Difference between: corned beef and pastrami

They’re both great deli meats that can be found on a Reuben – what’s the difference between corned beef and pastrami?


  • Corned beef: beef cured or pickled in brine.
  • Pastrami: a brisket of beef that has been cured in a mixture of garlic, peppercorns, sugar, coriander seeds, etc., and then smoked before cooking.

 Both corned beef and pastrami:

When investigating the difference between corned beef and pastrami we must take into consideration the fact that corned beef is almost always prepared in the same way; pastrami can be made in different ways, and from different meats.

Traditionally, corned beef is made from beef brisket. Pastrami can be made from the brisket, but more often comes from the beef navel, which derives from the plate.

Corned beef:

  • Gets its flavor from the brine it is soaked in.
  • Is boiled until tender.
  • Tends to have a lighter feel to it than pastrami.
  • The “corn” refers to the salt on the meat, resembling kernels.
  • Has Irish connotations, as with corned beef and cabbage.


  • Is flavored from the multitude of spices added, often peppercorns, coriander, paprika, garlic, mustard seeds, cloves, and allspice.
  • Is often smoked after being cured.
  • Can be made from the navel, brisket, or round cuts of beef; it can also be derived from another animal, such as a turkey.
  • The word “pastrami” comes from the Romanian word “pastra” which means “to preserve.”

Although pastrami is arguably more flavorful than corned beef, I couldn’t imagine any other meat on my Reuben sandwich – and that includes turkey as well. Corned beef Reubens all the way! 

Pastrami, on the other hand, goes great with some spicy mustard and pickles.