If you’re curious, like me, and have ever wondered why two things as seemingly similar as corned beef and pastrami are given different names, you’re in luck. After more time spent researching than I’d like to admit, I’ve been able to fully examine corned beef vs pastrami and what make them so different.

We’re going to explore the differences across five different categories, so you can get the full picture. These categories are: type of meat, preparation, taste, nutrition and usage. Let’s get started.

Type of meat

Corned beef is pretty self-explanatory. It's made of beef. Specifically, it's usually a brisket or round cut of beef. If you have no idea what that means read this

On the other hand, pastrami can be made of beef, but can also be made from pork, mutton, or turkey. When it's made from a cut of brisket, it's usually from the navel end. 

Preparation

bacon, meat, beef, ice, ham, pork
Mia Goodman

Corned beef and pastrami are both cured cuts of meat. This means that salt is used to preserve the meat, which attributes to the insane levels of sodium they both contain. We'll touch on that later. Salt curing can either be dry or wet, but the meats under examination are both usually wet cured in a salt water solution, or brine. For corned beef, the grains of rock salt used in the brine are called "corns" of salt, giving corned beef its name.

In both of these cases, when meat is salt-cured, the moisture is drawn out of it, which allows it to be preserved and kept for longer than fresh meat

Let's hypothetically say you cured two cuts of identical brisket in the exact same brine for the exact same amount of time They'd be pretty similar, right? Right. 

So, here's where the difference between corned beef and pastrami comes into play. After curing, pastrami is usually coated in a dry rub of spices before it is smoked. On the other hand, corned beef is boiled.

So to break it down, pastrami has a more diverse range of flavors due to the dry rub, and is a little drier due to being smoked. Corned beef is usually juicier from being boiled, and is also saltier. Additionally, corned beef is generally sliced thinner than pastrami. 

Nutrition

In a comparison previously done, per serving size (3.5 ounces for each), it's really hard to tell if the nutrition facts of one are better than the other. They are pretty similar as far as calories, fat and protein go. Cholesterol and sodium are where the toss-up occurs. Corned beef has less cholesterol (still 47 mg per serving compared to 68 mg for pastrami). As far as sodium, pastrami has 885 mg while corned beef has 935 mg. 

So if you're going to pick one over the other, nutrition is probably not the grounds to base your decision on. 

Usage

Many people associated corned beef either with St. Patrick's Day or with a Jewish deli. The Smithsonian Magazine wrote about the origins of corned beef and revealed that, "what we think of today as Irish corned beef is actually Jewish corned beef thrown into a pot with cabbage and potatoes. It can be used in a Reuben sandwich (or Reuben Crunchwrap Supreme), or in corned beef hash." 

Pastrami can be used for sandwiches, as well. Although, a true Reuben is made of corned beef. 

When it comes to corned beef vs pastrami, the difference is in the type of meat, seasonings, and cooking methods. So while they look almost identical, there's more than meets the eye.