Save the Deli

Gourmet weights Smoked Meat vs. Pastrami

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Katz’s Pastrami (photo credit: christopherfarber.com)

Or

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Schwartz’s Smoked Meat

Gird yourselves deli lovers, because a great debate is about to rage up.

Gourmet Magazine (which will shortly publish a story of mine on deli), has a post by famed New York food critic Robert Sistema on weighing Schwartz’s smoked meat vs. Katz’s pastrami, both of which are eaten within hours of each other. This is a taste test of champions. Read on:

My wife, Gretchen, and I recently found ourselves faced with a unique opportunity: to eat the famed smoked meat of Montreal, then travel back to New York and taste our home cityís notorious counterpart, pastrami, all within a few hours of each other. This rare, real-time comparison turned into a pastrami vs. smoked meat smackdown, as we tried to answer the fundamental question: ďWhich is better?Ē

Located on Montrealís St. Laurent Boulevardóan area of small ethnic eateries and run-down architectureóSchwartzís styles itself as a ďCharcuterie Hebraique,Ē or Jewish deli. Founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Romanian-Jewish immigrant, the deli has long been considered Montrealís foremost purveyor of ďsmoked meat,Ē which everyone agrees is similar in several ways to New Yorkís pastrami, made from a whole brisket thatís been rubbed with spices and smoked. But there the similarities end.

The story goes on to weigh the two, with a split decision (Sistema prefers Schwartz’s, his wife likes Katz’s).

Check it out on Gourmet.com and add your comments here or there.

Here’s what I said:

A fine comparison, and one that many people care about, but I think we can add even more to it. First off Robert, you misunderstood the Schwartz’s folks. They cure the briskets for 10-14 days (depending on size and season), then smoke them for 6 hours. Katz’s pastrami goes through similar treatment, and neither uses wood (though they both once did). Nick Zukin is right about the brisket and navels. Navels are what NY pastrami is made of. it’s the bacon of beef. Smoked meat is exclusively made with brisket. The texture, fat distribution, and inherent flavor there are entirely different. The spicing, though based in the same Romanian principles, is also different. NY pastrami is more aromatic, less spicy, and is laid on much thicker than smoked meat’s spices. It has a sour tang to it, which makes the whole experience much more heady. Smoked meat has a similar, though simpler spicing, with less sugar, more pepper, and fewer aromatic notes. But this is really besides the point. We’re talking apples and pears here (not quite oranges). I’ve eaten both many many times from the finest purveyors and delis around the world (see savethedeli.com for evidence), and am happy to find a place in my heart for smoked meat and pastrami. They are cousins, kindred spirits, and blessed gifts to deli lovers anywhere. It’s not a question of Cohen vs. Dylan. We can afford to love both. Oh, and a cornichon is just French for pickle. Great article.

So, Schwartz’s or Katz’s? Pastrami or Smoked Meat? I’m guessing this will be a geographically predictable debate, but I’ll let you start screaming away.

27 Responses to “Gourmet weights Smoked Meat vs. Pastrami”

  1. Daniel Sax Says:

    This is a veritable no contest. I’m not even sure why the author whould bother, other than a great excuse to gorge on meat. Schwartz’s vs Katz’s is like Lennox Lewis vs Gary Coleman. Having dined at both in recent years I can concretely say my money’s on Lennox. Schwartz’s leaves me licking the plate while Katz’s leaves me yearning for Schwartz’s. Simply look at the photos at the top of the page to see the difference between the two sandwiches: only one qualifies as meat porn….

  2. Michael McGrath Says:

    I live in Brooklyn and have spent more time trying to duplicate Schwartz’s smoked meat than I have ever spent at Katz’s. Katz is just NYC schtick – a phony glimpse of days gone by (that probably never were) but Schwartz is the real deal. Having the choice of cuts at Schwartz makes it more unique as well. I recommend the “fatty” – its melt in your mouth, rib-sticking goodness. While its great to get a beer at Katz’s with the pastrami, having the kosher vibe at Schwartz makes it a more unique culinary experience. The youtube video of Allan Dershowitz complaining that Schwartz is drier than Katz’s made me furious. He probably ordered a “lean” cut like the rest of the Americans.

  3. Joan Ginsberg Says:

    I’ve only eaten Schwatz’s once, and have eaten pastrami too many times to count (although not Katz’s, which I also think I’ve eaten once). I felt the flavor at Schwartz’s was far more bland and had a drier texture than the best pastrami I have eaten (and no, Mr. McGrath – I would *never* order lean deli meat). So I will be geographically predictable and say pastrami.

    BUT – we make a brisket pastrami as well as a traditional naval pastrami. Would a comparison between ours and Schwartz’s make more sense, David?

  4. Michael McGrath Says:

    The fatty cut is almost impossible to be served dry after being under Schwartz steamers that heat and hydrate the meat. Anyone who has ever had Schwartz takeout knows that the sandwich practically eats itself through the paper bag with its moist and delectable fat.

  5. Gerry Ahronheim Says:

    Shortly after I moved to Montreal from the US, too many years ago to count (33 1/2 to be exact), I was invited to go to Schwartz’ for smoked meat. “Smoked what kind of meat?” I asked in my ignorance: “Horse, caribou, or what?” For indeed I had never heard of “smoked meat”. Pastrami and corned beef were old standbys for me, but this was new territory.
    Not for long! I was an instant convert and remain so to this day. However…
    Indeed, on occasional forays to New York I had tried pastrami at the Carnegie Deli and such like, reinforcing my new conviction that pastrami was best avoided!
    It was only a very few years ago that my New York siblings dragged me to Katz’ Deli, and I was reawakened to the possibility of edible pastrami. In fact, it was darned good. The first time in decades that pastrami and Schwartz’ smoked meat could be found in the same universe of discourse, in my humble opinion.
    Since then, I’ve managed to find decent NYC pastrami in a couple of other delis, and have not regretted it.
    Nevertheless, Schwartz’ smoked meat is in a category of its own, not only delicious but a delight to eat in situ. We go often enough that the waiters know us and flirt with my daughter(!), and even chat about the old days (long before my time) when my late father-in-law would grab a quick smoked meat sandwich for 15 cents! And it is delicious!!
    Katz’ pastrami is excellent, but Schwartz’ smoked meat is a joy to (be)hold and to eat!
    Best wishes to all who can get to eat either or both!

  6. Kenny Wolfe Says:

    This is no contest. Schwartz’s is Augusta National, Yankee Stadium, the old Montreal Forum and the Sistine Chapel all rolled into one. Pastrami is not in the same league

  7. John E. Bolog Says:

    Last weekend I enjoyed a great Smoked Meat sandwich at Schwartz’, the latest of many. As a transplanted New Yorker
    (Vermont), I’ve the luxury of Montreal for any necessary culinary and artistic needs. As a kid I chose Pastrami, then graduating on to Corned Beef/Cole Slaw and Russian. The delicatessen scene in New york has mightily lessened with the ubiquitous Hebrew National dominating the genre and, in my Yiddeshe opinion, lessening it. Whatever happened to Hod Carmel?

    That said, choose da Corned Beef in New York, et votre choisir en Montreal should be Schwartzs’.

    So there…

  8. Eric Riback Says:

    I’m a native New Yorker with a thing for Katz’s pastrami 32 years after leaving town (I only get there every couple of years). Had never heard of Schwartz’s or smoked meat (last time in Montreal: Expo 67 and we only ate at the fair). After reading this piece and the comments I am drooling for Schwartz’s. Maybe someday I’ll get to Montreal.

  9. jacques desjardins Says:

    After all the press & endorsements, I very much looked forward to Caplansky’s on Clinton in Toronto. What a letdown. Only one sandwich on the menu. Smoked meat. No pastrami, no baby beef. OK. I can live with that, but if youíre only having one choice, letís make it a good one. This was the driest, saltiest meat Iíve ever had. With lots of un-chewable gristle. Must have had the tail end of the brisket. And when I ask for ďmedium fatĒ, I donít want big chunks of fat. The fat should be marbled through the meat. The fries are good but pre-salted. Service is very good. The kicker; I find out through the blogs that they have an amazing mustard. It wasnít even offered. Go figure.

  10. JeTTTo Maing Says:

    Schwartz vs Katz??! ohh well, i’ m from montreal!
    I just tried the famous Katz 2 weeks ago. But something dissapointed me. It seemed that the meat was a bit to similar to bad smoked meat from montreal. BUT STILL, it was very good! The meat was somehow sweeter and the spice was different(less pepper).

    I don’t really like Schwartz smoked meat. Even the fat ones are too dry to my opinion. And that’s the reason why I always go in front. Main’s smoked meat is so much better. Much juicier and more pepper!!! Fries & salad are MUCH better too + they give you a whole pickle, not just a cheap 1/4 pickle. I’d suggest anyone to try the Main’s smoked meat. It’s similar to Schwartz but less dry and a bit more spicy!

    For those who tried both, I’d suggest to try George’s smoked meat on 3750 Boul. St-Martin Ouest, Laval. THE BEST SMOKED MEAT IMHO!!!!

  11. Terry Says:

    George’s smoke meat in Laval is the best, right up there with Schwartz’s.

  12. Jusfiq Says:

    This Montrealer just returned from New York and tried Katz’s for the first time.

    I can not comment for sure about the taste. I think Schwartz’s is slightly better. But I am use to it. The negative about Katz’s for me is the price. It is too EXPENSIVE. Also, its sandwich comes only with pickles. In Schwartz’s one gets a cup of coleslaw and some fries along with the sandwich. Also, the sandwich itself is not as expensive.

  13. Demetriusz Says:

    good day, your internet site is cheap. Although i many thanks for do the job

  14. Luciano Says:

    I’ve eaten at Carnegie in New york. I myself am from Montrťal so natyrally I will cast my vote for Schwartz but here is the interesting thing. my wife’s cousin came over from Italy on vaccation… he had both… Schwartz won. The New york style deli is similar to Montrťal but you get more for your buck in Montrťal. But i will have Katz’s when i go back!

  15. Cheryl Says:

    Don’t forget Ruben’s and Lester’s in Montreal. They are both long-time purveyors and taste great. Schwartz’s is not the only deal in town. I’m a native New Yorker who lives in southern US, married to a native Montealer. Spend more time in Montreal these days than New York. So I definitely vote smoked meat!

  16. Yankila Says:

    Vell I’ve been in NYC and Ive had the Carnegie Ive tried de Katz’s,de Stage de Second Ave de New YorkPastrami Princess put em all tgeder and notin compares te de best in the velt. Shvartzes now owned by dat singer abroch Celine Dions hosband is de best in de gance velt EMES VE oymain

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