New York Pastrami vs. Montreal Smoked Meat

New York Style Pastrami
Traditional New York style Pastrami is made from the navel end of the beef brisket. This cut is also referred to as steer bacon. Pastrami, like BBQ brisket, was created as a method for preserving meat before modern refrigeration. Pastrami, strictly speaking, is not a kind of meat. It's a process of preserving meat that involves curing the meat in a brine, seasoning it with a mix of various herbs and spices, smoking it and, finally, steaming it until the connecting tissues within the meat break down into gelatin's. Pastrami comes in two flavors, "old fashioned" which is a process where the meat is naturally aged or cured and "regular" a process whereby additives are used to age the meat.

Some famous Pastrami deli shops in New York include Carnegie Deli, Katz's Deli, Zabar's Cafe, 2nd Ave Deli, Arties Deli, Ben's Delicatessen, Stage Deli.

Montreal Style Smoked Meat
Montreal deli smoked meat has been a style of preparing brisket practiced in Montreal since 1920's, and has taken such strong root in that city and around the world that many identify it as emblematic of the city's cuisine. Montreal style Smoked Meat, is prepared similar to New York style Pastrami, however there are some unique differences in taste and texture based on the cut of brisket used, the ingredients used in the spice rubs and in the curing-cooking process. Even amongst Montreal delis the taste and texture of the Smoked Meat differs slightly based on the secret spice recipes used and the slight variances in preparation practiced by each individual deli.

Some famous deli shops in Montreal include Schwartz's, Lester's, Reuben's, Dunn's, Chenoy's, Pete's Smoked Meat.

The Sandwich

Classic New York style Pastrami or Montreal style Smoked Meat sandwiches are usually composed of hot pastrami or smoked meat right out of the steamer, sliced and layered on Jewish-style rye bread. A classic New York or Montreal deli sandwich (Pastrami or Smoked Meat on Rye), is almost always dressed with a quality yellow mustard and can be accompanied by one or more of the following; sour pickles, pickled peppers, coleslaw, french fries.

Lean, Medium or Fatty ?
Order your pastrami or smoked meat sandwich medium for best balance of taste and moisture.

Hand or Machine Sliced
Pastrami or smoked meat is always sliced by hand in order to maintain its temperature. Since it is so popular, whole briskets are kept steaming and sliced up on demand. Most restaurants outside of New York and Montreal do not have the volume of pastrami-smoked meat customers to justify this practice, and usually only have cold pre-sliced meat on hand, and re-heated when a customer orders one sandwich. That negatively affects the taste and texture of the meat.

Deli Preparation
The Cut
Both pastrami and smoked meat come from a well marbled prime or choice cut of beef brisket, a long cut of fat and muscle stretching from a cows foreleg to its underbelly. Closer to the leg, the meat is tougher, but at the other end, the “navel,” it's fattier and juicier. Traditional New York style pastrami uses the navel cut whereas Montreal delis often use the midpoint between the extremes of fat and muscle.

The Process
Pastrami is wet-cured in brine for 1-2 days, rubbed-seasoned with spices and marinaded for 3-4 days, smoke-cooked for 3-5 hours then steamed for 2-3 hours before serving.

Montreal smoked meat is wet-cured in brine for 1-2 days, rubbed in seasonings and marinaded for 8-10 days, smoke-cooked for 6-8 hours, then steamed for 2-3 hours. Typically Montreal smoked meat delis marinade and smoke longer than pastrami delis.

The Spices & Smoke
Professional pastrami and smoked meat dealers will not reveal their full recipes, but most of the added flavour comes from a mix of a few basic ingredients; course ground coriander seeds, crushed black peppercorns, garlic powder, bay leaves, chili powder and brown sugar. These ingredients differ slightly in pastrami and smoke meat recipes.

Montreal smoked meat tends to be milder, sweeter, less spicy, but more peppery then pastrami. Pastrami tends to have a bolder, meatier, smokier taste. The crust or bark of NY style pastrami tends to be darker in colour then Montreal style smoked meat which gives pastrami a sharper flavour. Of course taste is subjective.

Serving & Slicing
Pastrami and Smoked Meat is steamed for 2-4 hours before slicing. The meat is always served warm and soft. Purists insist the slicing should always be done by hand, not by machine.

A classic New York Pastrami or Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich is usually served with one or more of the following; sweet or sour pickles, pickled peppers, coleslaw, french fries, yellow mustard and/or Russian dressing.

How to Order
When ordering a Pastrami or Smoked Meat Sandwich your server will ask you if you want your meat lean, medium or fatty. The answer to this question depends on your preference however any deli professional will tell you to order your meat medium which gives you just enough lean and fat meat to balance both flavour and moisture.

Pastrami-Smoked Meat Recipe

The exact recipe and processes for classic deli made New York style Pastrami or Montreal style Smoked Meat from a Deli are not fully known to the public and are kept secret for obvious reasons. The following is a guideline that can be used by anybody to get you close to the same quality of your favourite deli. Remember, practice and experimentation are the keys to success.

* Start with a Prime or Choice cut of brisket heavily marbled with fat.

* Injected and or cover with a brine made up of water, salt or potassium nitrate (saltpeter) and spices (salt, pepper, garlic)

* Store in a container in refrigerator for 2-3 days to absorb the brine and spices
(The brine preserves the meat, adds huge flavour and gives it its rosy colour)

* Once brined, partly dry the meat then rub with your own secret mix of various herbs & spices. ( kosher salt, brown sugar, garlic powder, chili pepper, coriander seeds, crushed black & white peppercorns, paprika, cloves, allspice, bay leaves, mustard seed...)

* Once rubbed the briskets are put back in in containers and refrigerated to marinade and cure for another 4-10 days.

* Now cured and marinaded the briskets are placed in a smoker-oven for 4-8 hours.
* Cook @ 220-240F (1.5 hours/pound) until brisket reach internal temperature of 175F.

* Before serving, the brisket is placed in a steamer for 2-4 hours.
This last step helps to further break down the fibers and tenderize the meat while bringing out the falvours and adding to its moisture.


* Cool down in ice box to stop cooking. Can be stored in refrigerator for several days.

* Pastrami or Smoked Meat is best carved by hand and against the grain.

Tip: As with everything you smoke and any recipe you try you should write down everything you did, what mix of ingredients in the rub you used, how long you marinaded and what wood you used for smoke. Then try the pastrami to see how you like it. Too peppery? Not enough smoke? These are all factors you can adjust next time.

Pastrami - Smoked Meat Rub
* 4 tablespoons kosher salt
* 4 tablespoons paprika
* 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
* 3 tablespoons brown sugar
* 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
* 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
* 1 tablespoon white peppercorns
* 8 cloves garlic, minced