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Pastrami - What should it taste like?

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Hi all - I just recently returned from lunch at a deli with a national reputation for great Pastrami sandwiches. And, much as I hate to say it, the taste of the pastrami itself was really not any different from an average store bought hot dog. Am I missing something? Is that how Pastrami is really supposed to taste? I was expecting something based on past experience with supposedly 'lesser' pastrami that would be a lot more peppery and have a somewhat spicy flavor to it. Am I expecting the wrong thing, or is this establishment's reputation somewhat undeserved?

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  1. In which city/country did you have this less than stellar offering?

    1 Reply
    1. re: mrbozo

      I second the importance of this question. The first time I ordered pastrami here in Dallas, I nearly choked when it turned out to have a heavy smoked flavor versus the Carnegie/Stage/Katz's varieties in New York. A very different meat and a very different flavor. Good, but completely unexpected. I really didn't enjoy it the first time I ate it because it wasn't what I wanted. I will also note that hot dogs, once you depart from the Kosher/Nathan's/Papaya king varieties also seem a bit smokier in many of the other regions of the country.

    2. IMO pastrami should taste like a cross between roast beef and smoky sausage. It really shouldn't taste like a hot dog!

      1. good pastrami should be fatty and have a peppery rub. Frequently it is nothing more than glorified corned beef. A specific cut is used in good pastrami - the plate , or deckle. Nowadays the brisket or worse is used. Its a larger cut than the deckle and less expensicve and available. Good pastrami should melt in your mouth.

        ps nothing wrong with brisket - but good pastrami is fattier and there is not much of that cut on anilmal so its very expensive and somewhat rare.

        2 Replies
        1. re: coastie

          > Frequently it is nothing more than glorified corned beef.

          That's exactly what it is: smoked and pepper-rubbed corned beef.

          1. re: aynrandgirl

            Most pastrami is made from the Navel end of the brisket which contains more fat. Corned beef is mainly from the chest area and contains less fat than what is needed for "New York Style" Pastrami.

        2. salty, peppery, juicy, tender, succulent, chewey, warm, delicious

          1. Definitely should not taste like a hot dog! Here in Chicago we have two styles what I call regular pastrami - basically a brisket or deckle cured with lots of pepper - slight smokey taste but very peppery also called pepper beef - also romanian pastrami - made form the shoulder less fatty a nice garlic flavor - both delicious -

            1. The main flavors of what makes a pastrami a pastrami are peppers and coriander. Garlic is secondary, but nice. Smoke should not be overwhelming. Once smoked, it can be stored for a long time in the fridge. When ready to serve, it should be braised or roasted at a low temp for a long time, not quite to the point of falling apart. It's necessary to have a fatty piece of meat, (fattier than corned beef) so that you end up with juicy meat even after hours of smoking and braising, which is why the deckle/plate or the point cut of the brisket is best. The flat part of the brisket is ok for corned beef, but too lean for pastrami - after hours of smoking, it's hard and dry, especially if it started out well-trimmed. Bbq briskets use sauce (or gravy), so dryness isn't a problem either. But a pastrami stands on its own - ok, a little mustard, maybe - so it needs the fat.

              Coriander is a common spice in hot dogs, so maybe the flavor rings a bell. But if you eat a pastrami and think you're eating a hot dog, there's a problem with the pastrami.