Montreal Smoked Meat is a Canadian favourite... and it's something you can make at home. A little bit of effort, for a fantastic result!
Originally posted April 27, 2021, Updated on 5/15/2023.
That said, “viande fumée” is also popular in various other areas of Canada, whether as a locally-made product or shipped in directly from Montreal.
You can buy thinly sliced Montreal style smoked meat prepacked as deli meat, and you can buy it freshly sliced at most grocery store deli counters.
In some places, you can go to a deli or other family-run diner and order an amazing sandwich, piled high with thickly sliced smoked meat.
Oh, and you can often see it as an add-on option at poutineries!
.. But it’s incredibly hard to come by in the USA.
So, when I was living down there... obviously I had to figure out how to make it at home!
Who Invented Smoked Meat?
One way or the other, we can thank Eastern European Jewish immigrants for what’s been referred to as “Montreal’s answer to New York pastrami”.
Aaron Sanft, Benjamin Kravitz, and Reuben Schwartz have all been credited with either inventing or popularizing this type of deli meat.
In addition to being known for some of the best smoked meat sandwiches, Schwartz’s Jewish deli has been specifically credited for popularizing Montreal Steak Spice.
Legend has it that back in the 40s or 50s, one of their employees started using their pickling spice when cooking his own steaks.
Schwartz's Deli is a particularly popular spot to this day, routinely seeing long lines for their smoked-meat sandwiches.
Fun fact: Celine Dion has been a part owner of Schwartz's Deli for more than a decade..
Lester's Deli and Main Deli are other popular destination for hot sandwiches, stacked with juicy smoked meat.
Smoked Meat vs Pastrami
Make no mistake, this is NOT pastrami. It’s not corned beef, either.
The cut of beef used is different: Pastrami is Beef Navel. Smoked Meat is made from Beef Brisket.
The technique is a bit different, with smoked meat being cured, soaked, smoked, and steamed - a bit more involved than pastrami.
IMHO, the biggest difference is in the cure: Montreal Smoked Meat uses less sugar and is a dry cure, where pastrami is generally brined.
... and, finally, and the rub is specifically Montreal Steak Spice*.
*Sort of. Montreal Steak Spice is the dry rub used for smoked meat... but with salt added. When making the double batch of Steak Spice for this recipe, you'll omit the salt entirely!
Note: Smoked meat came first, then eventually the spices used to make it were marketed as their own thing!
For the most part, this Montreal smoked meat recipe uses fairly basic ingredients. With one possible exception, they should be easy to find in any larger grocery store.
A few notes for you:
You’ll want to start out with the proper cut of meat: A whole beef brisket - usually between 12-16 lbs.
Because this is a *project*, I recommend starting with a high quality meat.
If you can get your hands on an aged Canadian beef brisket, go for it!
Between the cure and the spice rub, you’ll be using a bit of a laundry list of different spices:
Beyond the spices, you’ll need some Granulated sugar and salt.
Like.. A lot of salt.
This bright pink salt is commonly used in cured meats, and is what brings the vibrant pink color to this homemade smoked meat.
Note: this is NOT the same thing as Himalayan pink salt! Prague cure is only to be used in small amounts for brining, and should never be consumed as-is.
Wood for Smoking
Whether you use wood chunks / chips or pellets will depend on the smoker you use.
I recommend using a fairly neutral, light tasting wood smoke for making homemade Montreal smoked meat. A heavy hickory taste would NOT taste right.
I’ll usually go with maple, as it just feels more on-theme!
So, what are you going to do with that pile of delicious smoked meat? A couple ideas for you:
Traditional Smoked Meat Sandwich
Start with some good rye bread, slather it with some yellow mustard, and pile it HIGH with hand carved smoked meat.
Serve a dill pickle on the side, and you’re good to go!
IMHO, if you have room to eat a side dish, someone skimped on the sandwich. That said, fries or chips are pretty standard accompaniments.
Smoked Meat Poutine
Start out with my Authentic Canadian Poutine Recipe - Fries, poutine sauce, and cheese curds.
Top if off with a generous serving of chopped Montreal smoked meat.
Want even more smoke flavour?
Start your poutine off with a batch of my Smoked French Fries.
How to Make Montreal Smoked Meat
This is a bit of an undertaking to do - you’re dealing with a whole brisket, that you’ll trim, cure, soak, smoke, and finally steam.
In the end, it’s worth it!
The full recipe is in the recipe card at the end of this post, here’s a more visual walk through.
Cure the Meat
In a large bowl, mix cure ingredients. Rub cure over the entire brisket.
Place brisket in an extra-large resealable plastic bag.
I like to cut the brisket in half and use Slow Cooker Liner bags - seal well, and place in a large container.
Place in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Flip brisket at least once - ideally twice - per day, for 10 days.
Soak the Meat
On the morning of the 11th day, thoroughly rinse the brisket off under cold running water.
Soak it in clean, cold water for 3 hours, changing the water every 30 minutes. Once soaking is done, pat dry with paper towels.
Smoke the Meat
Coat the entire brisket with Montreal Steak Spice - 2 batches, but OMIT THE SALT! This is important.
This will take about 7-8 hours.
Steam the Smoked Meat
Set up a large roasting pan with a V rack (like you’d use to roast a turkey). Add an inch or two of water to the pan, before you transfer brisket to the rack.
Tightly cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil, set the pan to span two burners on your stove top, if it fits.
Bring water to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium-low - a simmer - and steam brisket for 3 hours.
Listen well to it- you want the water to keep at a nice simmer, without being a rolling boil, the whole time.
As water vapourizes, add more hot water to keep it going.
As you near the 3 hour mark, insert a meat thermometer / instant read thermometer into the thickest spot. You’ll want the meat to reach 180 F (82 C).
Carefully re-foil the whole thing, trying seal steam in.
Serving Montreal Smoked Meat
Once the meat reaches the proper temperature, remove from heat, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Slice rested meat as thinly or thickly as you like. Best served as a sandwich with rye bread, with plenty of mustard.
Freezing Montreal Smoked Meat
If you’d like to freeze a portion of smoked meat, wrap tightly in plastic wrap before placing in a freezer bag and vacuum sealing it.
If you do not have a vacuum sealer, be sure to squeeze out as much air as possible.
Freeze for up to 3 months.
This recipe is one of many fantastic Canadian recipes in my cookbook, "More Than Poutine: Favourite Foods from my Home and Native Land”. "More than Poutine" is a Canadian cookbook like no other - written by a Canadian living away, it includes both traditional home cooking recipes, as well as accurate homemade versions of many of the snacks, sauces, convenience foods, and other food items that are hard to come by outside of Canada! Order your copy through Amazon, or through any major bookseller!
More Grilling & Smoker Recipes!
Looking for an excuse to fire up the grill? I've got you...
Apple Chicken Burgers with Basil & Gouda
Smoked Cheese Balls
Smoked Chicken Breast
Cold Smoked Potato Salad
Smoked Chicken Salad
Cold Smoked Mayo
Crispy Smoked Chicken Wings
Crunchy Smoked Bacon
Fajita Chicken Kebabs
Smoked French Fries
Grilled Jambalaya Skewers
Smoked Jalapeno Poppers
Hop Marinated Chicken & Vegetable Skewers
Hoppy IPA BBQ Sauce
How to Cook Corn on the Cob
Montreal Steak Spice & Marinade
Moroccan Spiced Lamb Burgers
Replica Diana Sauce
Smoked Mac and Cheese
Spinach Feta Salmon Burgers
Tandoori Spiced Chicken Burgers with Mango
Vegetarian Chorizo Burgers with Grilled Poblano & Cilantro Pesto
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Authentic Montreal Smoked Meat Recipe
- 1 Whole Brisket with fat trimmed to ¼" 12-16 lbs / 5 ½ - 7 ¼ kg 12-16 lbs / 5 ½ - 7 ¼ kg
- 1 ¼ cup Salt
- 1 tablespoon Prague Powder
- ¼ cup Coarse ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoon Ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon Granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon Ground bay leaves
- 1 ½ teaspoon Ground cloves
- 2 batches Montreal Steak Spice but OMIT THE SALT.
- In a large bowl, mix cure ingredients. Rub cure over entire brisket.
- Place brisket in a very large plastic bag, seal well, and place in a large container, in fridge. Flip brisket at least once - ideally twice - per day, for 10 days.
- On the morning of the 11th day, thoroughly rinse the brisket off.
- Soak it in clean water for 3 hours, changing the water every 30 minutes. Once soaking is done, pat dry with paper towels.
- Coat entire brisket with Montreal Steak Spice - again, omit the salt! This is important.
- Hot smoke the with your choice of wood chips (We like applewood or maple for this) at 225 F (107 C), fat size up, until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F (74 C). This will take about 7-8 hours.
- Set up a large roasting pan with a V rack (like you’d use to roast a turkey). Add an inch or two of water to the pan, before placing the smoked brisket in the rack.
- Tightly cover top of pan with foil, set pan to span two burners on your stove top, if it fits.
- Bring water to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium-low and simmer for 3 hours.
- Listen well to it- you want the water to keep at a nice simmer, without being a rolling boil, the whole time.
- As water vapourizes, add more hot water to keep it going.
- As you near the 3 hour mark, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest spot. You’ll want the meat to reach 180 F (82 C). Carefully re-foil the whole thing, trying seal steam in.
- Once the meat reaches the proper temperature, remove from heat, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Slice rested meat as thinly or thickly as you like. Best served as a sandwich with rye bread, with plenty of mustard.
- Chill any leftover meat, eat within a week or so.