Even if you don’t intend to make your own pastrami, it’s important to know whether the meat is beef or pork. After all, some people try to avoid pork for religious or ethical reasons, while others prefer not to consume beef.
Is pastrami pork or beef? When you’ve finished reading our guide, you’ll be able to answer this question—and many more.
Is Pastrami Pork or Beef?
Pastrami is often made from the beef plate cut, also called the short plate. As an alternative, it’s sometimes made from the brisket flat, which is also used to make corned beef. Though pastrami and corned beef are often confused for one another, pastrami is smoked while corned beef is boiled or steamed.
What Is Pastrami?
Pastrami is a deli meat—sometimes called a “cold cut”—that’s made from beef. The plate cut, which is taken from below the ribs, is the cut most often used to make pastrami. However, you can also make it from the brisket, which sits adjacent to the plate.
To turn the beef plate—also known as the short plate—into pastrami, the meat is first cured in a salt brine. After the curing process, it’s smoked at a low temperature until the meat is cooked through.
Although pastrami is fully cooked, the meat often has a deep reddish hue. That’s partly due to the smoking process, but the red color will be even more pronounced if pink curing salts were used for the brine.
What’s The Difference Between Pastrami and Corned Beef?
While pastrami is usually made from the navel end of the beef short plate, corned beef is more commonly made from the brisket flat. Although you can use other cuts in a pinch, these are the most popular choices for each.
Unlike pastrami, which is always smoked, corned beef is simply cured in a salt brine, then boiled or steamed. It’s not necessary to use pink curing salts for corned beef, but most of the corned beef you find in the store will have that telltale pink color.
Is All Pastrami Made From Beef?
True pastrami is made from beef. These days, however, the term “pastrami” may be used to refer to the preparation technique. The same is true of bacon, which is technically pork but is sometimes made from turkey or another meat instead.
Turkey pastrami is a popular choice if you prefer to avoid red meat. While this type of pastrami isn’t necessarily lower in calories, it does contain less saturated fat, which helps keep cholesterol levels in balance.
Are Reuben Sandwiches Made With Pastrami?
Technically speaking, a Reuben sandwich should be made with corned beef, not pastrami. If you substitute pastrami, the sandwich will still be delicious, but it isn’t considered a true Reuben.
The Reuben sandwich is a menu staple at most New York delicatessens. It’s made by slathering two slices of Rye bread with Russian dressing, then adding corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese. The sandwiches are then buttered and grilled until hot.
Some menus will refer to the Reuben as a “Rachel” when pastrami is used instead of corned beef. We’ve also seen this label used when turkey is the featured deli meat in the sandwich.
The Classic Pastrami Sandwich
You can use pastrami as you would any cold cut, serving it hot or cold. However, the classic “pastrami on rye” is a hot sandwich made with pastrami, rye bread, and spicy brown mustard. You can add cheese if desired, with Swiss being the most popular option.
Pro Tip: To adhere to New York deli tradition, serve the sandwich with a kosher dill pickle on the side.
Can You Make Your Own Pastrami?
Absolutely. In fact, since it can be difficult to find really good pastrami outside of New York City, it’s often preferable to make your own.
Note that we’ve broken from tradition somewhat by using a beef brisket flat for this recipe. That’s because this cut is usually easier to find. If you can find a beef plate cut in a similar size, feel free to substitute it.
Also note that if your brisket or plate cut weighs more than 7 pounds, you may need to double the brine recipe.
- 1 brisket flat, weighing 5-7 pounds
- Prepared yellow mustard
- 1/4 cup whole black peppercorns, coarsely ground
- 1/4 cup coriander seeds, coarsely ground
For The Pickling Spice:
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon whole mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon allspice berries
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
For The Brine:
- 1 gallon water
- 1-1/2 cups kosher salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons pink curing salt
- 10 cloves raw garlic, crushed
- 1/4 cup picking spice
1. To begin, make the pickling spice. Heat a dry cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add the coriander, mustard seeds, peppercorns, and toast until fragrant, taking care not to burn them.
2. Add the toasted spices to a cloth napkin or clean kitchen towel. Fold the napkin to enclose the spices inside, then crush them with a meat mallet or rolling pin.
3. Add the remaining spices to a small bowl and combine with the toasted spices. Set aside. Combine the coriander and black pepper for the spice rub in another small bowl.
4. Combine all the brine ingredients in a large pot. Store any leftover pickling spice in an airtight container. Bring the brining mixture to a boil, stirring until salt and sugar are completely dissolved.
5. Fill a large bucket with ice (you’ll need about 8 cups). Make sure this container is large enough to submerge the entire brisket.
6. Pour the brining liquid over the ice and stir until the ice is melted. If the mixture isn’t cold, add more ice.
7. Submerge the meat in the brining liquid. Refrigerate for 5 days.
8. When you’re ready to cook, preheat your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
9. Take the brisket out of the brining liquid and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels.
10. Slather the meat with mustard to give the spices something to cling to. Season with the spice rub mixture, taking care to coat the entire surface.
11. Smoke the brisket until the exterior has attained a lovely mahogany shade and the internal temperature hits 155 degrees, about 5 hours.
12. At this point, remove the brisket from the smoker and wrap it in a double layer of foil. Increase the smoker temperature to 300 degrees.
13. When the smoker is hot enough, return the meat to the cooking grate and close the lid. Continue to cook until the pastrami is probe-tender and the internal temperature has reached the 195-200 degree range.
14. Let the pastrami rest for at least 30 minutes before carving it into thin slices.
How To Store Pastrami
When kept in the refrigerator, pastrami should keep for 3 to 5 days. The curing process might extend its shelf life by a day or two, but it’s still important to follow the proper storage practices.
Don’t leave pastrami at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. If you do, it could attract dangerous bacteria. You also might want to check to make sure your refrigerator temperature is set to a temperature below 40 degrees.
If you want to store your pastrami longer, you can freeze the sliced meat. It should keep in the freezer for at least a few months before it starts to dry out. The thinner the slices are, the faster they will thaw.
The Bottom Line
Although there are many delicious cuts of pork that are excellent on the smoker, traditional pastrami is always made from beef. If you can’t find the plate cut, it’s possible to make pastrami with a brisket flat instead.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!