The Big Difference Between Corned Beef And Pastrami

A trip to the deli counter can be a confusing one. Sure, you know the difference between ham and turkey but what about salami and bologna? Or roast beef and brisket? How about corned beef and pastrami? The latter two, with their pinkish hue and white fat marbling, look almost identical, after all. And, as Eater points out, they do have some similarities beyond their exteriors: They're both brined in a salt and spice solution and both can be made from brisket. So what makes pastrami different than corned beef?

There are some obvious differences, like how pastrami is best enjoyed between two slices of rye bread smeared with mustard while corned beef is more commonly eaten with cabbage or sauerkraut (Reuben sandwich, anyone?). You might also know that corned beef is Irish while pastrami is from eastern Europe or Turkey. However, there's one big difference that really separates corned beef from pastrami — here's what you need to know.

The cooking processes are totally different

While it's true that both corned beef and pastrami are brined, the two cuts of meat are actually cooked via completely different methods (via MyRecipes). Pastrami is smoked, which Eater says is often done near a pan of water so that the resulting steam prevents the meat from drying out. It's then rubbed with a spice mixture that typically includes ground black pepper, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, and coriander, which gives it that slightly blackened look around the edges. Pastrami may then be steamed again before serving.

Corned beef is either boiled in water (along with cabbage and potatoes, for instance) or steamed. Unlike pastrami, besides whatever marinade the beef was brined in, no other spices or seasonings are added to the beef prior to eating. Spoon University notes that corned beef is often usually sliced a little thinner than pastrami (all the better for piling high on your sandwich!).