Montreal-style smoked meat

Montreal-style smoked meat
Schwartz smoked meat montreal.JPG
Montreal-style smoked meat from Schwartz's in Montreal
Place of origin Canada
Region or state Montreal, Quebec
Creator(s) Disputed - various Jewish delis in the city
Dish details
Course served Main course
Main ingredient(s) Smoked meat, mustard, and rye bread

Montreal-style smoked meat, Montreal smoked meat or simply smoked meat in Montreal (French: viande fumée or du smoked meat), is a type of kosher-style deli meat product made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. The brisket is allowed to absorb the flavours over a week, and is then hot smoked to cook through, and finally steamed to completion.

Although the preparation methods may be similar, Montreal smoked meat is cured in seasoning with more cracked peppercorns and aromatic spices, such as coriander, and significantly less sugar than New York pastrami.[1] The meat is typically served in the form of a rye bread sandwich slathered with mustard. While some Montreal smoked meat is brine-cured like corned beef, with spices applied later, many smoked meat establishments prefer dry-curing directly with salt and spices.



The origins of Montreal smoked meat is uncertain and likely unresolvable. However, many have laid claims to the creation or introduction of smoked meat into Montreal. Regardless, all of these stories indicate the creators are of the Jewish Diaspora from Romania or Eastern Europe:

  • Some point to Ben Kravitz, who founded Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant in 1910, as the introducer of Montreal smoked meat. According to the Kravitz family, he used a brisket-curing method he recalled being practised by Lithuanian farmers. His first smoked meat sandwiches were made and sold from his wife's fruit and candy store.[1]
  • According to Eiran Harris, a Montreal historian, Herman Rees Roth from New York may have created the first smoked meat sandwich in 1908, selling them from his deli, the British American Delicatessen Store.[1]
  • In another claim by Bill Brownstein, the smoked meat was brought over in 1902 by Itzak Rudman, who was an accomplished salami and smoked meat maker selling his wares on Buillon Street (formerly Cadieux Street).[2]
  • In yet another possibility, a butcher by the name of Aaron Sanft who arrived from Iași, Romania in 1884 founded Montreal's first kosher butchershop and likely made smoked meat in the Romanian style similar to pastırma.[3]


Warm Montreal smoked meat is always sliced by hand to maintain its form, since doing so with a meat slicer would cause the tender meat to disintegrate. Whole briskets are kept steaming and sliced up on demand when ordered in the restaurant to maintain its temperature. Unspecialized restaurants outside Montreal typically do not have the volume of smoked meat customers to justify this practice, and usually only have cold presliced meat on hand, reheated when a customer orders one sandwich. Good delis in Canada pride themselves in serving traditional smoked meat - cured, smoked and sliced by hand. The meat should be around 3 mm thick, cut slightly on a bias, and across the grain of the brisket.

Even when hand-cut, Montreal smoked meat produces a lot of broken bits when sliced. These pieces are gathered together and commonly served with French fries, cheese curds, and gravy as smoked meat poutine.

Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches are built with seedless rye bread and piled with hand-sliced smoked meat about 2 inches high with yellow prepared mustard. The customer can specify the amount of fat in the smoked meat:

  • "Lean": The lean and less flavourful end. Healthful but dry.
  • "Medium" and "medium fat": The most popular cuts from the middle of the brisket. Occasionally, a sliced mix of lean and fat meats. Preferred by the renowned Canadian writer Mordecai Richler.
  • "Old-Fashioned": Basically the cut which is in between Medium and Fatty and often cut a bit thicker.
  • "Fat": From the fat end of the brisket. Fires the fat taste receptors, but may be an acquired taste.
  • "Speck": Consists solely of the spiced subcutaneous fat from the whole brisket without meat. An attributed cause of death for some of its connoisseurs.[1]

Cultural identity

Along with bagels, smoked meat has been popular in Montreal since the 19th century, and has taken such strong root in that city, many Montrealers, and even many non-Montrealers, identify it as emblematic of the city's cuisine. The location is also a veritable melting pot for Montreal where all cultures converge and people of disparate classes share tables when eating.[2] Current and former residents and tourists make a point of visiting Montreal's best-known smoked meat establishments, even taking whole briskets away as take-out. So loved is smoked meat by native Montrealers that renowned Montreal writer Mordecai Richler once jokingly described its flavour from Schwartz's in his novel Barney's Version, as a "maddening aphrodisiac" to be bottled and copyrighted as "Nectar of Judea". [4]

Despite the food's origins in, and association with, Montreal's Jewish community, and contrary to what is sometimes asserted, these delis are not certified as kosher.[1]


Smoked meat is offered in many diners and fast food restaurant chains throughout Montreal, Quebec, and Canada.[5] Smoked meat has become popularized beyond its Jewish origins into the general population of Quebec, where smoked meat has been integrated into popular dishes, such as, smoked meat poutine or Québécois-style pizza.

Two of Montreal's best known smoked meat delis include:

Some notable establishments in the Montreal area that produce or serve smoked meat include:

  • Abie's Smoked Meat
  • Casino de Montreal
  • Chenoy's
  • Dunn's, since 1927
  • Georges Smoke Meat
  • Jay C's Express
  • Jarry Smoked Meat
  • Lester's Deli (note: unrelated to Lester's Foods Ltd.)
  • Main Deli
  • Pete's Smoke Meat (note spelling variant)
  • Reuben's Deli
  • St-Laurent Deli
  • Snowdon Deli

Smoked meat can similarly be found in the Toronto area:

  • Caplansky's Deli
  • Centre Street Deli
  • Moe Pancer's Delicatessen
  • Shopsy's of Toronto, 1921
  • Druxy's

Similarly, smoked meat can be found as far afield as Burlington, Vermont and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Many smoked meat connoisseurs claim it cannot be obtained in its tastiest, or most authentic form, outside of Montreal. Several restaurateurs have offered to franchise Schwartz's in cities across North America. Its owners, however, have always refused, but do deliver by mail order. Schwartz's also caters worldwide, but the cost of transporting the smoked meat and flying a counterman to serve at the catered located must be included in the catering.[2]

The largest commercial producer of Montreal-style smoked meat is Lesters Foods Limited, which had its origins as a Jewish delicatessen in 1931 on the historic Saint Laurent Boulevard, also known as "the Main". Lesters Foods supplies Montreal smoked meat to many restaurants, delis and grocery stores throughout Canada. Montreal-style smoked meat can be found in the US, as Lesters does supply delicatessens in some US cities.[1]

Montreal smoked meat can also now be purchased in Brooklyn, New York from Mile End deli, which was opened and is run by a Montreal native.[6]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Sax, David (2010-10-01), Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen, Mariner Books, ISBN 0547386443 
  2. ^ a b c Browstein, Bill (2006), Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story, Vehicule Press, ISBN 978-1-55065-212-3 
  3. ^ Rabinovitch, Lara (2009), "Montreal-Style Smoked Meat:An interview with Eiran Harris conducted by Lara Rabinovitch, with the cooperation of the Jewish Public Library Archives of Montreal", Cuizine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures / Cuizine : revue des cultures culinaires au Canada 1 (2), 
  4. ^ Richler, Mordecai (1999-03-01), Barney's Version, Washington Square Press, ISBN 978-0671028466  "You know if you had really, really been intent on entrapping me on my wedding night, you wicked woman, you would not have dabbed yourself with Joy, but in Essence of Smoked Meat. A maddening aphrodisiac, made from spices available in Schwartz's delicatessen. I'd call it Nectar of Judea and copyright the name."
  5. ^
  6. ^ Newman, Andy (February 24, 2010). "Montreal Bagels, Now South of the Border". The Montreal Gazette. Canwest News. Retrieved October 12, 2010. 

External links

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