Is Pastrami Pork or Beef? All You Need to Know

Pastrami is one of the world’s richest foods, filling the mouth with its smokey, tender flavor. Yet, food lovers are often hesitant to cherish this exquisite delicacy because of the confusion that it may contain pork. In such a case, it is frequently asked, is Pastrami pork or beef?

The answer is right here:

Pastrami is made from beef, cut from the navel end plate in the US, and navel end brisket in the UK. The two are almost the same, except that the navel end brisket sits adjacent to the navel end plate in the beef belly.

Let’s learn more about Pastrami in the following guide, how it is prepared, and some common misconceptions about this food, such as whether Pastrami and corned beef are the same, and more!

What is Pastrami?

Pastrami is smoked meat typically categorized as deli food. “Deli” is a store where ready-to-eat items are available for sale; this includes cold-cut meats, prepared salads, ready-made sandwiches, sliced cheese, etc.

The classical Pastrami is often seasoned with a handful of various spices to get the desired taste. This is done by adding cloves, paprika, garlic, black pepper, and coriander. Besides, allspice and mustard seeds also hold a special place when preparing Pastrami with its traditional flavor.

Today, Pastrami is famous throughout the globe, especially in the Western world, and is frequently used in various deli foods. A classical food made from Pastrami is “Pastrami on Rye” – the signature sandwich cherished in New York and various Jewish families.

Is Pastrami Pork or Beef?

The controversy about what kind of meat is used to make Pastrami is not new. Yet many are hesitant about eating Pastrami because of religious constraints.

It is because pork is prohibited in Judaism (and Islam); thus, many food lovers find themselves concerned with the same question: is Pastrami pork or beef?

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The good thing is that Pastrami is smoked meat (also known as a “cold-cut meat”) prepared from beef. Also, Pastrami meat comes from the beef navel plate, which, in the US, means beef belly. However, it is called navel end brisket in the UK, which also is the beef belly.

Furthermore, the navel plate is often confused with navel end brisket, though there is a slight difference between the two.

The beef navel plate (or the plate cut) is taken from the part below the ribs. Yet, contrary to that, the navel end brisket is the part of the beef belly that sits adjacent to the plate cut.

On the surface, Pastrami is made from beef, whether taken from the navel plate or the navel end brisket.

The world of cooking is vast, so there can be various recipes to make Pastrami meat. Nevertheless, it is loved throughout the world, thanks to its unique and delicious taste that combines the smoky notes with salty and spicy flavors.

How is Pastrami Made?

Pastrami is super-tempting, but the science behind achieving such a fantastic taste is equally complex. A long process comprising various steps and sub-steps gives the beef plate the traditional Pastrami flavor.

First, the meat (the beef navel or the beef navel cut brisket) is “cured” through a process called “brining.” Various spices such as salt, sugar, and other pickling spices cure the meat in salt brine, making it denser and flavorsome.

Furthermore, the time to cure the beef can be between two to four weeks. Though, in traditional Pastrami cooking, the meat is cured for no less than four weeks.

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When the meat is dried, the next step is to coat it by rubbing a handful of spices (garlic, cloves, mustard seeds, coriander, black pepper, allspice, etc.). The goal is to cover the surface of the meat with spices before it is smoked to help form the dark, crusty layer on it.

Next, the meat is smoked, which gives the Pastrami its classical, smokey flavor. This step takes about two to three days where the meat is smoked (and cooked) at low temperature, letting the beef be filled with a smokey flavor inside out.

Though such a long smoking session almost cooks the meat, the process of turning beef into Pastrami is still not finished. The smoked beef is boiled until it is fully cooked and soft and tender.

Then, the cooked meat is steamed in large steamers where it is further softened and tendered. The purpose behind boiling and steaming the beef after smoking it is to make it so soft that it is easily cut and sliced afterward – the same reason why Pastrami “melts” in your mouth.

 A 15-30 minute session is enough for steaming. The cooked Pastrami is ready to be sliced now.

Yet even cutting the cooked meat is a complete art since you have to separate the inedible membrane of beef with the meat and then slice it evenly. Thus, only skilled cutters can do justice to Pastrami while ensuring the meat is thinly sliced with as few cuts as possible.

And since Pastrami comes under the category of deli foods, the cooked meat (or the Pastrami) is used to make the classical signature Pastrami on Rye sandwich. The recipe is simple, place Pastrami slices on rye bread and top it with spicy mustard accompanied by dill pickles.

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Is Pastrami the Same as Corned Beef?

Pastrami is often confused with corned beef since both are made from beef. However, there is a big difference between how the two are prepared and tasted.

The misconception grows even further because corned beef is made from the brisket flat, making it look like a substitute for Pastrami (because Pastrami is also prepared from navel cut brisket in the UK).

In truth, Pastrami is taken from the fattier end side of the brisket, while corned beef is prepared from the leaner flat cut. It is exactly why Pastrami has a more rich beefy flavor than lean flat cut (corned beef), which is less dense in meat.

Furthermore, Pastrami has a very lengthy preparation; you cure, coat, smoke, boil, steam, and finally slice the meat. Yet, on the other hand, corned beef doesn’t take much time since it is cured with salt and then boiled or steamed. There is no need to coat or smoke the meat to turn it into corned beef.

In terms of flavor, Pastrami has a smokey flavor because it is smoked for two to three days. Thus, it is slightly richer than corned beef, which is leaner and drier in taste.

Bottom Line

Pastrami is a traditional delicacy passed down from generation to generation in the Jewish community. Nowadays, it is widely celebrated and consumed as deli food.

Also, Pastrami is made of beef belly, and despite the difference between the US and the UK version, it is prepared the same way.

Lastly, it is not easy to prepare Pastrami; the meat goes through a long process before it turns into Pastrami – making it one of the most exquisite deli foods in the world!