Some background on Montreal Smoked Meat:

One of the most talked about deli sandwich meats in the world - Montreal Smoked Meat - is similar to Pastrami & corned beef, but has a unique flavor and taste that people world-wide crave.

The best cooked Montreal Smoked Meat is very tender, there should be no "chewiness" at all.  It will taste less spicy than pastrami and slightly sweeter and should be pinkish in color (a consequence of the nitrate to nitrite conversion that occurs in the curing process).

Those unfamiliar with Montreal Smoked Meat have the misconception that the meat is truly "smoked" - this is of course completely incorrect as Montreal Smoked Meat has no resemblance to a traditional smoked meat.  In fact the only smoking is from the fat that tends to smoke during the baking process - no different from your standard roast beef dinner.

The meat used is beef brisket streaked (or marbled) with fat. Most of the beef used is imported from Alberta.

The preparation of the meat is a well kept secret, but the basic procedure involves wet-curing & infusing the meat with hand selected spices followed by hand rubbing with crushed peppercorns, a variety of spices (bay leaves, garlic, chili powder & coriander to name a few).  The meat gets packed into oak barrels that are put into refrigerators and allowed to cure for a specific amount of time.  Schwartz's is known to marinate their brisket for around 10 days, contributing to the extreme tenderness and flavor of their briskets.  After curing, the meat is baked for around 4 hours (this is the "smoking process - obviously a misnomer).  The meat then gets removed from the oven and sprayed with colder water to halt the cooking process.  Last, the meat is vacuum sealed to preserve freshness.

The best Montreal Smoked Meat has good, even marbling throughout as it is the fat that is responsible for producing the flavor and maintaining tenderness.  Smoked meat from Lester's is perfectly marbled (Lester's Smoked Meat is used exclusively at Reez's Diners).

There are only a few restaurants on the West Coast that use true Montreal Smoked Meat.  Phat's in Vancouver Yaletown and Reez's in Summerland most notably.

Typically, these restaurants in B.C. and in Montreal will steam a whole brisket for around 1 1/2 hours to warm it up again prior to serving.  The steaming process is simply for warming the meat, it is not meant to make the meat moist (the moistness of the meat is mostly related to the degree of marbling and the curing process used).  Over-heating will actually just dry out the meat!

The meat is then sliced very thinly against the grain (a process which also slightly improves tenderness) and served on a selected rye bread.

The meat is then piled between the bread.  The amount of meat used varies greatly, but the good Smoked Meat Diners typically pile up around 2-3 cm of meat.   A kosher dill pickle is almost always served on the side (in keeping with tradition).  Some Montreal Smoked Meat purists insist that the only correct beverage to go with it is a Cherry Coke.

The major delis selling authentic Montreal Smoked Meat
  • Lester's (Bernard Street West)
  • Schwartz’s (actual name "The Montréal Hebrew Delicatessen", on rue Saint-Laurent).  Many consider Schwartz's to be the best.
  • Dunn’s (4 locations as of 2006, downtown one located on rue Metcalfe.) 
  • Ben's (corner of rue Metcalfe and de Maisonneuve)
  • Main (rue Saint-Laurent)
  • Benny's (Victoria Avenue near Van Horne)
  • Snowdon Deli (Snowdon area of Montreal
  • Decarie (near Queen Mary)
  • Reuben's
History Notes for Montreal Smoked Meat
Smoked Meat was born out of the once-large Montréal Jewish community. Ben's claims to have been the first to served Montreal Smoked Meat. As they opened in 1908, well before any of their competitors (Dunn’s Famous opened in 1927; Schwartz's opened in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz), they may have a solid claim.