Would you like corn beef or pastrami on your sandwich? If you don't know the difference between both meats, you are not alone. The main distinction between the two is the curing process. Also, pastrami is smoked meat, while corn beef is not.
Before letting your taste buds decide, learn to spot the differences as well as the similarities:
History. Like many other foods, pastrami and corn beef were created from a need to preserve food before modern conveniences existed. The curing process simply was developed as a way to preserve meat from going bad.
Corn beef. Corn beef, also known as corned beef, is generally made from brisket cured with brine. In this case, fattier is better as far as taste goes. Corn beef is also made from the leaner bottom round cut, but unfortunately, you have to pay for the extra flavor as corn beef made from round is less expensive. Corn beef gets its taste by absorbing the flavors from brine spiced with clove, garlic, and bay leaves.
Pastrami. Traditional pastrami usually uses the meat from the animal's forequarters, known as plate or deckle, but butchers also make pastrami from brisket. In addition to the flat cut, butchers use navel or sometimes round. As with corn beef, the higher-standard pastrami uses the fattier flat, or point, cut.
While corn beef is cured with spiced brine, pastrami uses a dry rub. In addition to clove, garlic, and bay leaves, pastrami rub also includes lots of pepper. The latter gives it its distinctive taste. Mustard seeds and coriander give pastrami the distinct "rubbed" look on the outside.
Variations. The normal order of processing pastrami is dry curing, smoking, and steaming. Some cooks brine the meat instead of dry-curing, or simmer it instead of steaming.
The motto for contemporary pastrami could be "if it looks like pastrami, it is pastrami." You can find it made from duck, salmon, turkey, and tuna. However, the tell-tale exterior with the distinct rub of spices is the same, hence the pastrami label for these look-alikes.
Corned beef is a trimmed brisket or cut of beef round that has been preserved by brining with salt and spices. It is raw and must be cooked to produce the tender, sweet meat that is so sumptuous. This New England treat was once cured with corn-kernel-sized salt crystals before refrigeration was available.