Smoked meat vs corned beef vs pastrami vs Montreal smoked meat | What’s what?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  July 24, 2022

Always the latest smoking tips & tricks?

Subscribe to THE ESSENTIAL newsletter for aspiring pitmasters

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Don’t ruin your next smoked meat session without knowing the difference!

When it comes to our favorite go-to recipes, there are many great choices. But sometimes, things aren’t really made clear, and it just confuses us even more. Been there, done that.

And right now, we currently have four contenders on the menu—smoked meat, corned beef, pastrami, and Montreal smoked meat—all of which are awesome choices, but often get people confused.

Are they the same? Which one is better?

Which of the smoked meats, corned beef, pastrami, and Montreal smoked meat really stand out from the rest? And why?

Smoked meat vs corned beef vs pastrami vs Montreal smoked meat | What's what?

The truth is that each of them has its own unique flavor profiles that make them great options for meat lovers.

Depending on your taste buds’ preferences, smoked meat can be a great choice if you want something smoky, salty, and a bit peppery. However, if you want a lump of salty and savory leaner meat, then you should definitely go for corned beef.

If you prefer smoky, tangy black pepper and the sweet citrus tang of coriander, then pastrami is definitely for you. Finally, if you want something like the pastrami but have absorbed more of the flavoring due to the longer time it takes to smoke, then Montreal smoked meat is the way to go.

In this blog, I will make your life easier in deciding which one you think is perfect for you through detailed comparison reviews and exciting Qs and As.

Smoked meat vs corned beef vs pastrami vs Montreal smoked meat: the basics

Now, let me dissect these four dishes for you to make the most of your smoking spree. Let’s see what each of these recipes has got up its sleeve!

Smoked meat

Smoked meat is simply that, meat that is cooked by being exposed to smoke in order to preserve, brown, and flavor it.

If you didn’t know this yet, smoking meat is actually one of the oldest methods of cooking as well as preserving meat and probably emerged soon after cooking over an open flame.

Meat is smoked by hanging it from hooks or arranging it on racks inside a space (like a BBQ smoker) that captures the smoke produced by a hardwood or charcoal fire.

The best kinds of meat for smoking are pork butts, spare ribs, and briskets. But you can also smoke game meat like venison and board, as well as fish, poultry, and shellfish meat.

So you see, smoked meat is a pretty broad category. So if you are talking about smoked meat, it can be the meat of different kinds of animals.

Also read: How long does it actually take to smoke meat? [+ tips to speed it up!]

Corned beef

Basically corned beef is meat that has been cured with salt and spices for five to eight days.

In the US beef brisket is typically used when making corned beef, but really any kind of meat can be used to process it like corned meat.

The reason brisket is often used is that it is a Kosher cut of meat, that together with Kosher salt is a suitable dish for Jewish people.

It is therefore both a way of processing meat for preservation and a dish in itself.

Traditionally, salt, sugar, black pepper, cloves, bay leaves, dill, and juniper berries are added to the liquid used to brine the meat.

The completed corned beef is boiled after the meat has brined, and the majority of its flavor comes from the first seasoning.

So no smoking is involved with producing corned beef, unlike with pastrami, although you are of course able to smoke corned beef to add more flavor (more on that later).

A traditionally Irish way of serving corned beef is with cabbage and potatoes.

This recipe was invented in the neighborhoods of early settler New York, where Irish immigrants got their meat from next-door Jewish butchers.

Fun fact: You may be wondering why it’s called “corn” beef but is served without any corn. Well, it’s actually the coarse salt used to cure beef brisket that’s referred to as “corn”.


Pastrami is smoked and then dry-cured, which is a lengthy process that involves rubbing the meat with a mixture of salt, spices, and flavorings and then letting it sit for a period of time.

After that, it is dried, seasoned again, smoked and finally steamed until tender.

The steaming at the end really breaks down the connective tissues in the meat, which explains why pastrami is so melt-in-the-mouth succulent.

Check out this fascinating video explaining the whole production process of traditional Jewish pastrami:

Much like corned beef, pastrami was originally invented by eastern Europeans in order to preserve meats before we had such things as refrigerators.

It was then brought to the US by Jewish immigrants and has been a staple in New York delis ever since, typically served on rye bread with mustard.

Pastrami is usually made from the navel end of the beef plate cut (brisket).

The navel cut is the fattier section of the brisket, which makes it perfect for pastrami because the fat adds flavor and prevents the meat from drying out during the smoking process.

So, what’s the main difference between corned beef and pastrami?

Next to the different ways in which the meats are chopped, the pastrami is dried, smoked, and steamed, whereas the corned beef is boiled after chopping and curing.

Also find out what is the best wood for smoking pastrami to get the best out of this delicacy

Montreal smoked meat

Montreal smoked meat is very similar to pastrami, and also has some things in common with corned beef.

You see where the confusion comes from!

Just like with corned beef and pastrami, brisket is the main ingredient to create Montreal smoked meat, however, instead of the navel, the entire untrimmed brisket cut is used.

Similar to pastrami the meat is brined and smoked. It is also typically served in a sandwich or on rye bread with plenty of mustard.

The flavoring in the brine for curing, however, is the significant distinction.

The spice mixture for both pastrami and Montreal smoked meats includes coriander, mustard seeds, garlic, and black pepper.

However, compared to pastrami, Montreal smoked meat uses less sugar throughout the curing process.

Keep in mind though that most producers of deli meat like pastrami and Montreal smoked meat have their own favorite, and secret recipes for the brine and seasoning.

If you’re wondering where Montreal smoked meat comes from, well, you guessed it right—it’s from Quebec, Canada, and is quite famous for its specialty.

Not surprisingly, this smoked beef recipe also has traces of origins in Eastern Europe, and it likely arrived in Canada through Jewish immigrants.

Truly, this food is diverse because its origins vary. But wherever it came from, there’s no denying that it’s one of the best dishes on this planet.

Let’s sum up: comparison table

Here’s a quick summary of the comparison:

Smoked meat Corned beef Pastrami Montreal smoked meat
Meat Can be any cut of meat, also fish and poultry Brisket Brisket Brisket
Process The meat is seasoned, and then smoked. Primarily cured with salt brine and then boiled Lenghty process of brining, drying, seasoning, smoking and steaming Similar to pastrami but with a different spice mix in the brine and no steaming
Taste Smoky flavor, reflecting the meat, seasoning and smoking wood used Salty and a bit peppery Exudes black pepper, smoke, and coriander’s pleasant citrusy flavor. Similar to pastrami with the savory flavors of whole peppercorns, garlic, mustard seed and coriander
Best served with By itself, a salad, roasted potatoes or on a sandwich Cabbage and potatoes Often served with pickles, Reuben (rye) bread and mustard On a sandwich or rye bread with mustard, or even with french fries and cheese curds (poutine)


There you have them! Now we have cleared up the main differences, and before I proceed with the verdict, let’s clear up some of the questions you may have.

Is regular smoked meat and Montreal smoked meat the same?

I know this sounds very confusing. At times, you hear someone say only ‘smoked meat,’ but there are also other smokers calling it ‘Montreal smoked meat.’

But the truth is, they’re just the same. After all, Montreal smoked meat is said to have originated in Quebec, Canada, hence the name.

However, no Montreal smoked meat tastes the same all the time.

Each individual deli may have applied a few smoking changes and flavorings to their smoked meat to give it distinct flavors and make it their own.

Which of the dishes is healthier?

Both corned beef and Montreal smoked meat are high in protein and low in fat, making them equivalent in nutritional value.

On the other hand, due to its low-calorie count and high concentration of vital amino acids, pastrami is a healthy option.

And if served with rye bread, which is a whole grain, it can be one of your best diet options.

Additionally, it contains less fat than other processed meats like bologna, bacon, salami, and ham.

What do you call smoked corned beef?

Pastrami in a way is corned meat that is smoked, and making homemade pastrami with corned beef is very easy.

Corned beef is prepared with black pepper and ground coriander. But please give the pastrami some extra flavor.

And if you want to enhance the taste, you can change the procedure by smoking it on wood. And apples and cherry wood are excellent choices for smoking.

Smoked meat vs corned beef vs pastrami vs Montreal smoke meat: The verdict

So, which one should you choose among the four tasty choices?

Smoked meat can be a great choice if you want something smoky, salty, and peppery.

It is the most versatile of all, since you can change up the type of meat you use, the seasoning or brining mix and even the flavor of the wood you use for smoking.

If you want a lump of salty and savory leaner meat, and make a meal out of it the Irish way with cabbage and potatoes, then you should definitely go for corned beef.

Personally, I believe Montreal smoked meat and pastrami both taste wonderful, but I love the tenderness of pastrami due to the steaming.

Of course, if you ever find yourself in Quebec, do not leave without trying a complete Montreal smoked meat sandwich at a local deli.

In the end, it all really depends on your personal preference.

Final thoughts

Whether it’s pastrami, corned beef, or Montreal-style smoked meat, they’re all quite similar in that they are processed deli meats that work well on a sandwich and are typically made from brisket.

Smoked meat gives you more options to switch up the meat and flavorings. Spareribs are hard to put on a rye bread sandwich for example!

In the end, any of the dishes are delicious if you are a meat lover with a penchant for spicy seasonings and tender beef.

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.