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Aug 30, 2008 11:11 PM

Making Montreal smoked meat (split from Ontario board)

On a somewhat related topic,

Can someone tell me what the exact cut of meat this is made from?

I'm an avid at-home smoker who loves doing things like ribs, chicken, etc. in my home setup and wouldn't mind experimenting with some brisket or whatever this is. Not even to try and replicate the Caplansky's or even Montreal Smoked meat flavor, but just to make some tasty at-home sandwiches that I can honestly say I made entirely myself

Would be a fun venture to try; but I don't think I've ever seen a cut simply called "brisket" in my local supermarket or at the butchers I visit.. I guess some technical background on the cut would be great

Thanks in advance :)

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  1. Duckdown: I'm going to tell you what I know, and Embee is going to have to fill in the 90% that I miss. You're going to have to go to a specialty Jewish butcher shop and you may have to 'special order' it. It would be easy if you told him you want to make home made smoked meat, he will be very familiar with the cut that you're looking for. One suggestion that I could make is you're well off to get a nicely marbled flat so you will have fat melting throughout the meat while it smokes. That's the way I buy my rib steaks (same concept).

    I've never made it myself, however, my cousin used to make home-made corned beef - he mostly boiled and steamed the brisket in a brine solution (tons of peppercorns, spices, seasonings and a sh*tload of dill). For homemade, he did a decent job, but "miles and miles" away from a Schwartz sandwich - lol !!! It actually almost tasted exactly like Pancer's corned beef - that's how I know that their's is home-made.

    I know that embee makes his own pastrami, so he could probably even tell you the shop where he gets the meat. Plus he can fill you in on his tips. I hope my 10% helped.

    2 Replies
    1. re: montrealer70

      Hrm, see I was thinking of a preperation where the beef would be brined or marinated, then pulled, dried off, heavily rubbed with a modified peppercorn base (or whatever bold flavors you prefer) and then smoked with a choice of wood (maybe hickory and oak?) until nice and pink and tasty

      Like I said I wasnt neccessarily trying to mimic the montreal smoked meat but I think a very tasty sandwich would be achievable if I just knew the kind of cut to ask for.

      I don't know why a jewish butcher would have a piece of the cow that European Meats or Bruno's or Highland Farms etc. wouldn't have

      Thank you for the information so far though, looks like there is some potential here

      1. re: duckdown

        dd, you can definitely get a double brisket from European Meats--I think that's the only way they sell it. We've always enjoyed it from there, whether I cook it in the oven, or smoke it in my Weber kettle

    2. The cut is, indeed, brisket. Toronto supermarkets generally don't sell briskets. You will find brisket at some supermarkets in Jewish neighbourhoods at at some Asian (mainly Chinese) supermarkets. However, these are usually :"single" briskets, sometimes called "flats" or "first cut". You do NOT want one.

      You want a "double brisket", which has two layers separated by fat. There is a fat cap on top, a "deckle" layer (which has much collagen and marbling), another fat layer (which varies in thickness and sometimes contains some rubbery stuff ), and the flat layer at the bottom.

      A typical retail double brisket weighs 6-8 pounds. A whole brisket (called a packer) is the most desirable format, but these weigh 16-20 pounds and probably won't fit your smoker or oven. Cooked in the typical Jewish fashion, as a pot roast or oven braise, a brisket will lose about half its weight in cooking. However, low and slow smoking causes much less shrinkage.

      I don't know exactly where you live. You will find decent briskets at Nortown Foods (three locations) and at most kosher butchers. Costco carries them, at least in Jewish areas, but tends to have only flats in the GTA.

      Cumbrae's (at least the one on Bayview) has great ones, though you will pay a bit more (probably about $6/lb). Ask for the head butcher and explain what you want to do. He will trim it properly. The counter staff won't understand what you want. You can request prime or, if there isn't any prime in stock, one with maximum marbling.

      A southern style barbecue brisket is so easy that I don't understand why restaurants can't seem to do it well. Rub any spice rub you enjoy generously on all sides of the meat. Ted Reader's Bone Dust is good (available at some stores, but free recipe on his website). Bonnie Stern also has a good rub. However, even salt and pepper will do.

      Let it sit for a few hours at room temperature. I smoke with mainly oak and some hickory. I put a probe in the meat, put in a full water pan, set the smoker to 210 F, and leave it there until the meat hits about 195. Be sure the deckle is at the top.

      It takes a long time - 12 - 16 hours from a room temp start. The temperature rise will stall for a couple of hours at a time. Add wood as needed. You can stop adding wood after about 4 hours, though smoke flavour intensity will increase if you keep adding more. Go easy on the hickory and don't ever use mesquite.

      You will end up with succulent meat (especially from the top section) and smoky drippings that you can use wherever you might use bacon fat. Slice it before it cools, always against the grain. It's easier if you divide the meat into smaller sections first. The grain direction will change as you cut. Some shredding is inevitable.

      (I can't help you with heat and refueling specifics if you use charcoal, but all else remains the same. Charcoal will give you a "smoke ring:, but this adds nothing to taste.)

      For a deli brisket (pastrami/smoked meat), things get much more complicated. You need precise amounts of a curing agent ("pink salt" or Morton's Tender Quick). Don't omit this. It won't kill you - at least not quickly :-) - and it won't taste right without it. Don't use saltpeter from the drug store. You need things like salt and sugar appropriate for the curing agent you choose. In short, you'll need to do some research. You'll need a spice formula, which is the magic. My isn't even close to Caplansky's or Schwartz.

      A dry cure takes 2-3 weeks in the fridge in a ziploc bag, turned every day. Thickness is the main issue. At some point it will be cured through and then it keeps getting stronger - purely personal taste plus hands on practice.

      A brine cure takes 3-5 days - again it's all about practice.

      Then you need to dry it, smoke it (2-4 hours - I use oak and cedar), cover tightly with foil, bake at about 200 F until meat hits about 195, steam it, and slice it. You'll probably mess up a few before you're happy. Still game?

      6 Replies
      1. re: embee

        Interesting stuff indeed, great response

        The pastrami approach definitely would seem like overkill to a novice home chef like myself but I still am quite convinced that a great sandwich would be possibile at home.. but the major factor is indeed, explaining to a butcher what exactly I'm looking for.

        Can you tell me, what is the major difference between the cuts of a typical southern smoked brisket like you would see most southern barbequers making, and the very specific section you have mentioned above? I mean often the southern style smoked brisket is cut thickly, not neccessarily in a sandwich, and covered in a BBQ sauce.. But other than that, is there no similarities in the cut of beef?

        Thanks again, sorry if that was confusing, but I am confused myself :P

        1. re: duckdown

          There's no difference in the cut of beef. It's simply about what's available in an area and how it is divided up.

          Butchers and, especially supermarkets, carry what is popular in an area. Nortown sells these cuts because their customers buy them. At a Dominion in Etobicoke, there wouldn't be any demand.

          Beef ribs make a good example. These are a much better cut than pork ribs - essentially the bones removed when butchers prepare boneless rib eyes. They can be prepared as you would pork ribs, but can also be quickly grilled and served rare. In a Jewish neighbourhood, beef ribs are an expensive cut in high demand. In many neighbourhoods, they are a waste product and are sold off very cheaply.

          You can probably pick up at whole packer brisket at any Costco store in Texas. You won't find one in Toronto, though a Jewish butcher could probably special order one.

          Cumbrae's stocks the entire cow. (The Healthy Butcher does also, but you want extensive marbling - NOT optimum health.)

          1. re: embee

            Wow! This site is unbelievable. When I left the site late Friday afternoon to prepare for Shabbos, there were about 120 posts. Now, early Sunday morning there are 166 posts. You folks sure had a busy Friday night and Saturday. There's no way I can keep up with you guys.

            A Few observations:
            (1) It seems that this running dialogue on smoked meats is the exclusive domain of males. If I am correct, I wonder if there are any females following this site, and if so why they are not participating in the discussion? Could it be that it is politically incorrect for females to indulge in smoked meat fressing and admiting it publically?

            (2)At the rate we're going, I suspect that subject of smoked meat will be completely exhausted very shortly, and no one will have anything further of signifacance to add to the discussion. What, pray tell, do we do when we get to that point? Just stop? I can't see that happening. I think we should start thinking about what our next topic should be.
            Since I am at a significant disadvantage because of religious restrictions, may I humbly suggest as a future topic for discussion: "Home Cooking". This would have two advantages for me: (a) It would level the playing field , and (b) it would allow my wife and presumably other females to join the discussion.

            (3)I thought it might be nice if we planned a meeting sometime some place to get to know each other personally. But on second thought, I think the present format is probably the preferred route. It allows for a certain mystique. Don't most professional food critics maintain anonymity? It's part of the game. What do you think?

            1. re: Doctormhl1

              Some women on the site are involved in smoking meats. A manager of a site I belong to uses two smokers

              I suspect we've only scratched the surface. A search on site locates: for starters.

              1. re: Doctormhl1

                I'd be up for a meet any time, I actually went to Caplansky's on their grand opening night hoping to see some chowhounders but it was impossible to tell who was who, so I didn't stick around

                I'd probably be the youngest one there, but I would be interested to hear what people have to say and would definitely enjoy a round of beer or two :)

                Maybe professional food critics prefer their anonymity but I'm certainly not one

            2. re: duckdown

              duckdown, IMHO, I don't think the pastrami approach would be overkill - I think that it does take prep and working with nitrates, but the effort will be more than rewarded and you'll have that homemade product you're looking for.
              I would suggest starting with any piece of brisket that you can get; yes, the double brisket is what you're looking for because of the nice fat content, but you can begin with whatever is available and specialize later as your technique improves.

              Make a brine with water, salt, sugar, pickling spice, pepper, coriander, and instacure (AKA pink salt or prague powder). The instacure may be the most difficult item to procure, since it contains nitrate. Put the brisket in the brine, in the fridge for 5 days or so.
              The curing process will change the meat and give it that beautiful rosy color later on.

              Dispose the brine, rinse the meat well, and coat with a mix of one part coriander, two parts black pepper (ground together). This is the 'old fashioned' flavor in 'old fashioned' smoked meat, you'll also immediatley recognize the distinctive smell when grinding!
              Wrap and plop in the fridge overnight.

              Smoke low and slow for 8 hours or so, internal 160 degrees.

              Place in fridge overnight.

              Steam for 4 hours or until tender.


          2. Just starting a brisket today for a neighborhood political rally monday..
            The subject is quite well covered above so I will only address the Corned beef/Pastrami
            Corned beef. I buy a spice mix which includes the salt, nitrates. It is much more suave
            than the Mortons products, which I find a little harsh for my taste. I buy it from Eldons
            jerky in Idaho. Google them.
            Shoot the brisket up using a spice injector with the mix. Leave the brisket in the
            fridge for a week turning every day. At this point you will have corned beef. I cook it
            in the pressure cooker for 5 hours as low as I can get it.
            If you want Pastrami take the cured brisket as above but not cooked and smoke
            it in a smoker at 210 for 18 hours. You only need the smoke for the first 4 hours.
            If you are in a hurry, take it out of the smoker after 4 hours and pressure cook it
            for 5 hours to finish.

            3 Replies
            1. re: paul balbin

              For corned beef, you don't really need any chemical curing agents. If a "secret" spice mix isn't a requirement, Cook's Illustrated ran a decent recipe for a "New England Style" corned beef a few years ago. Other than being a weird gray colour, it tastes fine.

              For smoked meats, I find that nothing tastes right without the nitrites.

              1. re: embee

                I'm looking for pink salt in Toronto. Ive found Malabars, in Burlington, and Windsor Tender Quick online:

                Any in town source?

                1. re: jayt90

                  I've never found one, though it is undoubtedly around.

                  The closest source I know of is Canada Compound, a wholesaler:

                  There's a Canadian source at:

                  The Sausage Maker in Buffalo:

                  Tender Quick is a supermarket item, but I've never seen it at a Toronto supermarket. It's widely available on the web and Wegman's has it on the shelf.

                  The Windsor site noted above doesn't ship to Canada.