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What's the difference between pastrami and corned beef?

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Cut of meat? I've read beef shoulder is pastrami and a brined brisket is corned beef; I've heard rumors that different spices are used. But they seem so similar....

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  1. The biggest difference is that pastrami is smoked after curing, and corned beef isn't. Pastrami is usually cured with a dry rub, and corned beef with a brine. Brisket seems to be the most common cut of meat for both of them.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Hal Laurent

      Yes, brisket is a constant. I have had corned beef round, which I prefer for some applications, but I've never seen beef pastrami made with anything but brisket.

      Interesting side note: Al Langer, the recently-deceased owner/founder of Langer's Deli in LA (and purveyor of what many consider the best pastrami in the world) said that when he started out in business he made a point of pushing pastrami as hard as he could. Why? Because though he had to charge the same for both corned beef and pastrami, the pastrami cost him less! So from a purely economic business decision was a legend born...

      1. re: Will Owen

        I don't get it - why is pastrami less costly? I make both, and the wood used for smoking is not free. I braise both - in a covered half-pan, with an inch of water. The corned beef is fully cooked this way (about 4-5 hours in a 250F oven) while the pastrami only needs about 2 hours - but then, it's already been cooking in the smoker for 6-8 hours before braising.

        1. re: applehome

          I assume that when the processes are done on an industrial scale, the cost of batch-brining may be less than the cost of batch-smoking. Langer's does not cure their own meats, but buys and then cooks them.

          One of the things that so distinguishes Langer's pastrami is that it's subjected to a very lengthy steam cooking, so that it can be hand-sliced fairly thick and still be very tender. It practically melts in your mouth, but is if anything more richly beefy than any other I've ever had.

          1. re: Will Owen

            thanks for the replies. verrry interesting!

        2. re: Will Owen

          Traditionally, pastrami was made from the navel cut of beef, a significantly cheaper cut. 'Montreal Smoked Meat' (their version of pastrami)still mostly uses that cut

      2. They should taste quite different, if you are getting traditional corned beef and pastrami. Pastrami uses a lot more pepper and should have visible traces of the spice rub. Both use several other spices, including garlic, bay leaf, and clove. The deli I worked at (Zingerman's) used Sy Ginsberg corned beef and pastrami. Ginsberg uses brisket as the cut for corned beef and the navel plate for the pastrami, which is lower down on the belly and is fattier. yum.

        The stuff I can get at the supermarket is a pale shadow, so if that's what you are comparing, they aren't that much different.

        1. Pastrami can be made from three cuts: brisket (point or flat cut), navel (plate) and round. Round is very lean, navel is deliciously fatty and the gold standard for pastrami mavens for whom the "lean pastrami" is not a term of praise, and brisket's fattiness various between them depending on the cut.

          Corned beef is most commonly made from brisket (the fattier, more expensive kind, which is getting harder to find in supermarkets, sadly) or round (which is lean - see my comment above about pastrami mavens).