Schwartz’s Deli – Montreal, Quebec

Name: Schwartz’s Deli
Date: 9/20/19
Location: 3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Montreal, Quebec
Order: 3 large smoked meat plates, slaw, fries, pou (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: For this year’s edition of our annual guys trip, the guys and Speedy and I headed to Montreal to get our fill of jet boating and poutine (well, not so much Speedy on the poutine). Speedy used to spend a decent amount of time in Montreal for work and had a pretty good meal here. Seven years later, Schwartz’s was a must-stop for our group that weekend per Speedy. 

Speedy: Smoked meat is a staple of Montreal cuisine – it’s served almost everywhere. And there’s no smoked meat joint more famous than Schwartz’s. Our group was lucky enough to get seated immediately upon arriving on a Friday just before 11:30 (the line was out the door when we left), and our waiter told us stories of all the famous people he’d served (which was a pretty extensive list including several celebrities).

Monk: Montreal smoked meat is actually a brisket that is pickle juice-brined for 10 days before being smoked for 8 hours. It’s similar to pastrami except that the mix of seasonings it’s cured in contains less (or almost no) sugar and more savory seasonings like cracked peppercorns, coriander, garlic, and mustard seeds. Fun fact: Montreal steak seasoning was modeled on the spice mixture used for Schwartz’s smoked meat. The briskets are kept whole and sliced to order when large groups such as ours order such outrageous quantities of meat…

1 of 3 large platters

Speedy: Which we did. Based on the advice of our waiter, we ordered 3 large plates, and (spoiler alert) had enough leftovers for late night snacks (and add-ons to our Montreal bagels next morning).

Monk: Ah, Montreal-style bagels – man, those were good. Back to the meal…

I threw together my first sandwich with the seedless rye slices plus the mustard and slaw, and it was fantastic. More jewish deli than barbecue, but there’s a reason why Schwartz’s is a Montreal institution that was purchased by Celine Dion for $10 million so that it wouldn’t be torn down. I ended up making two more sandwiches of the delicious smoked meat.

Speedy: Agree, Monk. The meat is tender and flavorful, and really makes a great sandwich. It’s an absolute must in Montreal. And bonus – the slaw is vinegar based! The slaw was crunchy and tangy and was a perfect complement – either on the sandwich or a side. 

Monk: I was excited to try all of the poutine during our stay in Montreal that weekend. For the uninitiated, poutine is Montreal’s signature dish that is comprised of fries topped with cheese curds and a meat gravy containing bits of the smoked meat from the slicing block. Schwartz’s was the first of 4 poutine orders I had that weekend, and it was very solid.

Speedy: Overall, there’s a reason Schwartz’s Deli is a staple, and it’s a must-eat in Montreal. On this trip, this was the only smoked meat our group had, but after this meal, no other was really needed.

For more reviews, check out:
Marie, Let’s Eat! (2011)
Speedy’s review from 2012

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Smoked Meat – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Noble Smoke – Charlotte, NC

Name: Noble Smoke
Date: 8/24/19
Address: 2216 Freedom Dr, Charlotte, NC 28208
Order: The Miss Mary Platter (1 lb brisket, 1 lb pork, 1 rack ribs, 1 lb turkey, red slaw, coleslaw, pickled veggies), 12 wings, hush puppies (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$ 

Monk: In 1919, the first Lexington-style barbecue stand was set up across the street from the courthouse in Lexington, NC by Sid Weaver. Shortly after, Jess Swicegood set up his own stand and both businesses thrived to the point of building permanent restaurants. Eventually, they would go on to train Warner Stamey in the ways of Lexington-style barbecue, and he continued to spread that gospel all over the Piedmont of North Carolina to owners who would go on to open such famed joints as Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Alston Bridges Barbecue, Lexington Barbecue, and Stamey’s own namesake restaurant, Stamey’s Barbecue

Exactly 100 years later and 60 miles to the south in Charlotte, Chef Jim Noble has finally opened up his passion project restaurant in the form of Noble Smoke, continuing the Lexington-style barbecue tradition (though he does offer a variety of smoke meats). Everyone knows Noble as the chef and restaurateur behind higher-end restaurants like Noble Grill, Rooster’s, and King’s Kitchen, but a Lexington-style barbecue restaurant has been 25 years in the making.

Speedy: Monk and I got to spend a couple hours with Noble before the restaurant opened and, though we didn’t get a chance to sample anything, I left that meeting confident that the man knew his ‘cue and had a true passion for it, so I was more than excited to sample the goods. The space Noble built is fantastic – rustic but refined, with ample seating, a large bar, a nice outdoor space, and a brewery joining next door. 

Monk: For our group of 5, the Miss Mary Platter was the perfect order as it gave us a chance to try just about all of the meats and in the right quantity. At the time of our visit, Noble Smoke still hadn’t fired up the brick masonry pits that were styled after Lexington Barbecue, so our pork was smoked in one of the six large offset smokers occupying the smoke room. As he is doing across the board, Noble is using high-quality ingredients (which you pay for, as the platter was $88) and in this case its Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork. On this day, the pork wasn’t quite the crowd favorite while still being very good. I can’t wait to try them now that they’ve fired up those brick pits.

Speedy: Noble clearly studied up on the Texas brisket he was trying to emulate. And I’ll say, he did a nice job. The prime brisket was moist, peppery, and flavorful. I had previously sworn off ordering brisket in the Carolinas, but Noble Smoke is joining Lewis Barbecue on the exception list. I rank it just a tad behind Lewis, but still a top ten brisket I’ve had in my life. I think any Texan would be impressed.

Monk: I couldn’t agree more, and also think that any Texan would also be impressed with the ribs that Noble Smoke is slinging. Rubbed generously with salt and pepper, I was relieved that Noble avoided the temptation to offer a saucy, sweet rib and instead something far more nuanced. North Carolina isn’t known for ribs and they can often be an afterthought, but these were more Texas Trinity than KC Masterpiece. By far, these were the favorite meats on the table in our group that day.

Speedy: I’m on record saying I don’t know why anyone would order smoked turkey at a barbecue restaurant given the choice of other delectable meats from our hooved friends. Well, I’m man enough to admit it – I was wrong. The turkey at Noble Smoke was probably the best I’ve had. Like the brisket, it was seasoned with just salt and (plenty of) pepper, but that was enough to tease out an incredible amount of flavor, all while retaining moisture. This is a hard thing to do with turkey, so hats off to Jim Noble for this. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite thing I had that day (that goes to the ribs), but it was the biggest surprise for me.

Monk: Like everything else, the wings from were delicious and well smoked, even if they were a bit on the small side. Noble gets his heritage chicken from Winston-Salem-based Joyce Farms, which is nice to see them source from a North Carolina operation. 

We ordered a side of the hush puppies made with Anson Mills heirloom grain corn (again, note the high quality ingredients) and the table gobbled them up pretty quickly. The Miss Mary’s Platter came with small sides of both eastern and western (red) slaw as well as pickled veggies in the form of onions, pickles, and beets. The beets were definitely different.

Speedy: Sometimes new restaurants take a few months to get up to speed and everything rolling, but Chef Jim Noble is clearly a pro and the meal we had at Noble Smoke was one of my top barbecue meals all year. Noble Smoke was designed to be a destination barbecue joint, and I think it will be just that. I’m certainly adding it to the list for every time I visit Charlotte. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Wings – 4 hogs
Turkey – 4.5 hogs 
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Owlbear Barbecue – Denver, CO

Name: Owlbear Barbecue
Date: 8/2/19
Address: 2826 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205
Order: 1¼ lbs brisket, 1 lb ribs, ½ lb pork, ½ lb pork belly, medium coleslaw, small pinto beans, small cucumber salad, 3 bags Frito Lays
Pricing: $$

Monk: Last time our heroes found themselves in Denver looking for barbecue, they were a bit underwhelmed despite the above average rating we gave to Boney’s Smokehouse. Has barbecue in Denver drastically changed for the better in the past six years, or should we expect more of the same? Fortunately, a week before mine and Speedy’s sojourn to Red Rocks for a My Morning Jacket show (alongside friends of the blog Boomsauce and Leor), Daniel Vaughn the BBQ Snob himself was in Denver for a speaking event with James Beard award-winning author Adrian Miller and did the legwork for us in terms of scouting out the current Denver barbecue scene. From the looks of it, Denver had a lot more legit barbecue joints than they used to but the one that stood out to him was Owlbear Barbecue in the RiNo (River North) neighborhood of Denver, whose pitmaster Karl Fallenius previously worked at Franklin Barbecue. With that, our Friday afternoon late lunch before the first night at Red Rocks was planned.

Speedy: Admittedly, one does not think of barbecue when travelling to Denver, but the photos of Owlbear had my mouth watering. Owlbear is in the corner of a small shopping center next to Our Mutual Friend Brewing, and is a small joint with two large offset smokers outside and limited seating – just the kind of no frills joint that I like. Our order was easy – a bit of everything, including brisket, pork belly, ribs and pulled pork.

Monk: I’ll start with the weakest of the meats, which was the pulled pork. I was actually a little higher on this than Speedy as it somewhat reminded me of eastern NC barbecue with red pepper flakes in the pork even though it was pulled instead of a finely chopped. It was plenty smoky and moist, but still, was the weakest of the smoked meats on this day.

Speedy: While the pork was just above average, the brisket was phenomenal. Peppery goodness abound, with lots of bark and tender, juicy meat, it hit the spot. We ordered a mix of the lean and fatty, and both were incredible. This ranks with Lewis Barbecue as the best brisket I’ve ever tasted outside the state of Texas (and frankly, there’s not been a whole lot that’s been that close). I don’t quite put it in my top 4 (Franklin, La Barbecue, Pecan Lodge, Killen’s), but it’s right on the edge. 

Monk: The pork belly was something special. If I’m not mistaken, it had the same peppery rub as the brisket (which includes coffee grounds). Was it perhaps the best smoked pork belly I’ve ever tried? No perhaps about it – it absolutely was. 

Speedy: The ribs were also quite good. The rub was different than the brisket – I could taste paprika and maybe some cumin – which complimented the pork nicely. They were cooked nicely, allowing for a nice, clean bite, and no sauce was necessary. Overall, a fine showing and worth ordering.

Monk: I made a mistake in ordering as many sides as I did, and perhaps in ordering any sides at all; perhaps I should have gone full Texas and gone just with a tray of meat. I did not care for the asian slaw and felt like it didn’t go with the meats, though I do wonder how it would work topping a pulled pork sandwich. The cucumber salad was a basic side which I’m guessing was an easy way to get them something green on the menu with little fuss, but it didn’t particularly strike me as a successful barbecue side. The pinto beans were the best of the group we ordered, but were not essential. Mac and cheese and potato salad were both 86’d by the time we got there, and of those two, I’d be curious how the mac and cheese was. Regardless, just meats may be the way to go.

Speedy: The other thing worth mentioning is that though the meats did not need any sauces, it was provided. I ended up tasting it, but not using it as I didn’t particularly care for it. It tasted like mediocre steak sauce to me, so the meats are better off without it.

That said, I’m not sure I could have been more pleased overall. Owlbear Barbecue is proof that great ‘cue can be found anywhere – even in Denver. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Pork Belly – 5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Ten Lessons Learned from Smoking Our First Whole Hog

Monk: Back on Father’s Day weekend, Speedy and I set out to do something I’ve been wanting to do for years. And you know what? We rocked it. But even using both the Sam Jones Whole Hog book (review forthcoming) and the Buxton Hall Book of Smoke as references, there were still a few speed bumps that we can learn from the next time we smoke another hog (and yes, there will definitely be another time).

Lesson #1 – If your barrel doesn’t have a bottom, don’t set it up on cinder blocks

Monk: The barrel I got, while free, already had both the bottom and top cut off. The top wasn’t needed, but I would have preferred the bottom attached so as to keep the coals in. I did get a tip that an aluminum water heater pan would fit perfectly, and it did. However, after just a couple of hours that pan started to disintegrate so Speedy and I had to figure out a way to get the burn barrel off the cinder blocks mid-burn. We managed to get it done, losing just a few coals in the process. Once we got it on the ground, it was smooth sailing…for at least a little bit.

Speedy: Monk may be underselling this a bit. Taking a hot burn barrel with an active fire off of cinder blocks could’ve ended badly, but the pig was the most important thing. To add to this, I’d say that if placing the barrel on the ground, put a solid sheet of metal that won’t burn through underneath, as it can be difficult shoveling the coals off the ground.

Lesson #2 – Be sure to allow enough time to let a solid bed of coals build up before you start to shovel into the pit

Speedy: What we found was that the cinder block pit we made was losing about 1 degree of temperature a minute, so we ended up dropping coals in every half hour. This shot the temperature back up 30 degrees quickly, but we had trouble keeping enough coals to shovel in (refer to lesson #5).

Monk: We were probably a little bit anxious in adding coals to the pit and should have let the fire go for at least an hour before we started shoveling them in.

Lesson #3 – Get fire proof gloves

Speedy: We were very, very fortunate that Monk’s neighbor had some fireproof grilling gloves that he brought over. These came in VERY handy (refer to Lesson 1), and I wouldn’t try this again without some.

Monk: Yes, these were definitely lifesavers.

Lesson #4 – Get at least a half cord of wood

Monk: In Sam Jones’ book, he says you might be able to get away with a quarter cord of wood, but he recommended at least a half cord because having leftover is far more preferable than running out. In our experience with a half cord, we burned through every last bit of firewood. Next time, I won’t consider ordering anything other than a half cord.

Lesson #5 – And definitely have a few bags of charcoal handy in case its needed (it will be needed)

Speedy: This was something Monk and I didn’t have handy, and we were struggling keeping temperature and weren’t making coals fast enough. Luckily, there was a 24 hour Walmart 10 minutes away, so I went to pick up a couple bags of charcoal while Monk manned the fire. This definitely did the trick, but it would have been nice to have them on-hand.

Lesson #6 – Be sure to have the right thermometer measuring your pit temperature

Monk: I initially used the wrong type of thermometer to measure pit temp (one used for measuring oil used for frying turkeys), and it wasn’t until a couple hours in that we realized we were probably 50 degrees below what we thought we were. Once I plugged in my Maverick Redi-chek thermometer, we were able to adjust our coals accordingly and get the pit temp up to where we needed it to be.

Lesson #7 – Working in shifts is definitely a good idea so that you can get some rest

Monk: We started at midnight to ensure enough time to get the hog done ahead of a 6pm party, and Speedy and I each ended up getting about 4 hours of sleep each. While some late night drinking and BS-ing by the burn barrel is fun and all, make sure you get enough sleep so that you aren’t a zombie the next day at your whole hog party.

Lesson #8 – You will be surprised how quickly the hog gets done

Speedy: Monk had told me the hog would be done in about 12 hours, and I thought no way that could be true. At the end of the day, I think we were cooking around 14 hours, but it definitely could have been done in 12 if we didn’t have temperature issues at the beginning. Lesson learned – never doubt Monk.

Monk: I have nothing else to add here other than to emphasize Speedy’s last point about never doubting me.

Lesson #9 – More is more when it comes to rebar, or consider using a grate

Speedy: To chop the hog, we first split it down the middle and then in quarters at the ribs. Unfortunately, when doing so, one quarter of the hog dropped through the rebar onto the ground. Some of the meat was salvageable, but we probably lost a good 8-10 pounds of meat. The good news is there was still plenty of our 126 pound hog to go around.

Lesson #10 – If you can swing it, smoke your first hog with your best friend

Monk: If Speedy wouldn’t have been able to make it, I would have been doing this solo. Besides the pure labor aspect of smoking a hog, there’s a definite sense of satisfaction of smoking your first hog with a good buddy. And remember – its Barbecue Bros, not Barbecue Bro.