It is tender and spicy; some people find the taste very salty.
It is made from beet: either beef brisket, beef plate or beef round. New York and Kosher styles are made from beef plate (between the Brisket at the front and the Flank at the back.) A navel cut of brisket is fattier than a deckle cut, though some fat is trimmed away.
There are two ways of curing the meat to make Pastrami, wet-cure and dry-cure.
The dry-cure is traditional and, say aficionados, the best.
For the dry-cure method, the surface of the meat is rubbed with a seasoning mixture. Ingredients in the seasoning mixture can include allspice, cinnamon, crushed peppercorns, garlic, ground cloves, ground coriander seed, and red pepper. The rub is applied many times over several weeks. Then, the meat is smoked. The Pastrami King (in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) used to smoke its own pastrami in the basement, whose walls were wood-lined. Then, the meat is cooked by baking or steaming or through hot-smoke.
For the wet-cure method, which is considered by some less-desirable, the meat is treated with brine, as corned beef or Montreal Smoked Meat are.
The better wet-cured ones are actually immersed in brine; more mass-processed ones may just be injected with speed for speed and to boost the weight of the meat. Many delis in New York now buy such mass-processed ones from commercial suppliers. These brands are often injected with brine and liquid smoke, then boiled. Carnegie Deli in New York still processes its own (as of 2006), in a plant away from the store. They inject the beef with brine, let it cure 3 to 7 days, then apply the rub and smoke for 3 hours until the meat reaches 165F (74 C.)
Pastrami can be served hot or cold, but it is usually heated through steam or baking, but never by boiling.
It is sliced very thin, and served on crusty rye bread, along with barred-cured kosher dill pickles, and potato latkes if desired. There may be mustard on the sandwich.
Pastrami can be bought to take home in slices, or in large pieces that you slice yourself.
Well-regarded Pastrami spots in New York City (as of 2006) are:
- 2nd Ave Deli
- Carnegie Deli
- Stage Deli
- Pastrami King
Outside of New York City, Langer’s Deli in Los Angeles is also highly-rated by some.
The Stage Deli opened as branches in Newton, Massachusetts, Atlanta, Georgia and in Atlantic City; only the Atlantic City branch was still operating as of 2006.
Many home-made versions of Pastrami start from corned beef, though the pickling spices used for the corned beef aren’t quite the right taste for pastrami.
You can also get versions now of deli meats calling themselves “pastrami” made from turkey, venison, salmon and seitan (sic.)
Pastrami is so highly flavoured, that is hard to use it in many dishes other than sandwiches. You can serve it for breakfast beside eggs, either scrambled or fried, instead of bacon, and you can use it in potato hash.
Reheat slices for 20 minutes in a steamer or double-boiler — or at a minimum, let come to room temperature.
Literature & Lore
“Even so, Zapp, there’s lots of fellers in the delicatessen business which is obliged to run automobile deliveries, and for every penny they’ve got to pay more on gasoline, they stick two cents a pound on pastrami oder [or] Frankfurters…”
— Glass, Montague. Birsky and Zapp Discuss High Cost of Living. Syracuse, New York: The Syracuse Herald. Sunday, 16 January 1916. Morning edition. Page 5. [Originally in the New York Tribune].
“Salami, pastrami, limburger, hamburger, pickles, potato salad and a thousand other articles customarily seen in a delicatessen store wafted their spicy fragrances over the set during the screening of Colleen Moore’s latest starring vehicle for First National entitled, “It Must Be Love.”‘ The new big feature comedy will be shown at the Broadway Theatre next Monday and Tuesday. The picture, it is hinted, is extremely spicy – but is not at all censorable because the spice is of the delicatessen flavor. Jean Hersholt makes a highly presentable delicatessen merchant as the father of Colleen. Dorothy Seastrom appears as her girl friend, Min, and Arthur Stone plays the role of ‘Peter Halitovsky,’ which is Russian for unkindly atmosphere.”
— Colleen Moore in Spiciest Comedy. ‘It Must Be Love’ Replete with Delicatessen Store Aromas. Broadway Monday. In: The Bee, Danville, Virginia. Friday, 17 January 1927. Page 12.
“Chicago, June 29. (1:30 PM) — The Democratic party will seek the election of its nominee for President in November largely upon a smashing indictment of Republican policies that brought the nation to the verge of bankruptcy… Many second-balcony inhabitants brought their lunch along today. The fragrant aroma of pastrami and corn beef drifted up to the flag draped rafters.”
— Indictment of Republicanism is Main Plank [of Democratic Convention]. Charleroi, Pennsylvania. The Charleroi Mail. Wednesday, 29 June 1932. Page 2.
“Tague’s Delicastessen. Pastrami, Corn Beef, Salami. Phone 943-W. We Deliver.”
— Advertisement in: The Coshocton Tribune. Coshocton, Ohio. Saturday, 10 December 1932. Evening edition. Page 5.
“I eat a lot of sandwiches, who doesn’t man, sandwiches are easy to eat. But I hate sandwiches at New York delis, too much *ing meat on the sandwich, it’s like a cow with a cracker on either side. “What would you like, sir?” “A pastrami sandwich.” “Anything else?” “Yeah, a loaf of bread and some other people.” “What kind of bread?” “Rye. No, banana, you got banana bread?” “What kind of cheese?” “Cottage” “Get the * out! I am not making a banana bread pastrami cottage cheese sandwich. That will severely ruin my reputation.”
— Mitch Hedberg (American comedian. 24 February 1968 to 29 March 2005)
“Anytime a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies.”
— Milton Berle (American actor, 1908 to 2002)
One theory on the origin of the word Pastrami is that it comes from the word for a Romanian meat dish called “pastramă”, which in turn comes from the Romanian verb “a păstra” (meaning to preserve or to keep.) In Romanian pastrama, the default meat used to be sheep, but now it is pork.
“An interesting personal experience was an invitation to dinner with a real Roumanian family (in Bucharest). What seemed to me a countless array of dishes containing most delectable dainties was arranged on a sideboard in the apartment where we were received. First came pastrama, small pieces of mutton grilled with zuika, a kind of native rum. This pastrama has a marvelous flavor. But a person eating it for the first time cannot swallow it. He chews it and chews it like a piece of American gum, first in one cheek and then in the other, without knowing what to do with it. It is an embarrassing situation, because the pastrama is served in the reception room and you are expected to talk while you are eating it. I received my portion in an unguarded moment while conversing with an enchanting girl in a pompadour. Then we went into the dining room.” 
The word “pastrama” possibly became “pastrami” in English as early as 1887 in New York city, influenced possibly by the word “salami.”
In the 1940s, though, there was still occasional mention of it as “pastrama”. The American Cafe and Kosher Delicatesson of Reno, in its grand opening tonight! announcement promised: “A new treat to the people of Reno… Foods that are different, new and exciting to your palate! In our delicatessen we feature pastrama, rolled beef, corned beef, tongue, salami, liverwurst….” 
Awareness of the Romanian word origin was popularized in the second half of 1972 in an Associated Press article that was picked up in newspapers across America on words that have made their way into English: “‘Cashew’ is from the Portuguese. ‘Pastrami’ is from the Rumanian ‘pastrama” by way of Yiddish. And ‘whisky’ is from the Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic.” 
Some sources speculate whether pastrami — either directly or indirectly through the Romanian “pastrama” — was influenced by the Turkish dried meat “pastirma” (or “basturma”) , made from beef. (Wags speculate that if the word “pastrami” did come straight from the Turkish, then it was all started by a Yiddish speaker with a bad squint.)
 Siezak, Leo. Guest Must Have Appetite. Stamina and Endurance Also Needed for Consuming ‘Simple Little Dinner’ in Roumania. In Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune. Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Tuesday, 10 May 1921. Page 6. [originally in Vienna Neue Freue Presse].
 Grand Opening Advertisement in the Nevada State Journal. Reno, Nevada. Tuesday, 17 December 1946. Page 7.
 Associated Press. Many Tongues Contribute To English Language. Greeley, Colorado. Greeley Tribune. Monday, 21 August 1972. Page 17.