by Jason

In preparation to the second edition of the Shut Up and Eat Food Face-off, a while ago, I informally polled both my Facebook page and Twitter and asked you guys which is the “definitive” and your favourite “Montreal smoked meat”. The front runner was obviously the famous mainstay on St. Laurent, Schwartz’s delicatessen, followed by random shouts of The Main, and Smokemeat Pete. Montrealers take their smoked meat seriously, and this goes without saying. When asked what Montrealers are passionate about, the things that come to mind are hockey, poutine, bagels, smoked meat and the amount of cleavage Mutsumi Takehashi is showing at 6pm. Okay, maybe not that last one, cos I don’t think about that either. The idea was brewing in my head for a while now; get the “best” smoked meats all in one place, have a bunch of people taste them all at the same time, and find definitively which is the superior meat.

I was planning a welcome back BBQ (if you’re been following the count, it would be #9 in the past three months) for a buddy of mine who just recently returned safe and sound from a tour in Afghanistan. We all take turns hosting parties every summer, and as a result of this circumstance, I told him on the the eve of his deployment that I’ll wait for him to get back to have my BBQ, so he won’t miss out on any of the gluttonous grilling gluttony… little did he know he would get back from the war and find himself in another one; The war of SMOKED MEAT.

This is the way it went down: I bought the four smoked meats the day before event day. All meats were identical, one pound, medium-fat, COLD. The procedure was to steam all competitors independently of each other on the stove and maintain a minimal rolling steam to keep warm. I made a checklist/questionnaire of certain criteria about the characteristics of the smoked meat. Everyone was served two slices of each brisket that correlated to sections of the check list. Fresh rye bread as well and customary yellow mustard was also incorporated into the tasting and was one of the variables.

To avoid bias, the panel was not told the contestants in this face-off, especially the presence of “The Fixer”. “The Fixer” being the unnamed smoked meat, that even YOU will not find out until the end of this article. Being a BBQ and all, the panel was served snacks prior to the tasting as to not have them going into this very very scientific test on an empty stomach. We all know that it’s on an empty stomach that even if you spread nutella on a flip-flop, it’d be the best flip-flop you’ve ever eaten

This is what the questionnaire entailed: Look: colour, appeal, appetizing? Taste: What is the first thing you taste? Sweet, salty, phosphate? Texture: chewy, fatty, dry, moist, fall-apart? With mustard on bread: Does it taste different as a whole? Does the mustard add anything? Some of the comments I found that were left were quite interesting, even though we went though our answers together, one person on the panel managed to define her own “deliciousness” scale, referring to some smoked meats as “needs more deliciousness”.

This was from Smokemeat Pete. Most agreed the the look itself was quite appetizing and fairly pink in colour. Amongst the four challengers, Pete’s was definitely sweeter than the rest and had a minimal after taste and was found to be chewy and did not fall apart in your mouth. The panel was split down the middle with a 4 – 4 tie in terms of the affect mustard had on the smoked meat and over all bite. Half said that the mustard had little or no affect where as the other half said that the tartness of the mustard brought out the spice and heat of the peppercorns.

As it turned out, only a quarter of the panel had ever even heard about Smokemeat Pete. The discussion was whether or not it should have been in the face-off at all considering it wasn’t technically ON the island of Montreal itself. But since it was mentioned various times in my poll, I was obliged to include Pete’s. I just knew deep deep down inside, the panel was scared of an added variable and fearful at the end that they would side with a smoked meat that’s different from their proclaimed favourite.

The legendary Schwartz’s smoked meat. Touted as “the” Montreal smoked meat with over 80 years of experience and a secret recipe that includes no chemicals and a brine of 10 days, one of the Rocky Balboa, heavy-hitters of local and international smoked meat. Although Rocky Balboa was Italian, I guess Schwartz’s could be called the “Rocky Balboastein” of the smoked meat world. The results were varied on this one – some of the reports were, “blah, no taste” and “tastes like fat” and reflected its drab and pale appearance… like it went out the night before the face-off and showed up hungover smelling like hooch and cigars.

The panel was surprised that the the meat itself was dry and even with the help of mustard and any moisture it would bring, the taste of the mustard was overpowering any hints of spice or smoke the meat had. Fun fact: original owner was named Reuben Schwartz, ironic because Schwartz’s doesn’t serve Reubens …as in a rueben sandwich. You can still go and they’ll still serve you if your name is Rueben.

Smoked meat from The Main. The panel agreed that although on first glance the colour of the meat was nice, they couldn’t help but be stabbed in the eye with the sight of the meat looking drier than a summer day in Africa. The meat was found to be saltier than the others and it also had an undeniable after taste – which was attributed to the chemicals and phosphates used in injection brining their briskets.

There was an overwhelming consensus that although the meat itself was somewhat drier than the others, when put into a mustard plus bread equation; it tasted “complete”. The panel agreed that the added moisture from the mustard was just enough to bring out the flavour of the meat and rye bread.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… “The Fixer”. Bestowed the responsibility to throw the dirty punches and low blows to egos, mentalities and the proud and noble reputations of its smoked meat counterparts; this masked competitor was the the hired gun to belly-crawl its way into sacred Montreal smoked meat territory to change the game. At first glance, the panel agreed that the the smoked meat looked both appealing and appetizing, however there were apprehensions that the taste of the meat itself will be compromised due to the obvious and abundant presence of spices found rubbed on the outside of the brisket. The taste and texture was said to be very tender and “perfectly” fatty; one panelist said, “meat is salty and juicy, good pepper taste and smokey flavour”, and “spicy and just the right amount of smoke”, said another.

Three were in agreement that the mustard brought the smoked meat to another level, “blends well with the meat”, “YES, mustard brings out the flavour of the meat”, and “EXTRA DELICIOUSNESS”, were the comments. Where as some felt as though the meat was already spicy enough and that the mustard didn’t add anything other than more intrusive spiciness. So to unmask “The Fixer” smoked meat, I give you…

President’s Choice Smoked Meat.

At the end, once everyone had tasted all four smoked meats, I revealed the contestants and asked the panel to then guess which was Smokemeat Pete’s, Schwartz’s, The Main, and President’s choice, and then rank them from best to “worst”. I liked the fact that I had a panelist who was indifferent and didn’t particularly like smoked meat, thus had no preexisting bias or emotional attachment to any one place. On the other end of the spectrum, there was someone who was convinced that he would be able to pick out his favourite Schwartz’s smoked meat even if it was marinaded in mustard for hours; his loyalty was unparalleled and he proclaimed that he did not eat any other smoked meat. So can you imagine his reaction and the look on his face when it was revealed that his ranked #1 “Schwartz’s” turned out to be Smokemeat Pete’s?! It was like he just found out he was adopted, denial then emotional breakdown. The revelation shattered every belief he had and everything he had come to know about his beloved smoked meat.

The panel consisted of different people from different backgrounds, who grew up in different areas of the city; their tastes and the subsequent results of were in concert for the most part. Keep in mind, this “panel” were made up of friends whom I’ve known for years and years, and also family. This edition of the “Shut up and eat’s food face-off” was especially fun and eye-opening. Drawing lines in the Montreal smoked meat terrain is grounds for arguments and heated exchange of words. It was great to have so many samples of smoked meat all in one place and put to contest against each other and let them fight it out and speak for themselves.

The verdict:
Please remember, these are the results of the sample demographic and does not reflect MY, Shut up and eat’s opinion.

President’s choice
Smokemeat Pete’s

The Main


Also keep in mind that this tasting was as scientific as cleaning a penny with ketchup; so take the results with a grain of salt… or a farty blob of mustard if you will.

That concludes this second edition of Shut up and eat’s Food face-off. For the next I will be getting both Facebook users and Twitter followers involved, so if you want to participate, keep reading and wait for further details and information!!!

Thanks to:
Helen, Oleh, Markus, Angelina, Robert, Adrian, Thi, Elton, Steve, Steph, Wendy, Nhien and Zirka

Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen
3895 Boulevard St-Laurent
Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Main St Lawrence Steak House Delicatessen
3864 Boulevard St-Laurent
Main St Lawrence Steak House Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Smokemeat Pete
283 1e Av
Smokemeat Pete on Urbanspoon

President’s choice brand smoked meat
(I purchased mine from Loblaws)
Find your local store

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Schmoikel August 15, 2011 - 1:15 pm

Nice job. I particularly like Pete’s (and Deli-B, its not-on-speaking-terms twin in Pointe-Claire). I have long felt that Schwartz’s, while the knee-jerk tourist favourite, hasn’t ever really merited that title, especially beside the competition. I suspect that your friend tried to identify Schwartz’s sample not by picking out its unique attributes, but voting for the best smoked meat, thereby passing over Schwartz’s.
I would submit that the “Compliments” smoked meat packets (IGA’s house brand) would knock President’s Choice’s entry down a notch or two. And smoked meat from Lester’s Deli on Bernard (not the packaged supermarket offerings of the same name) would blow ’em all out of the water (or steamer, as the case may be).
And thanks – now I am hungry, and only food-court fare nearby!

Jason August 15, 2011 - 2:20 pm

Yes, there were a few other choices, but I took the top three because I didn’t want to inundate the playing field with too many choices… everything will start to taste the same and I will be held responsible for turning my friends and family against smoked meat forever!

Thanks for commenting!

Chocolatesa August 15, 2011 - 2:51 pm

AWESOME! I’ve always loved Smokemeat Pete’s and although I haven’t tried any others I’m so glad that it won out, especially for the fact that it tricked the hardcore Schwartz’s fan as the best one 😀 This idea is SO COOL! Keep doing this!

Chocolatesa August 15, 2011 - 3:03 pm

I suggest a poutine faceoff next!

Natalie Sztern August 15, 2011 - 6:04 pm

so this is new to me Smokemeat Pete, I never heard of it…I have heard that Schwartz’s is no longer what it used to be and that the Main was supposed to be better. However u blew me out by loving President`s Choice who`d ave thought Loblaws would come out on top…next time do a rib steak competition….Loblaw`s, Shwartz`s, Moishe` and Rib n Reef….(I find Loblaw meat to be tasteless no matter which cut I buy)

Sabrina August 15, 2011 - 7:20 pm

I was myself disappointed at my first experience at Schwartz finding the meat rather dry. Smoked Meat Pete on the other hand never failed to disappoint me. Great post! will definitely share!

Brian August 15, 2011 - 11:20 pm

I personally had the best smoked meat from “Quebec Smoked meat product” on rue Centre in Pointe-St-Charles. I heard they were distributors to some of the top guns of smoked meat. When not sure where to go, go to the source :p

Chuck August 15, 2011 - 11:26 pm

You need to know what to ask for. As a Montrealer, don’t be a tourist in your own city. Having eaten Schwartz’, Smoke meat Pete and the like more times than I can count, it is easy to figure out what’s good and what is the volume shlock for those who don’t know better. If you go into Schwartz’ and just order “meat”, the results may be the same as a hand of blackjack. The majority of briskets are larger, pinker and and not as intense as others. Thinner or more well done briskets that are darker in colour and have a heavier concentration of spices (end cut is best) have the spice, texture and saltiness that makes Montreal smoked meat fabulous. For the record, I do find Smoke meat Pete’s to be juicier, but NOTHING beats the RIGHT cut of Schwartz. Know what to ask for.

Jason August 16, 2011 - 6:55 pm

Mayo and smoked meat… Have you ever done it? BE HONEST!

elizabeth ranger August 18, 2011 - 11:13 pm

I’m gonna have to tell my coworker, who moonlights at the Main. He’d be so proud. To um, beat Schwartz’s at any rate. I still haven’t had a “fresh” smoked meat sandwich down on St Laurent. I’ll be taking this post into account. ^.^

Jason August 19, 2011 - 1:54 am

Hey Elizabeth! You should definitely get a fresh medium-fat smoked meat sandwich! Avoid weekends, and go at off peak times. Let me know how it goes!

Kim Truong August 24, 2011 - 4:59 pm

Thanks Jason for this! I’m gonna go buy some PC smoke meat now!

Jason August 24, 2011 - 8:30 pm

Let me know how it goes Kim!

Suzanne September 13, 2011 - 9:28 am

Okay smoked meat Pete here I come! Hmm mm wonder why Lester’s was not in the running. They do have a secret weapon you know.

Jason September 13, 2011 - 9:54 am

Lesters wasn’t involved because I took an informal poll as to what was everyone’s favourite smoked meat. Funny you should say that, I have plans on going sometime this week as well. Let me know how it goes! Thanks for commenting Suzanne!

Costa Toaras September 16, 2011 - 3:31 pm

Has anyone noticed the co-packer of the Loblaws smoked meat?
It is establishment # 48 LEVITTS FOODS in Ville Lasalle.

Stephen January 5, 2012 - 6:04 pm

I had Schwartz’s years ago, and it was amazing, but the past few years I have had, definitely not the same… don’t know what why that is… but if anyone gets to southwestern ontario. There is a place I found that has montreal smoked meat, that is one of the best places to get fresh smoked meat right from the steam table, outside of Montreal. It’s called the Old Tyme Diner in London, ON, 1180 Oxford Street E. Amazing montreal smoked meat! So if anyone gets out that way, give it a shot! Other than there it’s very hard to find a comparable montreal smoked meat sandwich outside of Montreal. 🙂

Morty Bercovitch March 24, 2012 - 7:47 am

I have been eating smoked meat for a little under 100 years. I am friends with Peter Varvaro, (Main) his sons Peter jr, (Smoked meat Pete’s) and Phil (Deli Bee). All great. I am a winter visitor to Arizona. Leave Lachine in November, back in April. I drive back & forth. The night before I leave I drive up to Smoked meat Pete and have a special. On my way home from Arizona I take the 20 and with my Van loaded stop in at Pete’s for another special.
Very good choice from your panel.

Jason March 24, 2012 - 9:44 am

Hi Morty, thanks for commenting! Do you ever take some with you to Arizona? Or does it takes better after months without?

Richard March 28, 2012 - 9:36 am

The only reason why “President’s Choice” was voted No. 1 That’s because Monica Lewinsky is now working for them. “PRESIDENT CHOICE”

Jason March 28, 2012 - 10:22 am


Richard March 29, 2012 - 4:56 am

Why wasn’t there a testing done on Dunns and Chenoys?????

Jason March 29, 2012 - 9:49 am

I took a poll and these were the most popular choices. To inundate the pallet with smoked meat, eventually everything will taste the same anyways. There might be a second edition though…

Nick April 6, 2012 - 9:10 am

Sounds pretty good, but like Richard mentioned, you should have included all the big smoked meat places… But then again you got to realize that when it comes down to smoked meat there are several types. Schwartz, Pete’s, Main, and Dunns are dry cured, Chenoys, Labelle pro. president’s Choice and several others are “regular” and some places like Chenoy’s and Reuben’s have what’s called old fashioned. Thease are the main differences in types of smoked meat, some people don’t realize that there are categories to smoked meat, but as a proud smoked meat eater I say to you: Eat what you like, enjoy, and don’t be shy to try something new. Smoked meat is awesome, and stick with the big guys

huddy July 29, 2012 - 11:20 am

I believe Pete’s meat comes from Quebec Smoked Meat on Centre St. in the Pointe. I get 5 – 10 pounds there every year (for 10+ years now) and take it when I travel to see friends and family. It never disappoints. On the rare occasion when I go for a sit-down sandwich, it’s to the Main. Thanks for this great testing!

Mike D November 18, 2012 - 9:42 am

Thanks for all the reviews, I like swartzs and smokedmeat pete’s the best. Reubens deli and especially dunn’s are not what they used to be. I went to dunn’s a couple of times lately(down town and the one near the byward market in Ottawa, and was totally disappointed), not even close to the original taste, I’m not sure how they are still in business. I’m going to quebec smoked meat for lunch today(that’s how I ended up here lol), I’m expecting a good sandwich, I know they supply meat to smoked meat pete. I hope I can get the same kind of smoked meat there(kind of spicy, with lots of bark. I think these sandwiches must be judged on the spot. It’s not the same if you bring them home, the negatives are, at pete’s the service isn’t very friendly, especially at the pick up counter(I ordered a sandwich once, and waited about a twenty minutes, because the customer ahead of me ordered something that took a while to make, and the slicer was standing there doing nothing because for some reason they won’t start a sandwich until the order ahead is done), they really need to rethink this, because the pick-up area can get crowded with frustrated customers. Swartzes, the line ups are long at lunch and supper, and when you get in there they pack you in at a table full of people you don’t know(don’t go there if you have closterphobia). But it’s worth it for the smoked meat they serve, it just falls apart in your mouth, I just wish they had a spicier version like pete’s.

Gordon Gibson March 1, 2013 - 11:11 pm

You can go to any of these places and get a great sandwich one day…and a very average one the next. Depends on the cutter, the actual brisket, etc. etc.

But what about Abies – out on St_Johns Blvd in Pointe Claire. Just like Schwartzes but no line up, polite staff and a far more consistent product. Do yourself a favor and check it out. Much as I love Petes (and the Blues), the drive out to Pincourt is a real limiting factor here.

jenny December 31, 2013 - 7:26 pm

There is a greek deli called “Mc Bays: in the Sources Mall off Sources boulevard near L’equipeur and Sports Experts, Second Cup…
I always go there like twice a year and get 2 smoke meat sandwiches to go. I think they are amazing, I get cravings for those sandwiches lol

RobertB May 31, 2014 - 12:29 pm

Very nice article full of tasty pictures! 🙂

william May 15, 2017 - 11:33 am

I went to Smoke Meat Pete on May 13, 2017 with my family. All of us were disappointed. The meat tasted like ham, not smoke beef meat.

kelly January 31, 2024 - 4:00 pm

Thanks for sharing


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