Pastrami vs Roast Beef: Unveiling the Distinctions

Pastrami vs. Roast Beef: Exploring the Differences

Pastrami and roast beef are two popular meats that are often used in sandwiches and various other dishes. While they may seem similar, there are distinct differences between these two delicious meats. In this article, we will explore the differences in their origins, cuts used, preparation and cooking methods, serving styles, pairings, and storage. By understanding these differences, you can make an informed choice about which meat to use based on your preferences and dietary needs.


Pastrami, which originated in Romania, is a cured meat dish. The name “pastrami” is derived from the Romanian word “pastra,” which means to preserve. It was introduced to the United States by Romanian Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century. Initially, sheep pastrami was brought to New York, but later beef pastrami gained popularity due to the greater availability of beef cuts compared to other meats.
Roast beef, on the other hand, is a signature dish of English cuisine. Dating back to the early 18th century, roast beef has become popular in many countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Cuts used

While pastrami can be made from a variety of meats, including pork and turkey, the most common meat used for pastrami is beef. Specifically, the umbilicus of the beef brisket is often used to make pastrami. Roast beef, on the other hand, can be made from a variety of cuts, including top sirloin, round eye, and tri-tip.

Preparation and Cooking Methods

The preparation and cooking methods for pastrami and roast beef differ significantly. Making pastrami from scratch requires considerable time and effort. First, the brisket must be brined for several days or weeks. Alternatively, a pre-brined brisket can be used to shorten the preparation time. After curing, the meat is dried and coated with a mixture of spices, including black pepper and coriander. It is then smoked with wood chips such as cherry or maple. Smoking pastrami can take several hours, typically one hour per pound of meat. Steaming may also be used to increase tenderness.
Roast beef, on the other hand, is relatively simple to prepare. The selected cut is seasoned and cooked in the oven for about 20 minutes per pound. The goal is to achieve a nicely browned exterior while maintaining a moist and slightly pink interior. The cooking time for roast beef is significantly less than for pastrami.

Serving Styles

Pastrami is often enjoyed in sandwich form. The classic pastrami sandwich consists of slices of pastrami served between two slices of rye bread. Another popular variation is the Reuben sandwich, in which pastrami, cheese, and other ingredients are grilled between slices of brown or rye bread. Pastrami can also be used in salads, pizzas, tacos, pasta dishes, and other culinary creations. It is equally delicious served hot or cold, although many prefer it hot.
Roast beef is often served as a main course, especially as part of a traditional Sunday roast. This meal typically includes slices of roast beef, roasted vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding. Roast beef sandwiches are also popular, with thinly sliced roast beef served in a kummelweck roll being a notable example. Roast beef can be enjoyed both hot and cold, and leftover roast beef is often used in various sandwiches with additional ingredients such as lettuce, tomatoes, and onions.


When it comes to pairings, pastrami sandwiches are often accompanied by mustard and pickles. In the case of Reuben sandwiches, pastrami is paired with sauerkraut, cheese, and Russian dressing (a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, and other ingredients). Pastrami can also be paired with eggs, asparagus, coleslaw, potatoes, or cheese in a variety of dishes.
Roast beef pairs well with a variety of vegetables. Potatoes, whether baked, roasted, mashed or scalloped, are a classic choice. Other vegetables include Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, carrots, beets, green beans, onions, and butternut squash. For an authentic English dinner, roast beef can be served with Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Condiments such as mustard and horseradish sauce are often enjoyed with roast beef sandwiches.


To ensure food safety, it is recommended that pastrami be stored in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth. When properly wrapped in plastic wrap or foil, pastrami can be refrigerated for up to five days. Freezing pastrami can extend its shelf life to about three months.
Similarly, roast beef should be stored in the refrigerator to maintain its freshness. Leftover roast beef can be stored in an airtight container or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or foil. When stored properly, roast beef will keep in the refrigerator for up to three to four days. If you want to extend its shelf life, you can freeze roast beef for up to three months. It is a good idea to slice or portion roast beef before freezing to make it easier to defrost and use as needed.


While both pastrami and roast beef are delicious and versatile meats, they have distinct differences in origin, cuts used, preparation and cooking methods, serving styles, pairings, and storage. With roots in Romanian and Jewish cuisine, pastrami undergoes a lengthy curing, smoking, and steaming process, resulting in a flavorful and tender meat that is often enjoyed in sandwiches. On the other hand, roast beef, a staple of English cuisine, is typically roasted in the oven and served as a main course, often accompanied by roasted vegetables and Yorkshire pudding.
By understanding the unique characteristics of pastrami and roast beef, you can make informed decisions about which meat to choose for your culinary creations. Whether you prefer the smoky and tangy flavors of pastrami or the simplicity and tenderness of roast beef, these meats offer a wide range of options to satisfy your palate.


What is pastrami?

Pastrami is a cured and smoked meat, typically made from beef, that originated in Romania and gained popularity in the United States. It is known for its strong flavour and tender texture.

What is the difference between roast beef and pastrami?

Roast beef is a dish made from various cuts of beef that are roasted in an oven. It is not cured or smoked like pastrami. Roast beef has a different flavour profile and texture than pastrami.

Can pastrami be made from meats other than beef?

Yes, while beef is the most commonly used meat for pastrami, it can also be made from other meats such as pork or turkey. However, beef pastrami is the most popular and widely available.

How are pastrami and roast beef typically served?

Pastrami is often enjoyed in sandwiches, such as the classic pastrami sandwich or the Reuben sandwich. It can also be used in salads, pizzas, tacos and pasta dishes. Roast beef is often served as a main course, usually with roast vegetables and Yorkshire pudding. It is also popular in sandwiches.

How long does pastrami and roast beef keep?

Both pastrami and roast beef should be stored in the refrigerator to maintain freshness. When properly wrapped, pastrami will keep up to five days in the refrigerator and up to three months in the freezer. Leftover roast beef will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator and up to three months in the freezer. It is recommended that you slice or portion the roast beef before freezing to make it easier to defrost and use.

What are some common pairings for pastrami and roast beef?

Pastrami sandwiches often pair well with mustard and pickles. Reuben sandwiches often pair pastrami with sauerkraut, cheese and Russian dressing. Roast beef goes well with a variety of vegetables such as potatoes, brussels sprouts, mushrooms and carrots. Condiments such as mustard and horseradish sauce are also popular with roast beef.