef can be served cold more successfully.

While both meats have fat, several sources estimate pastrami has about twice as much as corned beef. A 3 ounce serving of pastrami contains 16 grams of fat, while the same amount of corned beef contains 6 grams of fat.

So if you’re looking for a lower fat deli meat, corned beef is the better choice. But pastrami’s extra fat provides plenty of flavor!

Comparing Flavors

The bolder spices and smoking process give pastrami a more complex, intense flavor than corned beef:

  • Pastrami has a peppery, garlicky profile with a smoky aroma. The fat keeps it moist and juicy.

  • Corned beef has a straightforward salty, briny flavor. It’s moist but in a melt-in-your-mouth way, without as much bold meaty juiciness as pastrami.

While corned beef lets the natural beefiness shine, pastrami’s livelier seasoning and smokiness make it more of an event for your tastebuds!

Nutritional Profile

Both meats are high in protein and nutrients like B vitamins, iron, and zinc. But their fat content impacts their overall nutritional profile:

  • Pastrami has more calories and fat than corned beef, but this also makes it more filling. A 3 ounce serving of pastrami contains 208 calories and 16 grams of fat.

  • Corned beef is leaner and lower in calories and fat. A 3 ounce serving contains 140 calories and 6 grams of fat. It has about half the calories and fat as pastrami.

Both meats are high in sodium, important for regulating fluids and blood pressure. Pastrami contains over 1000mg of sodium per serving, while corned beef has about 650mg.

So while pastrami delivers more vibrant flavor, corned beef is lighter and may be better for those monitoring fat and sodium intake.

Price Differences

Pastrami is often more expensive than corned beef. Reasons for this include:

  • More elaborate process – Pastrami requires brining, seasoning, smoking, and steaming rather than just brining and simmering. This additional labor increases costs.

  • Greater loss of raw product – Smoking causes moisture loss, so more raw meat is required to produce the finished pastrami.

  • Higher fat content – The fattier cut and smoking method impact cost.

On average pastrami costs $1-2 more per pound than corned beef from the deli counter. Price can vary by region, brand, and other factors.

Popular Dishes and Uses

Pastrami and corned beef are both deli counter favorites, but their differing fat contents make each one better suited for certain dishes:


  • Sandwiches – Hot pastrami sandwiches highlight the meat’s luscious fattiness. The high heat melts the fat, releasing juices and flavor.

  • Hash or breakfast meats – The smoky, salty flavor mimics bacon or sausage. Pastrami’s fat keeps hash or eggs moist.

  • Burgers or meatloaf – Adding pastrami amps up the juiciness and seasoning of lean ground beef.

Corned Beef

  • Cold sandwiches – Thinly sliced corned beef works well in cold sandwiches since it doesn’t require heat to melt fat.

  • Salads or rice bowls – The leaner corned beef integrates nicely into room temperature dishes.

  • Casseroles or tacos – Chopped or shredded corned beef combines well with other ingredients without adding excess fat.

Which Should You Choose?

At the end of the day, it comes down to whether you want bold, fatty flavor or milder lean flavor:

  • Pastrami is the choice if you want a meaty intensity you can sink your teeth into. The extra fat carries the flavors of smoking and seasoning.

  • Corned beef suits those looking for a lighter sandwich filling or who don’t want smoky flavors. It highlights the simple, pleasant saltiness of the meat and curing.

While pastrami has twice the fat of corned beef, both meats can be enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet. The richly satisfying pastrami or mildly brined corned beef each have their place!

Frequency of Entities:

Pastrami: 18
Corned beef: 18
Fat: 13
Flavor: 7
Brisket: 6
Smoking: 5
Fattier: 4
Cut: 4
Brine: 3
Seasoning: 3
Sandwich: 3
Serving: 2
Taste: 2
Hash: 2
Calories: 2
Sodium: 2
Price: 2
Lean: 2

Pastrami vs. Corned Beef


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.

Are Reubens made with pastrami or corned beef?

A Reuben sandwich is typically made with corned beef. It would taste great with pastrami too, it just wouldn’t be a classic Reuben! Bottom line: You can’t go wrong with either of these flavor-packed deli meats.

What is the difference between Reuben and corned beef?

A Reuben sandwich is made from corned beef and sauerkraut. The “Rachel” is similar but substitutes pastrami for the corned beef and coleslaw for the sauerkraut.

Is corned beef fatty?

Corned beef is processed red meat made by brining brisket in a salt and spice solution to flavor and tenderize it. While it provides protein and nutrients like iron and vitamin B12, corned beef is relatively high in fat and sodium. It’s also a source of certain compounds that may increase your risk of cancer.

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