The Jew And The Carrot

A Different Kind of Smoked Meat

By Rachel Kahn-Troster

  • Print
  • Share Share
Flickr: Bill Bumgarner

When I grew up in Toronto in the 1980s and early 1990s, a lot of my classmates in day school were the children of recent transplants from Montreal, and they brought with them nostalgia for the Jewish foods of their home city like Montreal bagels and smoked meat. But I longed for a Montreal food of a different kind — a Montreal smoked turkey at Passover. Heavily spiced and delicious cold, we ordered them from Montreal and they were the centerpieces of our seders. It was a special treat, not in the least because smoked turkey wasn’t the kind of the thing you could make at home (at least not easily).

The tradition started with my paternal grandfather who was in the shoe business. He started receiving smoked turkeys every year from a customer who gifted hams to his other clients but knew my grandfather kept a kosher home (one year, he sent us a ham by accident). It became an integral part of our Passover dinner table and we continued the tradition for many years.

Eventually, I moved to the U.S. and didn’t want to deal with getting a smoked turkey through customs. I tried to track one down on the internet and failed. My culinarily-minded uncle assured me that one could still get them: “Levitt’s turkeys! There are ads for them in the Canadian Jewish News every Hanukkah!” But as time passed, this seemed like a false memory.

This summer, a friend of mine taught me how to smoke a chicken using our barbecue, and the idea began percolating in my mind that maybe I should try to recreate the Montreal smoked turkey at home. The challenge was getting the recipe and figuring out the technique. I emailed Leavitt’s Catering in Montreal (note the spelling), asking for tips for a DIY Montreal turkey. Immediately, I got a call from Harvey Leavitt. “You’ve got the wrong Leavitt,” he said, “You need the ones who spelled it wrong. And anyways, they are out of business.” He gave me the contact information of the last owner, Murray Brookman.

When I spoke with Brookman, he dismissed the idea of making the Montreal turkey at home. “It can’t be done.” He explained that they used to inject the turkeys with a mixture of spices and then hang them in the smoke house for a day. The unique taste came from the spices they used for the classic Montreal smoked meat. No one else made turkeys like Levitts’ and inn their day, they were very popular, he said. “We used to sell 700 or 800 hundred a year, Jews would buy them for Hanukah and non-Jews for Christmas. And don’t say it was an old family recipe, because it wasn’t.”

I was undeterred. My uncle conquered with the spice mix and suggested I dry brine the bird for 3 days. “If it works, I might make one for Pesach,” he said.

So at the beginning of January, in between the snowstorms, I spent a Thursday smoking a turkey on my BBQ. I figured the chill of New Jersey in January would replicate Montreal weather better, though I suspect my neighbors found it entertaining that I was shoveling out space amidst the snowdrifts to take my grill out of the garage. I started dry brining the turkey a few days earlier, using a smoked meat rub I found on the internet.

Smoking food requires indirect heat and a turkey is pretty large, so getting the right configuration of burners and racks took some effort. Once it got going, though, it smelled fantastic, with the light flavor of apple wood filling the air. For some unknown reason, after 6 hours, the internal temperature stalled at 150 (too rare for poultry, which needs to cook closer to 160-165), so I finished it in the oven, which meant the breast dried out a bit, but no one I served it to on Shabbat complained. My dad said it came pretty close to the taste and texture of a Montreal smoked turkey, but I am not so sure. Whether it is authentic to the Levitts’ tradition or not, it was delicious.

Smoked Turkey at Home

One bag of wood chips (apple worked well)
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
A large aluminum pan
1 large plastic bag (you can find ones large enough for turkeys around Thanksgiving)
1 turkey (err on the side of a smaller one, which will cook before it can dry out. I used a 12 pounder)
canola oil
kosher salt
2-3 batches of smoked meat rub, about 1 batch of rub for every 5 pounds of turkey

1) About 4 days before you want to smoke the turkey, take it out of the freezer and slather most of the rub onto the turkey, along with several tablespoons of kosher salt (hold onto any leftover rub for when you cook the turkey). Place into a plastic bag and refrigerate. It will brine and defrost at the same time. Every day, massage the spices into the skin.

2) On the day of cooking, soak some of the wood chips in a large bowl of water. After an hour, place them in packets of aluminum foil, into which you poke holes for the smoke to release. Add more wood chips to the water — you will need to make new packets several times during the cooking. While you soak the wood, bring the turkey to room temperature. Mix the leftover spices with canola oil, and use them to baste the turkey during cooking.

3) Preheat the grill to high, then turn off two of the burners. Place the turkey (in the roasting pan) over the burners that are off, and place the wood chip packets over the remaining burners. Close the grill and resist the urge to peek too often. The packets should soon start to smoke—replace them if the smoke dies down.

4) Every half hour or so, baste the turkey. If the wings or breast look done, cover with aluminum foil. Aim to keep the temperature of the BBQ between 275-325 degrees, but this may be hard to do if the weather outside is very cold. Assume about 20 minutes a pound, but give yourself enough time for it to be much longer. After a few hours, begin checking the internal temperature with an instant read thermometer. I think 160-165 degrees is probably fine — too much higher will dry out the turkey. Allow to rest before serving.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Turkey, Smoked Meat, Seder, Montreal, Passover

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.