Everything you should know about smoked meat

Schwartz's - Smoked meat
Jason Lee

Jason Lee

This article was updated on July 13, 2023.

Montréal is an eater’s city, a true foodie destination. From poutine and steamies (steamed hot dogs) to haute cuisine featuring the finest products from the Québécois terroir, Montréal has something for everyone. But if there is one thing that has secured Montréal’s place on the world’s food map, it’s smoked meat!



What is Montréal Smoked Meat”? The exact history of it is shrouded in mystery and many stories exist on who was responsible in introducing it to Montréal. Of the various accounts of lineage, all point to to Jewish Diaspora from Romania or Eastern Europe. 

One account has a Benjamin Kravitz, founder of the historical Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant (closed in 2006) in 1910, as the first to make Montreal smoked meat. After fleeing Lithuanian in 1899 with his wife Fanny Shwartz they started serving smoked meat sandwiches out of their fruit and candy store located on St. Laurent Boulevard using a his own brisket-curing technique.


Schwartz's - Smoked meat


Another account has smoked meat originating from the historical Schwartzs Hebrew Delicatessen - touted to be the oldest deli in Canada, established in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz.

However, Montreal Historian Eiran Harris refutes both these claims. He credits a butcher by the name of Aaron Sanft (from Lasi, Romania) as being the grandfather of Montreal smoked meat. In 1884, he founded Montreal's first kosher butchershop and advertised,

“A. Sanft Kosher Meat — 560 Craig Street, Montreal’s largest butcher shop, clean and fresh meat daily. Manufacturer of salami, smoked meat, corned beef, smoked beef and sausages. Same quality as New York. Guaranteed not to spoil.”


Smoked meat


Montreal smoked meat is made with brisket. Traditionally the meat was dry-cured, rubbed with salt and spices then piled into barrels where they would marinate in their own juices for up to a month. Then, the meat was hung inside smoke houses and smoked for up to 10 hours.

Now, tradition has made way for more modern techniques where the marinating process is often cut down to only a few days thanks to nitrates and aromatic brines which include savoury spices like whole peppercorns, coriander, mustard seed, and garlic.

Not to be confused with New York style pastrami. Montréal smoked meat uses the entire brisket which includes that variable fatty parts of the muscle, pastrami uses the navel cut which is naturally leaner.


Snowdon Deli - Smoked meat, French fries, potatoes and salmon bagel


A traditional Montréal smoked meat sandwich is always piled high and served on rye bread. Made of brisket, different sections of the meat are either lean or fatty and when ordering your, you can specify which cut of meat you want:

  • "Lean" – Less flavourful, drier cut from the flat of the brisket
  • "Medium" -  The most popular cut from the middle of the brisket. Juicy slices of mixed lean and fattier pieces of the brisket, packed with flavor and moisture.
  • "Old-Fashioned" – Slices between medium and fat often cut a bit thicker.




Today the availability of Montréal smoked meat is not limited to delis and are found on menus around the city. From corner diners, chain restaurants and even fine-dining establishments, everyone has their version of this classic Montréal dish.


Here is some of the citys favourites:

Schwartzs Hebrew Delicatessen - 3895 Saint Laurent Boulevard

Lesters Deli - 1057 Bernard Avenue

Snowdon Deli - 5265 Decarie Blvd

Smoke Meat Pete  - 283 1st Street, L'Île-Perrot

Jarry Smoked Meat - 6549 Jarry Street East.

Le Roi du Smoked Meat – 6705 Saint-Hubert Street

Dunns Famous Delicatessen – Multiple locations

Reuben’s – 1116 Sainte-Catherine Street West

Chenoy’s Deli - 3616 Boul. Saint-Jean, Dollard-des-Ormeaux         

Delibee’s - 24 Av. de la Baie de Valois, Pointe-Claire




Served on rye with a schmear of yellow mustard is the classic way of enjoying a Montréal smoked meat sandwich. Other kinds of sandwiches made with Montréal smoked meat are plentiful on menus around the city, but you cannot tradition. Steamy slices of medium-fat juicy brisket piled high with a half-sour pickle and fries on the side with a tall glass of cherry cola. Whatever you do, dont ask for mayo.

Jason Lee

Jason Lee

Jason is a seasoned food writer and blogger with over 18 years of culinary adventures in Montréal. He’s a master at uncovering the city's hidden gems and transforming meals into captivating stories. Join him as he continues to explore and share Montréal’s vibrant food scene. 

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