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.
DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNN…
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.
Please remember, these are the results of the sample demographic and does not reflect MY, Shut up and eat’s opinion.
TIED FOR FIRST.
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!!!
Helen, Oleh, Markus, Angelina, Robert, Adrian, Thi, Elton, Steve, Steph, Wendy, Nhien and Zirka
Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen
3895 Boulevard St-Laurent