Salami vs Pepperoni: What’s The Difference?

Sausage is a great deal like life. You get out of it what you put into it - Jimmy Dean 

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While good sausage can elevate the dreariest of meals and change it into a masterpiece, and turn a bad day into a spectacular one, great sausage can transform your life. It can stupify, electrify, and super-charge your target buds and change the way that you think about food forever.

That’s the reason America fell in love with it in the first place, and even though our collective hearts beat for German Wurst’s, English links, and Bavarian Brats, there’s nothing like the taste of Italy and a little home-based sausage making ingenuity to really make our souls sing. We love sausage, we always have and we always will.

Even though we’d walk a thousand miles over broken glass to spend an afternoon with a good sausage, as we’ve already said, if that sausage was homegrown or comes from Italy, we’d double that distance in the blink of an eye.

The Difference Between Salami and Pepperoni

And the sausages that we’d gladly hand our souls over for are Salami and  Pepperoni.  Whether they’re on pizza, in a sandwich, used to add extra flavor to pasta, top of burgers, or used to create a vast array of different culinary delights, each one of which is more incredible than the last.

What's the Difference between Salami and Pepperoni?

They're the sausages that, more than any others, have helped to shape the face of everyday American cuisine. From deli meat to pepperoni sausage pizza, the cured sausage taste of the processed meat is iconic.

But to the casual observer and those with a less distinguished palette, even though most of us know that there’s a world of difference between them, they can seem almost identical.

That’s why we decided to dive deeply into the rich, smoked worlds of pepperoni and salami in an attempt to, once and for all, find out what the difference between Pepperoni and Salami is. 

Pepperoni And Salami - They’re Not The Same

To non-sausage connoisseurs who are happy to just soak in the extra layer of flavor that both imbue any pizza with, they’re one and the same.

And, if we’re being absolutely honest, on a purely cursory level, the less discerning pizza fanatics who just want a pepperoni or salami special to go are absolutely right, they are kind of the same.

They’re both cured sausages that can ultimately trace their roots back to Southern Europe.

But that’s where the similarities end, and while they were both created to provide a rapid infusion of the sort of tasty sausage that we all crave, they’ve very different meaty beasts.

The Salami Story 

The best way to get to the bottom of just what it is that separates and differentiates Salami and Pepperoni is by jumping headlong into their mythology and exploring the history of both sausages.

So, let’s start with the big gun and the granddaddy of the smoked sausage, Salami.

Taking its name from the Italian word ‘Salame’, which means ‘salt’ and the collective word for meat, Salami was the sausage that started it all.

Favored by the peasants of Southern Europe for its longevity (after it’s been cut, it can last for up to forty days, which when you don’t have much to start with, makes it even more desirable), Salami is a fermented, air-dried meat that spread throughout, and is made in, almost every European country. 

Produced in France, Germany, Romania, Spain, and Italy, Salami is thought by some historians to have spread through the continent with the Roman Empire.

The process by which it is manufactured, fermentation and curing through exposure to air, is thousands of years old and was almost certainly finally established and part of the diet of the peasantry by the time the Roman Army started to spread through, and conquer Europe. 

Regional and National variations have evolved over time to create a wide and extensive variety of flavors that mean that while the word Salami can be, and is used, to describe a fermented, air-dried sausage, it is more of a collective term used to describe a multitude of different sausages that are loosely grouped together because of the common fermentation and curing process that is used to make them.

However, while there are almost as many divergent and disparate varieties of Salami as there are stars in the night sky, the one that we’re all instantly familiar with (even though as with everything else, its taste varies from region to region) is the Salami that started it all, the one and only original, Italian Salami or Italian cured meat.

A traditional Salami usually has a marbled appearance as it is a combination of a number of different meats but is usually formed from a mixture of beef and pork.

In keeping with the growing trend to push the limits of culinary excellence as far as possible, up and coming and hip Salami manufacturers and producers have started to changed the meats that they use to make Salami and have included everything from poultry (mostly chicken and turkey, although goose has been, and is, used as well) to venison.

They might not be conventional Italian ingredients, but they elevate the taste of Salami to new, exquisite, and previously unexplored dimensions. 

Tales of Pepperoni

When we mentioned the homegrown sausage earlier, we were of course referring to Pepperoni. It’s as American as Disneyland and a homegrown, world-famous smoked sausage that showed Europe that anything that they can do, we can do just as well, and in some cases better.

Not that we’re saying that Pepperoni is better than Salami, after all, if it wasn’t for the latter, we wouldn’t have been able to, and probably wouldn’t even have thought about, inventing the former. But, having said that, when you order pizza what’s the first cured meat and smoked sausage that you think about adding? It isn’t Salami, is it? 

Made the same way that Salami is, through a process of fermentation and air drying and curing, Pepperoni like Salami, derives its name from an Italian word. While Salami derived its name from the way it was made, Pepperoni took its name from the word ‘peperone’, which means ‘bell pepper’ in Italian.

Although no-one can be certain why it was named to honor the humble pepper, the most popular school of thought subscribes to the theory that it was given its name because it has more kick than its forbear, and the original sausage makers who created Pepperoni wanted to warn any would-be sausage hounds that if they wanted a mouthful of this sausage, they’d better be prepared for the heat that it might bring.

And while we’re on the subject of the heat that’s part and parcel of Pepperoni’s taste, it’s only fitting that we mention where that extra dose of heat comes from.

Unlike Salami, Pepperoni uses a mixture of less traditional spices in its manufacture, which mostly consist of different types of chili.

Even though the amount of chili and spices used in the manufacture of Pepperoni isn’t specifically designed to be overwhelming, due to the near-endless variety of taste profiles that the spices and chili can add to the meat, there are now almost as many different types of Pepperoni as there are Salami.

All of those wonderful varieties of pepperoni can be traced back to the same source, and even though most culinary historians are at odds about where the first Pepperoni was actually made and who by, they all agree that it emerged from the kitchens of the Italian American community immediately after the end of the First World War.

Thought to have been created as a way of adding an additional level of flavor to pizzas, Pepperoni usually has a much deeper, richer, and smokier taste than Salami, even though it’s made using the same base ingredients, beef, pork, and, in some cases, turkey. 

Pepperoni is usually a much darker red than Salami, and this is mainly due to the fact that it uses nitrates, nitrites, and a mixture of modern curing agents in its manufacture to negate the possibility of botulism rearing its ugly head and in just over a century, Pepperoni has become America’s number one pizza topping of choice.

It’s true, just stroll into any pizzeria and ask them what their most popular pizza is and, we’re happy to bet, that without fail they’ll tell you that it’s Pepperoni.

And they’ll also tell you that Pepperoni is served on nearly forty percent of all of the pizzas served in America and that on average we consume around two hundred and fifty-two million pounds of Pepperoni every single year. That’s an awful lot of spicy sausage.

The vegan revolution might be in full swing and gaining more and more momentum by the day, but so far it hasn’t even managed to put a minor dent in America’s on-going love affair with Pepperoni.  

Making The Sausage

Both Salami and Pepperoni, as we’ve already mentioned, share a common manufacturing process that involves fermentation and air, or dry curing.

For the most part, a lot of the same ingredients are used, that is beef, pork, garlic, salt, fat, pepper, spices (and chilies for Pepperoni), and while the meat ingredient doesn’t vary all that much in America, in some parts of the world, the meat content can be drastically different.

For instance in France, some regions of the country include donkey meat in their Salami, so if you’re a little less adventurous and are planning on venturing overseas, it might be worth finding out what your Salami is made from before grabbing a knife and fork and getting stuck in. 

To make Salami and Pepperoni, the sausage creator minces the raw meat that is going to be used, mixes in the other ingredients, and then stuffs the mixture into a large sausage casing.

The next process is fermentation, during which the sausage was traditionally left to ferment for a number of days before being air-dried and left to cure.

Modern manufacturing methods usually involve hanging the sausage in warm, dry conditions to speed up the fermentation process, before moving it to a cooler environment to let the sausage slowly cure in air. 

Due to an increased awareness of the dangers involved in the fermentation and curing process, and the likelihood of bacteria that can cause botulism being produced, most modern manufacturers also add nitrites and other chemical preservatives to aid the curing process and prevent the production of any dangerous and life-threatening bacteria.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is salami called pepperoni?

Salami is a generic name for all types of salami and pepperoni refers to a specific type of salami. The term salami is used to describe any kind of cured meats and it was very popular back in ancient times as it would be an easy way to preserve meats for a long period when they didn’t have access to modern technologic appliances like refrigerators or freezers. 

The curing method of salami can also bring different flavors to the meat and you can find some extremely spicy salami but there are some that are more delicate and sweet.

Pepperoni is a very popular type of salami and is most commonly found as a well-loved topping on pizzas. Pepperoni means large pepper in Italian, but it’s made from pork and beef blended with various spices like chili, garlic, cayenne pepper, and other hot spices to give it a kick. Pepperoni is spicier than salami and also has a more fine-grained texture whereas salami is more chunky. 

However, salami is more versatile than pepperoni and can be used in cold and hot dishes, whereas pepperoni is most commonly only used to top pizzas. 

Can you substitute salami for pepperoni on pizza?

Yes, you can substitute salami for pepperoni on pizza but it will be less flavorsome so you might want to spend some time seasoning the salami before you put it on the pizza to cook. You could add some garlic or chipotle to the salami before you add it, but it will turn a strange color in the oven when it’s cooking as they burn quickly in the oven. The best option would be to marinade your salami in pepperoncini for 10 minutes before adding it to your pizza, or you could add the salami to some olive oil and various spaces to marinade overnight. 

Which Is Better - Pepperoni Or Salami? 

That’s the eternal question and one that’s open to endless debate.  Given the amount of Pepperoni that we consume on our pizza, it’s a fairly well-established fact that as far as the aforementioned, cheese topped delicacy is concerned,  Salami can’t hold a candle to Pepperoni.

It might taste just as good when layered on top of a smoking hot, deep-pan pizza, but Salami just doesn’t cut it the same way that Pepperoni does on a good slice of pizza.

That said, Salami is a far more versatile sausage than Pepperoni and has staked its place in the popular lexicon of American cuisine by becoming a staple of hot and cold deli sandwiches from one end of the country to the other.

And you won’t be able to walk into the kitchen of any Italian restaurant without discovering a wealth of dishes that Salami is used to prepare. 

And it isn’t just Italian cuisine that Salami is an indispensable part of as it has found a new celebrity in the cooking enclaves of craft breweries and the kitchens of bright young hip and happening things in every single city from the East Coast to the West.

Impressed by its versatility and adaptability, Salami has been discovered by an ever-growing army of devoted chefs and fans. 

And The Difference Is? 

Even though it’s not vastly different, the way that both sausages are prepared differs enough to create a veritable chasm between the two.

Pepperoni was purposely created to serve the new, younger tastes of a growing nation, while Salami was an old word delicacy that became part and parcel of our national diet because of the way our country was founded. As a multicultural melting pot of people and tastes. 

And while Salami is used as a catch-all term to describe the thousands of different national and regional cured and air-dried sausages, Pepperoni is, always has been and always will be an all American delicacy. We've also written about the difference between hard salami and genoa salami.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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