Thick or Thin: How Do You Like Your Corned Beef and Pastrami Sliced?


Corned Beef Sandwich at Dillman's [Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Even though Dillman's experienced some bumps from the moment it opened last month (resulting in a slight name change), I was genuinely excited to try Brendan Sodikoff's Jewish deli-inspired joint. As Titus rightly pointed out a few days ago, Chicago doesn't have a universally beloved Jewish deli, and there's really no good excuse why (my sincere apologies to the very good Manny's). Perhaps Sodikoff would solve that problem.

For the first course, I was sure he had. Dennis and I devoured a plate of pickled herring on rye toast, before completely polishing off a bowl of matzo ball soup with the largest and lightest matzo ball I'd ever sunk a spoon into. Then the sandwiches hit the table, and my heart sank: the corned beef and pastrami were sliced thin. What the hell?!

Why would Dillman's go to all the trouble of preparing both meats form scratch only to machine slice them so thinly? I was so indignant, I even found it necessarily to discuss this topic with my poor waiter. But seriously, doesn't everyone know that the both meats should be hand-cut into thick pieces?


Pastrami being sliced at Langer's in Los Angeles. [Photograph: Sarah Woo]

I'm basing this judgement on the fact that Katz in New York and Langer's in Los Angeles both slice their meat by hand, and that's where I've had the two best pastrami sandwiches I've ever eaten.


The Reuben at Katz Deli [Photoraph: Max Falkowitz]

But after cooling down for a few days, I began to wonder if this thick vs thin debate was so crystal clear. For the life of me, I couldn't find a definite post on this site declaring that hand-sliced was always 100 percent better, so I emailed the staff to get their opinions on the matter. Here's what they said:

Jamie Feldmar, Managing Editor:

I'm team thin! It's meltier/silkier that way, because sometimes those big junks of pastrami/corned beef are just too fatty and chewy to bite into a thick slice of. Usually I agree that hand-sliced is better than machine, but in this case, I really do think thin is in. I find that if you like slathering your deli sandwiches with spicy mustard, which I very much do, the thin layers, when folded on top of each other, help make little cocoons of mustard throughout the entire sandwich, instead of just on the top or bottom slice off bread.

Max Falkowitz, Serious Eats New York Editor:

With pastrami I want something to tuck my teeth into, fat and all, like smoked brisket. But that only really works well with warm meat and hand slicing that can align with the grain of the meat. If machine-sliced is the only option, I'd prefer thin for the reasons Jamie mentioned. But if they're making a big deal of having pastrami and not cutting it by hand, what gives?

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer:

Thick thick thick! If your pastrami is chewy, it means you did something wrong. Thick slices demonstrate that you cooked it right, just like good hand-carved Texas brisket. I do agree that on a machine, thinner is better. But machine-sliced pastrami is not worth eating anyway.

Robyn Lee, A Hamburger Today Editor:

I'm 'team thick,' assuming that the corned beef/pastrami is good, in which case it shouldn't be tough. If the meat isn't very good/would be tough if cut thick, then thin is better, but if it's not that good then why would I eat it? :)

So it's not as completely one-sided as I imagined, but there definitely seems to be more on my side. But what do you think? Do you prefer your corned beef or pastrami to be thickly or thinly sliced? Let me know in the comments!