Corned Beef or Pastrami? Three Differences

BY: Joan Ginsberg, United Meat & Deli social marketing

UMD Gold Label Pastrami


Today is National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day according to some, so we would like to celebrate by answering a frequently asked question:

What’s the difference between corned beef and pastrami?

I can hear some of you snorting sarcastically, because you are a fan of Jewish deli sandwiches, and the difference between the two classic fillers is like the difference between mustard and ketchup. But read on . . .


1. Different cuts of meat. Traditionally, corned beef is made from beef brisket, which comes from the lower chest of the steer. Pastrami traditionally is made from beef navel, which is a small piece cut from the muscle known as the plate. I emphasize the word “traditionally” because pastrami in the 21st century is also made from other cuts of beef and poultry, including the ubiquitous turkey pastrami. United Meat & Deli, although widely known for Sy Ginsberg’s Corned Beef, also makes Gold Label pastrami. While navel pastrami is our best-seller, we also make and sell brisket and 1st cut brisket pastrami. The word “pastrami” was originally borrowed from the Turkish word “pastirma” by the Romanians (“pastrama”), who made their dish from pork and mutton.






Courtesy of Chicago Meat Authority, one of UMD’s raw beef suppliers.








2. Different cooking methods. Both pastrami and corned beef are cured meats, meaning that they have been injected or otherwise infused with a solution of salted water (brine). But then they travel different paths. Corned beef is ready for cooking and is generally cooked by boiling. Traditional pastrami has additional flavors added (see #3), and is then smoked. A smokehouse or smoking oven is used by most manufacturers (including us), but some may add artificial smoke and then water process their pastrami.

The room at UMD where navels and briskets are injected.









3. Different flavor profiles. Corned beef gets its flavor from whatever spices or flavors the maker puts into the brine. At UMD, our uniquely flavored brine is a guarded trade secret. Pastrami may have similar flavors in the brine, but then the maker of traditional US pastrami goes a step further by rubbing the outside of the meat with various seasonings – a “cocktail of spices”, according to Sy Ginsberg – before it is smoked. There may be regional differences to the flavor profile as well. New York City/east coast pastrami and corned beef often tastes very different than the type made in the midwest.

Compare this pastrami with the corned beef at the top of the page.



So what’s YOUR preference – corned beef or pastrami? Enjoy either today!

9 thoughts on “Corned Beef or Pastrami? Three Differences

  1. My husband loves corned beef, but says pastrami often gives him heartburn. In an effort to identify the seasoning that may be the culprit, I am reading these “corned beef vs. pastrami” websites. But aparently, the answer lies in “trade secrets,” and we’ll never know. Or can someone help?

    • We certainly can *try* to help. Yes, most manufacturers/processors. including us, do not divulge the exact ingredients in the pastrami rub or the corned beef solution, because it is those ingredients and their percentages that give each product its unique flavor. But we can offer a couple of guidelines:

      1. Pastrami is a smoked product, and many processors achieve that using artificial smoke. Not us – we actually smoke our product in a special oven. But if a manufacturer is using artificial smoke in their pastrami, that is a likely cause of heartburn. Corned beef is not smoked.

      2. Almost all processors (including us), use pepper in their pastrami rub. The pepper – and the amount used – could very well be causing heartburn. Corned beef does not generally have pepper in it’s pickling solution, or, if it does. the amount would not be nearly as high as the amount found is most pastrami.

      We really hope this helps, Shirley.

  2. Brilliant!
    I was trying to work out the difference between salt beef (as in “boiled beef and carrots”) and pastrami, and stumbled across your site. My local butcher will do the salting, and given the fabulousness of his smoked bacon, I’m sure he can manage that.


    What you describe as corned beef varies drastically with what we Brits think it is. Over here, it comes in tins (cans?) and is a highly processed “meat product”. The sort of thing students chuck in with the pasta when they can’t stand tuna again.

    Be warned of corned beef in the UK.

    Take Care

    • Thanks for commenting, Cherry! We do understand that what we call corned beef is most like what Brits call salt beef. If you looked up the history of (our) corned beef, you know that the name comes from the large kernels of salt used at one time – they looked like kernels of corn. I do hope you now understand the difference between salt/corned and pastrami, and that our site helped. So pleased you stopped by!

      • I just thought you might have added to your answer to Cherry Bradshaw, that most of us here in the US do know what she is talking about when she refers to tinned corned beef. At least in New York, you can buy that stuff in any supermarket. It’s usually in the same aisle with Spam, and canned chili. It’s one of the only items left that still use a turn key to open the can. And it is labeled “Corned beef ” Libby’s, Hormel, and Goya all market it. True, not what we would use on ST. Patrick’s, but we do have it hear and still called corned beef on the label.

  3. Very interesting, I found a web site that was informational and not a sales site . Thank you

    • We are in business, John, so we *do* want to sell product. But we have Facebook and a website for that, so we try to make the blog more about information and sharing. We are glad you agree!

  4. The canned stuff we get here in the U.S. in the squarish tins with the key called “corned beef” (mostly hailing from Argentina and Brazil) is, I believe, the same stuff the British and Austrailian Armed Forces have called “bully beef” since at least World War I. I also heard an Argentinan say it was something he’d never seen on the store shelves in his country.

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