Pastrami: What is It?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 28, 2022

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Pastrami is a type of smoked meat that is typically made from beef. The beef is cured in a mixture of spices and then smoked for several hours. This process gives the meat a distinctive flavor that is often enjoyed by many people. Pastrami can be served on its own or used as an ingredient in sandwiches and other dishes.

Let’s dive into the history, meat type, and process of making pastrami.

What is pastrami

Pastrami: A Deliciously Spicy Meat with a Rich History

Pastrami is a type of meat that originated in Romania, where it was called “pastrama.” The meat was typically made from beef brisket, which was brined, partially dried, seasoned with herbs and spices, then smoked and steamed to create a flavorful and tender meat. The Jewish immigrants who came to New York City in the late 19th century brought the recipe with them, and it quickly became a popular food in American cuisine. Delis in New York City started serving pastrami sandwiches on rye bread with mustard and pickles, and it became a staple of American deli cuisine.

The Pastrami Process

Pastrami is made by taking a fatty cut of meat, typically beef navel or beef round, and brining it in a mixture of water, salt, sugar, and spices for several days. The meat is then rubbed with a spice mixture that usually includes black pepper, coriander, garlic, and fennel, and smoked for several hours. Finally, the meat is steamed until it is tender and juicy. The end result is a flavorful and tender meat that can be sliced thinly and served cold on a plate or in a sandwich.

Types of Meat Used for Pastrami

While pastrami is traditionally made from beef brisket, there are many other types of meat that can be used to make this delicious food. Some popular alternatives include:

  • Beef navel: This cut of meat is similar to brisket, but it is fattier and more flavorful.
  • Beef round: This cut of meat is leaner than brisket and navel, but it is still flavorful and tender when prepared correctly.
  • Pork: Pork pastrami is a popular alternative to beef, and it is typically made from pork shoulder or loin.
  • Turkey: Turkey pastrami is a leaner alternative to beef or pork, and it is a great option for those who are watching their fat intake.

How to Serve and Enjoy Pastrami

Pastrami is a versatile food that can be enjoyed in many different ways. Some popular ways to serve and enjoy pastrami include:

  • Pastrami sandwiches: This is the most popular way to enjoy pastrami, and it typically involves serving thinly sliced pastrami on rye bread with mustard and pickles.
  • Pastrami on a plate: This involves serving thinly sliced pastrami on a plate with a side of pickles and rye bread.
  • Pastrami spread: This involves grinding pastrami into a spreadable consistency and serving it on crackers or bread.
  • Pastrami grilled cheese: This involves adding thinly sliced pastrami to a grilled cheese sandwich for a delicious twist on a classic comfort food.

The Difference Between Pastrami and Corned Beef

While pastrami and corned beef are similar in many ways, there are some key differences between the two:

The Taste of Pastrami

Pastrami has a bold and spicy flavor that is truly unique. The combination of the brining process, the spice rub, and the smoking process contribute to the rich and flavorful taste of this delicious meat. Whether you enjoy it in a sandwich, on a plate, or in a spread, pastrami is a great way to add some variety and flavor to your meals.

What’s the Flavor of Pastrami?

Pastrami is a versatile meat dish that is popular in many parts of the world. It is a type of beef that is prepared using a special method that involves curing, smoking, and cooking. The resulting meat is rich, flavorful, and distinctly different from other types of beef. The taste of pastrami is difficult to describe, but it is a mix of sweet, smoky, and slightly spicy flavors.

The Process of Making Pastrami

The process of preparing pastrami is a complex one that includes several different cuts of meat. The main ingredient is usually beef, but other types of meat, such as turkey, can also be used. The meat is first pickled in a mixture of water, salt, sugar, and spices, which gives it a unique flavor. After pickling, the meat is smoked and cooked until it is tender and juicy.

Pastrami’s Versatility

Pastrami is a staple in many cuisines and is a popular dish in delis and restaurants around the world. It is incredibly versatile and can be served in many different ways. Some people prefer to eat it sliced thin and topped with mustard and pickles, while others like to add it to sandwiches or salads. Pastrami is also a great addition to soups and stews, and it can be used as a topping for pizza or pasta dishes.

Pastrami’s Popularity

Pastrami is a popular dish for a reason. Its unique flavor and versatility make it a favorite among foodies and casual diners alike. Pastrami is also a relatively expensive and rare meat, which makes it a special treat for those who enjoy it. Whether you are an experienced pastrami fan or trying it for the first time, pastrami is a dish that is definitely worth trying.

The Origins of Pastrami: A Meaty Tale

Pastrami is a dish that is typically made from beef, although other forms of meat can be used as well. The word “pastrami” is thought to have originated from the Turkish word “bastırma,” which means “to press.” This is because the meat used in pastrami is typically pressed and cured before it is smoked and served.

The Ancient Roots of Pastrami

While the word “pastrami” may have Turkish origins, the dish itself has been prepared in various forms for centuries. Some historians believe that the ancient Romans and Greeks may have served a similar dish made from smoked meat. In more recent times, pastrami as we know it today is associated with Jewish cuisine, particularly in the United States.

The Influence of Jewish Immigrants

In the late 19th century, many Jewish immigrants emigrated to the United States and settled in cities like New York. These immigrants brought with them their traditional recipes for preparing meat, including pastrami. In fact, one of the first known pastrami shops in the United States was opened by a Romanian Jewish butcher named Sussman Volk in New York City in the late 1800s.

The Strong and Rich Flavor of Pastrami

Pastrami is known for its strong and rich flavor, which comes from the curing and smoking process. The meat is typically salty and spicy, with a smoky flavor that is hard to match. Pastrami is often served with pickles and other deli sides to balance out the strong flavor.

The Enduring Popularity of Pastrami

Today, pastrami remains a beloved dish in many parts of the world. While it is most closely associated with Jewish cuisine, people of all backgrounds enjoy this flavorful and iconic dish. Whether you prefer your pastrami on rye bread with mustard or served in a more creative way, there’s no denying the appeal of this classic deli food.

From Butcher to Plate: The Art of Preparing and Serving Pastrami

Pastrami is traditionally made from beef brisket, although other cuts of beef or even goose can be used. The meat is first cured in a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices such as garlic and pepper. The curing process can take several days, during which the meat is coated in the spice mixture and left to sit in a cool, dry place.

After the curing process is complete, the meat is rinsed and then coated again in a spice mixture. It is then steamed or baked until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The connective tissues in the meat break down during this process, resulting in a tender and flavorful final product.

Serving Pastrami

Pastrami is a staple in Jewish cuisine and has become a popular food in the United States, particularly in New York. It is commonly served in sandwiches, but can also be used as a topping for pizza or a cheeseburger.

Here are some common ways to serve pastrami:

  • Sandwich: Thinly sliced pastrami is generally served on rye bread with mustard and sometimes Swiss cheese. Some local chains and restaurants have their own special pastrami sandwich recipes.
  • Pizza: Pastrami can be used as a topping on pizza, either on its own or in combination with other meats and vegetables.
  • Cheeseburger: A pastrami cheeseburger is a popular variation on the classic burger. The pastrami is generally sliced thin and placed on top of the burger patty.
  • Pita: Pastrami can be served in a pita with lettuce, tomato, and other toppings.

Modern Pastrami Making

While pastrami is thought to have been introduced to the United States by Romanian Jews in the early 20th century, the modern method of preparing and serving pastrami has evolved over time. Here are some modern techniques for making and serving pastrami:

  • Low-fat pastrami: Some shops and restaurants now offer a low-fat version of pastrami, which is made with leaner cuts of meat and less fat.
  • Oven-baked pastrami: Instead of steaming the meat, some people prefer to bake it in the oven. The meat is  wrapped in aluminum foil (should you when smoking?) and baked at a low temperature for several hours.
  • Skillet-warmed pastrami: To warm up leftover pastrami, some people prefer to heat it up in a skillet on the stove. This method can help to crisp up the edges of the meat.
  • Ventral slices: Some people prefer to cut the pastrami into thicker, ventral slices instead of the thin slices commonly used in sandwiches.

Pastrami remains a common food in Jewish cuisine and a popular dish in the United States. Whether you prefer it on a sandwich or as a topping on your pizza, pastrami is a versatile and delicious food that has stood the test of time.

There are several ways to cook pastrami, including smoking, steaming, and electric cooking. Here are the steps to follow for each method:

  • Smoking:  Smoke the pastrami (ideally with one of these woods) for approximately 4-6 hours at a low temperature of 225°F. Check the internal temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer. The optimum temperature for pastrami is 195°F. Once the pastrami hits this temperature, remove it from the smoker and let it cool for a few minutes before slicing.
  • Steaming: Place the pastrami in a steamer and steam for approximately 2-3 hours. Check the internal temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer. The optimum temperature for pastrami is 195°F. Once the pastrami hits this temperature, remove it from the steamer and let it cool for a few minutes before slicing.
  • Electric cooking: Place the pastrami in an electric pot with enough water to cover it. Cook the pastrami on low heat for approximately 4-6 hours. Check the internal temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer. The optimum temperature for pastrami is 195°F. Once the pastrami hits this temperature, remove it from the pot and let it cool for a few minutes before slicing.

Pastrami Possibilities: Easy and Interesting Ideas for Your Home Creations

Start your day with a delectable meal by incorporating pastrami into your breakfast. Here are some ideas:

  • Pastrami and egg sandwich with mustard
  • Pastrami and cheese omelette
  • Pastrami hash with potatoes and onions

Pastrami for Lunch

Pastrami is a perfect addition to any sandwich, but why not try something new? Here are some ideas:

  • Pastrami Reuben sandwich with sauerkraut and Russian dressing
  • Pastrami and Swiss cheese panini with honey mustard
  • Pastrami and avocado wrap with chipotle mayo

Pastrami as a Snack

Pastrami can also be a great snack on its own or paired with other foods:

  • Pastrami and cheese board with crackers and mustard
  • Pastrami and pickle skewers
  • Pastrami and hummus dip with pita chips

With these ideas, you can create interesting and delicious meals with pastrami that will satisfy your taste buds. Don’t be afraid to experiment and come up with your own pastrami creations!

Pastrami: Is it a healthy choice?

Pastrami is a type of cured meat that is commonly found in deli shops. It is generally considered a high-protein, low-carbohydrate food that is low in sugar and contains only trace amounts of carbohydrates. A typical 3-ounce serving of pastrami contains around 15 grams of protein and only 3 grams of carbohydrates. Pastrami is also a good source of B vitamins, zinc, and iron.

The Right Type of Meat for Your Body

Knowing what your body needs is essential when it comes to choosing the right type of meat to add to your diet. Pastrami is a high-protein food that can carry essential amino acids that your body needs to function properly. However, it is also a type of meat that is high in sodium and saturated fat, which can heighten the risk of developing high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Moderation is Key

Eating pastrami in moderation can be a fulfilling and healthy choice. It is important to be mindful of the amount of pastrami you consume on a daily basis to avoid any negative effects on your health. Pastrami can be a good source of protein, but it is important to balance it with other healthy foods in your diet.

The Answer to the Question

In totality, pastrami can be a healthy choice if eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. It is important to be mindful of the amount of sodium and saturated fat in pastrami and to avoid consuming it on a regular basis. Pastrami can reduce the risk of developing heart disease and other health problems if consumed in the right amounts and at the right time.

Pastrami vs Corned Beef: What’s the Difference?

Pastrami is made with point brisket, which contains more marbling and fat, while corned beef is made from the leaner flat brisket. Pastrami can also be made with other cuts of beef, such as deckle (a lean shoulder cut) or navel (aka beef belly, which comes from the plate, a juicy section just below the ribs).

Preparation and Cooking Styles

Corned beef is typically boiled or simmered, while pastrami is traditionally dry-rubbed with a mix of spices and then smoked or steamed. The smoking and steaming process gives pastrami its famous flavor and texture.

Uses and Serving Styles

Corned beef is commonly associated with St. Patrick’s Day and is often served with cabbage and potatoes. Pastrami, on the other hand, is a main ingredient in the famous Reuben sandwich and is also great served on rye bread with mustard. Pastrami is commonly sliced thinly and served cold, while corned beef is often sliced thicker and served hot.

Ingredients and Nutritional Value

Both pastrami and corned beef are made from beef, but pastrami may also contain pork or bacon. Pastrami contains more fat and calories than corned beef due to the marbling and smoking process. However, both types of meat contain significant amounts of protein.

Styles and Regions

Pastrami is highly associated with Jewish delis in the New York City area, while corned beef is commonly associated with Irish cuisine. However, both meats are enjoyed all over the world.


So there you have it- everything you need to know about pastrami. It’s a type of meat that originated from Romania, but has become a staple food of American deli cuisine. 

You can enjoy it in sandwiches, plates, spreads, and even grilled cheese, but the most important thing is to enjoy it and have a pastrami moment!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.