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What’s the Difference Between Pepperoni and Salami?

Just because they’re both delicious logs of meat doesn’t mean they’re not special in their own right

I’ve never asked my parents how a “giant log of salami” became a staple on the weekly grocery list, but it might’ve been because I’d devour the whole thing, slice by delicious slice, in a matter of days. In fact, I distinctly remember one of the few times I attempted to not eat it straight from the fridge — instead opting to put a few of my signature giant slices on a frozen pizza. I thought it’d come out the oven tasting like a crisp, spicy pepperoni pizza. Boy oh boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

It was at that moment I learned that when it comes to pepperoni versus salami, one is very different from the other. 

Pepperoni vs Salami: Origin Story

“Simply put, salami and pepperoni are both salamis and dry-cured meats,” says Herve Malivert, Director of Culinary Affairs at the Institute of Culinary Education. “Salami is more of a generic name for a group of sausages, while pepperoni is one specific sausage under that umbrella.” 

Similar to the difference between gyros and shawarma, pepperoni is the American version of salami, which originated in Europe centuries ago. “Pepperoni was created in New York City by Italian Americans in the early 1900s,” Malivert explains.

Pepperoni vs Salami: How the Sausage Is Made

How pepperoni stands apart from other dry-cured meats in the salami family is all about how it’s produced. “The type of meat used for pepperoni is beef, pork and poultry, along with a fine-grounded texture and more peppery flavor,” says Vicky Cano, a professional chef at Mealfan. “The final product is usually smaller in diameter than salami, which typically consists of ground pork, veal, beef and sometimes poultry.” 

What’s more, “processing salami takes around two weeks to complete,” Cano adds, “while the production of pepperoni could take as few as five or six days.” 

Pepperoni vs Salami: Taste

Put together, the key distinction between salami and pepperoni is which foods they best pair with. “Pepperoni, with its smoky, peppery flavor and spice, lends itself to milder dishes,” Cano tells me, “whereas salami tends to be much milder, making it a great addition to sandwiches or salads.” 

So while the bold, bright red pepperoni is mostly limited to pizzas, calzones and sandwiches where it’s the star flavor, “salami can be enjoyed cold, and goes with soups, eggs, spaghetti dishes and salads,” Cano explains. “Salami’s fatty meat harmonizes with the rest of the flavors, adding its own unique flavor without dominating the dish.” 

As for eating slices of them right out of the fridge — in the imitable fashion of the King of Gabagool himself, Tony Soprano — you really can’t go wrong with either. So in that way at least, they’re very much one in the same.