Pastrami vs Brisket (The Differences, What You Should Buy + Why) 

What are the differences between brisket and pastrami? 

And which one is better?

These two cuts of beef may seem similar but are very different.

Read on for everything you ever wanted to know about beef brisket and pastrami.

Then you’ll be prepared next shopping trip.

So Which One Should I Buy – Pastrami or Brisket?

The choice to buy either pastrami or brisket comes down to several things.

What sort of flavor do you want to enjoy and what type of meal do you want to prepare.

Brisket is commonly eaten as a main meal, with steamed cabbage and vegetables. 

It’s a more robust and filling meat.  You can also slice the leftovers for corned beef sandwiches or use them in meals like fritters. 

Hot or cold, corned beef is a tasty meal!

Pastrami is used predominately as sandwich meat or side meat. 

The spicy flavors combine well with a slice of rye bread and a mustard spread. 

And because of its stronger, smokey flavors, it makes a great bacon substitute.

What Is Brisket?

Brisket, or corned beef, is one of the largest cuts of beef. 

An average cut of the whole brisket weighs around 12-16 pounds. 

It’s cut from the underside, lower chest side of the beef. 

It is typically smoked, braised or slow-cooked.

As such, it takes a lot of the animal’s weight and is a well-developed muscle. If not cooked properly it can be chewy and tough.

Typically, you’ll find it sold in two parts – the point and the brisket flat.

The point tends to be a triangular shape with a lot of fat marbling.

The flat is a rectangular shape with a thick flat cap on one side.

The flat has a much more uniform shape and is usually the one used for sliced sandwich meats.

The point is much more suited to recipes that call for shredded meats.

What Is Pastrami?

Pastrami is a preserved, seasoned, and smoked piece of meat product.

Usually, it’s the beef navel but the beef round or beef plate cuts can also be used.

Beef is the most common, but it can also be lamb or turkey.

Once the meat is cut, it’s rubbed down with a combination of herbs and spices and smoked.

This smoking process helps to preserve it for a longer period, like a jerky product.

Pastrami vs Brisket – What’s the Difference?

Let’s explore the differences and similarities between pastrami and brisket.

Country of Origin

Brisket or corned beef has its origins in Ireland and is a traditional St Patrick’s Day meal. 

It’s a meal that’s become introduced worldwide by Irish immigrants.

Pastrami is said to originate in either Romania or Turkey.

Type of Meat

While both are typically beef, they come from two different sections of the animal.

Brisket comes from the lower chest area of the cow. Pastrami is sourced from the shoulder, navel, or below the rib area.

You may see pastrami made from brisket though.

Pastrami can also be made from other meats like turkey or lamb.  Brisket is always beef.

Preparation Methods

Both cuts of meat can be brined before cooking, in a mixture of salt, sugar, and seasonings.

While this is optional for brisket, it’s essential for pastrami. 

Pastrami is soaked in sodium nitrite, along with a herb and spice mixture to enhance the flavors.

 After curing, the pastrami is rubbed down with a spice mix to give it a dark, flavorful crust. 

Seasonings and Flavor

The common spices added to a pastrami brine depend on the desired result. Often cloves, bay leaves, juniper berries, coriander, and dill.

Brisket tends to be more earthy flavored seasonings. Things like garlic, barbecue rubs, mustard seeds, kosher salt, and black pepper.

Pastrami has a peppery, smoky flavor, with accents of whatever herbs and spices are added.

Brisket has a rich beefy flavor, full of natural fats and connective tissue. 

You’ll often find it paired with barbecue rubs. 

When using wood chips like oak or hickory the smoke flavor brings out the beefy taste. 

The seasonings you add to a corned beef are a purely personal preference. While pastrami requires these to create a distinctive flavor.

Appearance

Brisket is a raw meat product, that’s deep red to purple. 

It retains this color even after cooking and resembles most other red meats.

Pastrami, on the other hand, has a pale pink color.

You may find remnants of the spices used in the brine on the outside surface, giving a dark crust.

Cost

Brisket is a very cost-effective cut of meat.  Prices are usually in the $2-$5 a pound, depending on the quality of the cut.

Pastrami is a much more labor-intensive process. Thus, it is a more expensive product to buy.

Generally, you’ll find it priced around $13 per pound, though this price may fluctuate.

Cooking Methods 

The biggest difference between corned beef and pastrami is the cooking method.

You can cook brisket in a variety of methods, such as boiling, roasting, smoking, or baking.

Pastrami is brined, then partially dried. 

It will then always be slow-smoked over hardwood, with a nearby water pan.  This helps to create steam and prevent it from drying out. 

A slow cook is essential to allow the connective tissue to break down completely in the meat.

Nutrition

Brisket is much higher in proteins than pastrami and has fewer carbs.

It’s also much higher in fats than pastrami.

So the choice between pastrami or brisket really depends on what you’d like to use it for.   

For a meal to feed a hungry family, go for the brisket.  For a tasty change to your sandwiches, try the pastrami.

Why not try both and decide for yourself?

christmas-ham-on-bbq

Smoke On!

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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