Montreal smoked meat is not Pastrami, which all Canadians seem to know, but Americans don’t. It is the same cut of meat, but the process and the spices are different. Montreal smoked meat is sweeter, milder and with a more pronounced smoke flavor.
This is not easy.
It takes several days, special equipment and attention to detail. You will need a smoker. Go electric. A charcoal smoker may be cheaper, but charcoal often produces off flavors. You can buy a canister-type for about 50-60 bucks at Home Depot or Lowes. I bought this one, and have been very pleased with it.
- Buy a five pound brisket and some aromatic wood (sold wherever they sell barbecues and smokers…). I recommend Applewood.
- You will also need some Prague powder, which is a type of curing salt. There are two kinds–one for wet curing (No. 1) and one for dry curing (No. 2). You will need the former. It’s tough to find this locally, but you can purchase it on the internet (Amazon, eBay) inexpensively. You will need about 2 oz. for one brisket, so a pound makes a lot of smoked meat.
- Also by some dextrose, which is a chemical variant of sugar. A pound of it is plenty for several briskets as well.
- Also a big plastic container, with a tight-fitting lid, that can hold a gallon of water with the brisket fully submerged AND that still fits in your fridge.
- You will also need pickling spice. There are commercially prepared varieties, but I think it’s best to roll your own. You will need about four ounces in total. The following basically just provides proportions, and I expect I will be changing them in the future.
• 3 Tbsp. Peppercorns
• 1 Tbsp. Dill Seed
• 2 tsp. Coriander Seed
• 1 Tbsp. Mustard Seed
• 1 tsp. Celery Seed
• 1 tsp. Fennel Seed
OK. Assuming you have everything at hand, you will first make a brine in which the brisket should be completely submerged, under refrigeration, for 3-5 days. A three pound brisket will be fine in three days. A larger piece of meat will need four to five for the curing salt to fully penetrate to the center.
- Set about a quart of water to boiling. In the plastic container, dump 6 oz. of salt, 2 oz Prague Powder No. 1 and 2 oz. dextrose. Place the boiling water over this mixture and stir to fully dissolve. (for a 12 lb brisket, double everything)
- Add 3 qts cold water (or iced water) to bring the temperature down.(for a 12 lb brisket, double everything)
- Put a pan on the stove and set the heat to medium high. You are going to toast 2 oz. of the pickling spice mix until it’s nice and fragrant–usually in about five minutes. I toast the peppercorns and dill seed together, then the Coriander and Fennel and then finally the celery and mustard seed. Dump the spice mix into the water, wiping out the pan with a paper towel. Add three cloves of crushed garlic and then the brisket, making sure that it’s fully submerged. Cover and place in the fridge and forget about smoked meat for a few days.
- The next step will be the smoking, which you will only do for a three hours. The canister-type smoker I use has a bowl which holds a gallon of water, which adds moisture to the process. Place chunks of applewood all around the burner, but don’t allow any wood to touch the burner where it could lead to flaming. Place the water pan and then the grill into the unit, and your ready to smoke.
- Remove the brisket from the brine. Some people say you should rinse the meat, but I don’t subscribe to that view. What you should do is toast another 2 oz. of spice mix as before and then grind it to powder. You can do this with a food processor, but many prefer a specially-designated coffee-grinder just for spice grinding. Add a 1/2 tsp of onion powder and 1/2 tsp of garlic powder to the ground spice mix and then pour half onto the brisket, speading it over the surface evenly. Turn the meat and use the other half of the mix to complete the spice rub.
- Now place the brisket onto the smoker grill and replace the cover, plugging the burner element into the power outlet and watch for a minute to insure that it starts smoking. Check every 1/2 hour to insure that it’s still smoking. If not, add more applewood. I buy the big chunks to insure that I can get a good smoke on without having to replenish the wood. A word of warning here. It’s a nice smelling smoke, as far as smoke goes, but it’s still smoke. You would do well to move the smoker to some place away from the house and the neighbors if possible.
- Believe it or not, you aren’t done yet 😉 The brisket will need to braise (Add 2 cups of water) for10-12 hours in a large roasting pan, with a tight tin-foil seal over it. Set the temperature to 250 F. It will cook without the tin foil, but your whole house will smell like smoke 😉
- When it’s done, allow to sit for 10 minutes and set the juices, then slice thinly, against the grain. Seriously–the way you cut this makes a significant difference.
Serve on fresh, soft rye bread with French’s yellow mustard. Traditional sides include a Kosher Dill pickle, coleslaw and French fries. If it’s not all gone in one sitting, place it in a zip lock freezer bag and refrigerate. It will stay good for quite a will since it’s a cured meat at this point. It’s actually easier to slice when it’s cold, but warm the sliced meat in the microwave or in a steamer before serving again.