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Pastrami VS Corned Beef: What are they, and which is better?

pastrami versus corned beef

Both pastrami and corned beef are varieties of cured meats that are incredibly popular worldwide. They are versatile and flavorful, and complement a wide variety of dishes. What are they exactly, how is each made, is one truly better than the other, and what are the best ways to enjoy them?

What is Pastrami?
Pastrami is a highly flavorful and savory deli meat commonly made from beef. However, it can also be made from other meats such as turkey, pork, or lamb (though the process of turning those meats into a pastrami-like product is very different from the beef process). The beef used for making pastrami is usually taken from the cow’s lower chest and belly or brisket area and is quite fatty (fat concentrated on the top and middle of the meat).

a pastrami sandwich

Making pastrami involves several steps. The process begins by curing the meat in a brine of salt, sugar, and various spices (usually coriander, black pepper, garlic, and paprika). Occasionally, you will find recipes that use other spices like juniper berries or mustard seeds. The curing process can take several days to a couple of weeks, depending on the size and thickness of the meat.

After the curing process has finished, the meat is dry rubbed with pepper and other seasonings and then smoked, which imparts a distinct smoky flavor to the finished product as well as enhances the taste and texture of the pastrami.

Once curing and smoking are complete, the pastrami is thinly sliced and typically served in sandwich form. It’s a popular choice in delis and sandwich shops, particularly in places with a strong Jewish culinary tradition, as pastrami has its roots in Eastern European Jewish cuisine. In these delis and sandwich shops, you will most likely find the pastrami served on rye bread with mustard and pickles.

Pastrami sandwiches are often accompanied by other ingredients, such as sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, making for a delicious and iconic deli-style meal many people worldwide enjoy.

What is Corned Beef?

Corned beef is another popular variety of cured meat, often associated with Irish and British cuisines. It is also usually made from beef, specifically brisket or round cuts, although other meat cuts can also be used. Corned beef is typically less fatty than pastrami, with the fat concentrated on one side of the meat.

corned beef brisket sliced

The name “corned beef” comes from the traditional method of preparing it, which involves using large-grained rock salt, also known as “corns” of salt, to cure the meat. The beef is first soaked in a brine solution containing water, salt, sugar, and various spices (usually peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander, bay leaves, and cloves). Brining allows the flavors to penetrate the meat and helps preserve it.

The curing process can take several days to a couple of weeks, depending on the size and thickness of the meat and the desired level of flavor and tenderness. The meat is then boiled, simmered, or baked until tender.

Which is better?

Both pastrami and corned beef are delicious cured meats with unique flavors and textures. Whether pastrami or corned beef is considered “better” is subjective and truly depends on individual preferences and tastes.

Pastrami is known for its robust, smoky flavor resulting from the smoking process and is often more intensely spiced than corned beef. The smokiness and spice give pastrami a distinctive and bold flavor that many enjoy, especially when served in a classic pastrami sandwich with mustard and rye bread.

On the other hand, corned beef has a milder flavor than pastrami, though it can still be seasoned with various spices during the curing process. It is typically associated with a more tender and juicy texture, as it is often simmered or boiled during preparation instead of smoked. Corned beef is frequently enjoyed in dishes like corned beef and cabbage, which is a popular comfort food, particularly around St. Patrick’s Day in the United States.

What are the best ways to enjoy these meats?

Both pastrami and corned beef can be enjoyed in various amazing ways. Here are some popular and tasty ways to savor these cured meats:

Delicious Ways to Enjoy Pastrami:

  • Pastrami Sandwich: The classic pastrami sandwich is a favorite for many. Layer thinly sliced pastrami on rye bread, add some mustard, and optionally, some pickles and coleslaw for a mouthwatering deli-style sandwich.
  • Reuben Sandwich: A variation of the pastrami sandwich, the Reuben features pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian or Thousand Island dressing, all grilled between slices of rye bread.
  • Pastrami on Pizza: Add slices or chunks of pastrami to your pizza for a flavorful twist. Combine it with your favorite pizza toppings for a unique and tasty combination.
  • Pastrami Hash: Dice pastrami and cook it with potatoes, onions, and seasonings to create a savory and satisfying pastrami hash.
  • Pastrami and Eggs: Incorporate chopped or sliced pastrami into your scrambled eggs or omelets for a hearty and flavorful breakfast.

Delicious Ways to Enjoy Corned Beef:

  • Corned Beef and Cabbage: The classic United States St. Patrick’s Day dish. Simmer corned beef with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes for a comforting and flavorful meal.
  • Corned Beef Hash: Dice cooked corned beef and combine it with potatoes, onions, and other vegetables to make a delicious corned beef hash.
  • Corned Beef Sandwich: Like the pastrami sandwich, layer thinly sliced corned beef on rye bread with mustard and perhaps some sauerkraut.
  • Corned Beef Tacos: Shred the corned beef and use it as a filling for tacos. Top with your favorite taco toppings, such as shredded cheese, lettuce, and salsa.
  • Corned Beef and Potato Soup: Combine corned beef with potatoes, onions, and broth to create a hearty and flavorful soup.

Both of these meats are popular worldwide, though some people may prefer the smoky, peppery flavors of pastrami, while others may prefer the milder taste of corned beef.

Which do you prefer? What is your favorite way to enjoy it? Let us know in the comments!

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