HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


what is the difference between montreal smoked beef and pastrami?? [Moved from the Quebec Board]

  • m

or is there no difference??

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I may be wrong, but I think smoked meat is really a corned beef that's spiced, but with a different set of spices than pastrami. In my experience, smoked meat is leaner than pastrami and not as sharply spiced. It's a little more "ham" like.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Gary Soup

      It does seem it is the spicing that is different. Also, it is better known as "Montreal Smoked Meat". You will get a lot more Google hits on that. It seems that it will different depending on which of the seven best known markets that sell it.

      Here's the Wikipedia link with more info and mail-order sources:


      Sigh ... something new to add to my list of things to try ... and at least seven versions ... next time I'm in Montreal, a smoked meat crawl.

      1. re: rworange

        Sorry but any article that baldly claims smoked meat is "the Montreal style of corned beef" is immediately suspect. Corned beef is brined. All reliable sources I and other self-styled sleuths on Chowhound and that other board have been able to uncover say smoked meat is not corned but dry-rubbed and allowed to "marinate" in its own juices.

        1. re: carswell

          It was just one of the references that floated to the top of Google.

          The real point was searching for Montreal Smoked Meat gets over 19,000 hits. Montreal Smoked beef only gets 68.

          The New York Times says ...
          " Montreal smoked meat, a tender cross between corned beef and pastrami"

          1. re: rworange

            You can cite anonymous encyclopedia authors and glib Toronto-based reporters till you're blue in the face; people much closer to the source have stated that smoked meat is not corned. Find me a "it's corned" quote from the owner of, say, Schwartz's or Snowdon Deli or Pete's, and I'll head to Ben's and order a double smoked meat sandwich extra lean (talk about your grueling punishment) to eat along with my words.

            Am unsure I see the point about disproving "smoked beef." No one here uses the term. In fact, no one here refers to Montreal smoked meat, either. As far as Montrealers are concerned, there is no other, so the Montreal is redundant. No one will look askance if you call it smoke meat however.

            1. re: rworange

              As stated ... for the third time ... if someone really wants to know the difference and doesn't get a good answer here, then their best chance of finding info on the web or elsewhere is to look for 'meat' and not 'beef'.

              After all, at this point, I don't see an answer here. All wiki and the NY Times 'glib' reporter did was say the same thing as you said in your post further down in this thread. Your theory derived from sleuthing, may or may not be accurate.

              BTW, pastrami has its origins in Turkey, not Italy.

              1. re: rworange

                Re meat vs beef: I'd not noticed the OP's usage in the title of this thread. The point is now clear.

                >>I don't see an answer here.<<
                As hinted elsewhere in this thread, you should poke around that other Montreal board, the one the mods don't like us linking to. Am pretty sure some info that's closer to definitive than any other has been posted there, partly in response to a Gazette article of a few years back in which the owners or managers of Schwartz's were quoted as saying they "marinated" their briskets.

                >>All wiki and the NY Times 'glib' reporter did was say the same thing as you said in your post further down in this thread. Your theory derived from sleuthing, may or may not be accurate.<<
                Neither the wiki author(s) nor the glib Torontonian nor her notoriously lazy about fact-checking editors claim to have spoken to someone involved in the manufacturing process. Local sleuths have.

                >>BTW, pastrami has its origins in Turkey, not Italy.<<
                Agreed, my information from 2002-2003 was incorrect (proof of why you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet). Not Italy, though the English name *is* Italicized (by analogy with salami). Turkey is a dicier proposition. As far as I can tell, most socio-etymologists trace the word's roots back to Romanian, not Turkish. Probably not something we'll ever know with certainty.

                1. re: rworange

                  "...a Gazette article of a few years back in which the owners or managers of Schwartz's were quoted as saying they "marinated" their briskets."

                  You don't need to go to dusty Gazette archives for that claim.

                  "Schwartz's prepares smoked meat the old-fashioned way using a secret blend of fine herbs and spices marinated for 10 days." - www.schwartzsdeli.com

                  I have an acquaintance who should be willing to share some secrets. I don't see him often, but will try to remember to ask about whether or not marinating, brining, etc. are part of the traditional preparation next time I do.

                  Without that info, I'm with with those who say the "marinate" quote really means that the meat and spices are together for ten days, but not in the presence of brine. AFAIK, the best knowledge available to the public says that the meat is *cured* with the spices for real smoked meat, but brined/pickled in cheap mass-produced versions. That would make smoked meat and pastrami very close relatives, as I understand it.

              2. re: rworange

                I think I've mostly had it at Reubens because I usually arrive in late evening and stay downtown for one night (to catch a morning train), and Reubens is handy and open late. On the turnaround I usually am in town longer, but looking for something else. Montreal has so many wonderful places to try I've yet to make a smoked meat place a "destination" for a meal. But it definitely should be high on your list as a first-time thing.

            2. This much I know: it's not corned beef and it's related to but different from pastrami. Excuse the self-reference but here's a post from a couple of years ago:

              "Some aficionados (I don't place myself in that category) claim it's unique, a thing unto itself; others say it's a kind of cross between corned beef and pastrami. According to my information, it's not brined, which rules out a corned beef connection. I suspect it's very much like pastrami: rubbed with spices, dry-cured (no marinade) and smoked. The main difference would be the spice mixture. As I understand it, pastrami's roots are Italian and it is cured with a mixture of sweet and savoury spices. But the roots of smoked meat are in eastern Europe (some say Lithuania, some say Romania). Sweet spices (e.g. cinnamon, clove, cardamon) were expensive and so were saved for use in flavouring special occasion breads, pastries and desserts. My guess is that the smoked meat rub includes coriander, pepper, garlic and sugar. But let me reiterate that this is all conjecture. Maybe somebody who actually knows what they're talking about will reply... ;o)"

              Do a Quebec board search on pastrami for lots more discussion and not a lot more information.

              1 Reply
              1. re: carswell

                I'm willing to accept any knowledgeable account of how it's made, because I certainly don't know whereof I speak on this subject, myslef. I think the "corned beef" impression comes from the fact that the flavor, texture and color of the smoked meat is so uniform all the way through, and it's hard to imagine how that comes about from a dry rub.

              2. I just tried this last week and to me it tasted like smokier corned beef.

                1. Pastrami's roots are in Romania not Italy and it may be different but it doesn't taste that different.

                  1. The spices may be different, but what makes Montreal Smoked Meat Unique is that they use a different piece of meat to start off with.

                    Smoked meat uses a fattier and more tender piece than pastrami.

                    I've tried tracking the exact pieces, the information comes wiht an interview I saw on TV with the owners of the Main.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: ScoobySnacks20

                      Reliable sources, including the Schwartz's people, say both are made with brisket. Certainly most pastrami recipes call for that cut. And smoked meat is often referred to as smoked meat brisket. It also looks like brisket. If it ain't, I can't imagine what cut it is.

                      1. re: carswell

                        Pastrami can also be made with the plate cut(also known as "navel"). From what I gather pastrami is less heavily spiced than smoked meat. Some of the smoked meat establishments in Montreal that sell both old-fashioned smoked meat & regular smoked meat, do sometimes refer to their regular smoked meat as pastrami.

                        1. re: BLM

                          >>Pastrami can also be made with the plate cut (also known as "navel").<<
                          Am sure you're right. But isn't the default cut brisket? That's what I usually see in recipes.

                          >>From what I gather pastrami is less heavily spiced than smoked meat. Some of the smoked meat establishments in Montreal that sell both old-fashioned smoked meat & regular smoked meat, do sometimes refer to their regular smoked meat as pastrami.<<
                          Ooh, twisted. Can you name names? Do they refer to it informally or does the word pastrami actually appear on their menu?

                          1. re: carswell

                            Reuben's uses pastrami informally(I don't think they list it as pastrami on their menu). I've seen them use it in advertisments in publications aimed at tourists, & heard them use it at their restaurant. I'm talking about the Reuben's at the 888 St-Catherine Street West location. I definitely heard one or two other smoked meat establishments in Montreal use it(Snowdon Deli might have been one of the other ones, but I can't remember for certain).

                            1. re: carswell

                              >>Pastrami can also be made with the plate cut (also known as "navel").<<
                              Am sure you're right. But isn't the default cut brisket? That's what I usually see in recipes.

                              I'm pretty sure. There was a pastrami taste test of the NYC delis in the NY Times food section by Ed Levine 3 years ago(April 30/2003) & he mentioned that pastrami uses the plate cut(also known as belly or navel). However the brisket cut is also used for pastrami.

                              1. re: carswell

                                Pardon my ignorance, but isn't the navel/belly is a fattier part of the brisket?

                                1. re: welle

                                  Point and Deckle make up a double brisket. Plate is fattier and further down on the cow(Bacon)

                        2. Is their any place in Montreal, that sells authentic NY pastrami(or at least NY-style pastrami)? Conversely can you get Montreal smoked meat in NYC?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: BLM

                            Canadians refuse to eat pastrami, because it will force them to admit that "smoked meat," like those other Motreal "delicacies," poutine and bagels that get stale two hours after baking, are actually utterly overrated.

                            I get smoked meat cravings now and again and we have GREAT shipped-from-Montreal smoke meat in Calgary, but i would never, ever, ever, EVER take smoked meat over pastrami. No comparison, no contest.

                          2. I had smoked meat for the first time last month. It was fantastic, enough to make any deli lover jealous.

                            It tastes neither like corned beef or pastrami. Well, it tastes more like those items than it does grapefruit, but there is enough difference to make it difficult to compare. It is certainly less salty and spicy than most pastramis I know. It does not remind me at all of conerd beef in taste, texture or anything.

                            The packaged stuff in the supermarkets is like comparing spam to honey baked ham.

                            I'm not sure what the true origin of pastrami is, but I can tell you I have never had a Turkish pasturma that tasted anything like a good deli pastrami.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Steve

                              Where did you eat your smoked meat? Was it old-fashioned or the regular smoked meat? I asked because, you state the smoked meat was less salty & spicy(by that I suspect you ate regular smoked meat).

                              1. re: BLM

                                Dunn's. Since I was a novice, I didn't know to ask for old-fashioned or regular. Is one considered better?

                                1. re: Steve

                                  Old-fashioned & get it medium-fat.

                            2. To answer welle, navel/belly(plate) cut is technically considered a part of the brisket(like a subset of brisket).

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: BLM

                                Thank you. Just wanted to add my .2: I live in NYC and have had Schwartz's when visited Montreal. I could not see a big apparent difference of their meat from pastrami in NY (like one you see in bagels), but I liked the way you could choose 'lean, medium or fat' cut of meat and prices were much better than in NY!

                                1. re: welle

                                  Even within the brisket, you get two sections(one is lean, while the other side is the fatty section). In Montreal, we can even be more specific than 'lean, medium or fat.' I always order mine medium-fat. It's possible because smoked meat in Montreal is cut by hand(to get medium-fat the cutter might use 2 briskets to make a medium-fat smoked meat sandwich). In NYC, only Katz's Deli cuts their pastrami by hand.

                              2. A whole or double brisket is comprised of two sections, the Point and Deckle with a lovely layer fat between them. The Plate is just behind the brisket and is marbled like bacon.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: thomasevan

                                  The "point" and the "deckle" are the same thing, also called "second cut". The "flat" is the other part of the brisket, also called "first cut".

                                2. I was always under the impression that Montreal Meat was made with brisket and real NY pastrami was made with plate. MM is also almost always barrel cured, while pastrami is sometimes wet cured.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jonlabo

                                    Curing of Corned beef or Pastrami is essentially the same. Pastrami is them coated with coriander. black pepper, and allspice, then smoked, and finished by steaming 3 hrs.

                                  2. Search no more!

                                    The difference between smoked meat and pastrami is:

                                    smoked meat is smoked beef with spices and usually more fat than pastrami
                                    pastrami is much leaner, and is marinated in "saumur" (used also for sauekraut) with spices

                                    1. is it possible to find pastrami or smoked meat in Bordeaux, France? I've tried every where on the net with no results. I have my brother bring me a vaccuum packed whole slab from Lester's in Montreal whenever he comes over for his business trips!

                                      thanks for any hints

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: girondins

                                        You might have better luck finding similar meats from countries within the EU. Romanian pastrama is very good, and is the closest European product to the pastrami of a New York deli. Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary all have a similar traditional deli meat, but you'd have to dig for the names because I don't know them. The Baltic States or one of the other Eastern EU states might also be a source, but I'm not sure of that.