Seven Briskets & Seven Tasters

We wanted to find out how local smoked meat/pastrami compared without being influenced by any advance knowledge of product identity. In other words, this was a single blind taste test. Only the host knew what was being served. The host was not allowed to participate in the judging or identify any of the samples until all the scores were in.

All the meats were purchased unsliced.
They were steamed and hand cut just before serving
(Note that Goldin's had to be cooked in its plastic packaging before serving. )

Meat samples were tasted without bread or any condiments (although we had sandwiches later after the official tasting featuring fresh rye bread from Bagel Plus and homemade creamy hot horseradish mustard from Cottage Chef).


Centre Street Deli $30 kg (Old Fashioned)
Wolfies $24 kg
Caplansky's $29 kg
Stockyards $33 kg
Cottage Chef $30 kg
Dunn's $12 kg (a Montreal product purchased from Ajax COSTCO)
Goldin's Romanian Style $22 kg
(Sandwich at Free Times Café.)

Note: If you buy hot meat to take away, you will pay taxes; but not if the meat is sold cold.


David (Food With Legs)
Manny (Embee on Chow)
James (JT90 on Chow)
Paul (Food Share) (Slow Food Toronto)
Mark (foodyDudey on Chow)
Barbara (Ms foodyDudey)
Al (Torontovore)

The ten (10) criteria used in judging each smoked meat sample are as follows:

After Taste
Overall Texture
Ease Of Swallowing / Moisture

Highest possible score for each single criteria is 10 points, lowest is 1 point.

Highest possible total score (10 points in all 10 criteria) from one judge, for each specific sample, is 100 points.

Highest possible total score from all 7 judges for one specific sample is 700 points.

All individual score sheets and comments have been saved as spreadsheets and are available for a more detailed analysis. Just leave a comment and I'll send them to you. The latest analysis has put Stockyards out in front by a few points. Some numbers might change a little (I've learned that handwriting is not the best recording medium), but the overall results are solid.


We had the support of Peter from Bison Basics who hosted the tasting in his Harbourfront condo and did all the meat prep work. Much Thanks!

Overall Total Scores (out of a 700 point maximum), with Additional Comments:

( Note that the comments are from individual tasters and may contradict each other based on personal preferences.)

At 574 points - STOCKYARDS

-perfect saltiness
-smoky aroma
-looks gorgeous

At 568 points - CAPLANSKY'S
-sweet but not overwhelming
-a bit too sweet
-too little smokiness & spiciness
-a little dry on swallowing

At 427 points - GOLDIN'S
-maybe overcooked
-very dry with no fat
-greasy aftertaste
-needs more spice and salt
-too salty
-deeply meaty
-fat and lean not integrated

At 414 points - WOLFIE'S
-pleasantly spicy with a pleasing texture
-very commercial
-processed taste
-more smokiness needed

At 365 points - COTTAGE CHEF
-nice aroma
-too sweet
-needs more salt
-chemical taste
-too much pepper

At 362 points - CENTRE STREET DELI
-very commercial
-not enough salt, smoke, or pepper
-should be smokier and spicier

At 317 points - DUNN'S
-very commercial
-chemical taste
-no smoke and barely spicy
-not enough salt
-too dry and stringy

Each Specific Criteria Has Been Scored Out Of A Possible Maximum of 70 Points
(7 judges x A Maximum of 10 Points Each)

Most Acceptable Smokiness
Stockyards (51) and Caplansky's (50) essentially tied for 1st place.
Goldin's (36) came in at third place.

Best Overall Texture
Caplansky's (56) and Stockyards (52) were both out in front.
Goldin's (43) held onto 3rd place, followed closely by Dunn's (41).

Some surprises here as Stockyards (60) ran away in first place.
And out of nowhere, Wolfie's (47) grabs 2nd place.
Cottage Chef (42) had a respectable score for third place.

Nicest Overall Aroma
Caplansky's (60) wins the sniff test with Stockyards (56) close behind.
And again Wolfie's (44) makes a great showing with Goldin's (40) holding down fourth place.

Best Meatiness / Umami
Caplansky's (63) leads with the best meatiness score with Stockyards (59) again a close second.
We drop rapidly to Goldin's (49) as a follow up contender.

Most Acceptable Saltiness
This was a wildly scored category. Low scores reflected too much or too little salt.
Caplansky's (60) and Stockyards (61) tied for most appropriate salting.
Wolfie's (50) held onto 3rd place

Most Acceptable Sweetness
Another category that had personal bias. Low scores reflected too much or too little sweetness.
Caplansky's (61) and Stockyards (60) once more tied for 1st place in the sweetness category.
Wolfie's (51) again held onto 3rd place.

How Does It Look?
Caplansky's (64) and Stockyards (61) continue neck to neck for 1st place in the appearance category.
Goldin's (54) fights for 3rd place.

Ease in Swallowing - The Moisture Factor
Caplansky's (61) stood out here!
The Stockyards (57) also made a good showing with Centre Street Deli (51) holding strong at 3rd place.

And Finally the 'After Taste'
Stockyards (57) and Caplansky's (57) once again both matched each other's scores with Wolfie's (50) holding in at 3rd place.


We have some really superior choices in Toronto for deli-style smoked meat. The artisnal products from Stockyards and Caplansky's really stand out as the best sandwich experiences. And if you're visiting Caplansky's on College Street, you can also find Goldin's meat just a block away at the Free Times Cafe.

For those up in the north-west GTA, the surprise was how well Wolfie's performed. A traditional deli (which doubles as a shrine to Coca Cola) scored way above what was expected. In retrospect, we should probably have included a sample from Pancer's too, but the cost and logistics of the project was already pushing our limits. Maybe next time.

Cottage Chef, who caters in the cottage lands, but also delivers to Toronto, was firmly in the middle range with his distinctive sweet and savoury product. Centre Street Deli was the most disappointing, especially at the price point. Dunn's, imported from Montreal, lost out in almost every category and its only redeeming feature being a price that's half that of all the others tasted.

I'd like to thank all our judges for finding the time for this taste test. It was a great meaty evening!


Al said…
I doubt we'll bother doing this again.

When I get comments from Zane Caplansky (who tied for 1st place) such as:

"Why should I care how you think my food compares to anyone else's? How is there anything helpful in this comparison for me or my business? "

"...your survey shows the opinions of 7 people who are all unknown to me (random) except Manny Blatt. At least Manny has the balls to tell me to my face what he thinks of my food and I care about his opinion not because he posts on Chowhound but because my experience with him is that he knows his stuff, he's a great cook and I consider him a friend."

"Besides, your testers (who contradict each other in almost every instance) found someone else's product superior to mine."

This lack of respect for all the unknown diners and customers who have supported and kept his business alive is deplorable.

btw all our tasters were highly qualified to judge the smoked meat; they were not randomly picked off the street.

A lack of intelligent discussion and too much animosity has severely cooled any enthusiasm we may have had to continue with more 'blind taste tests'.
Al said…
Just to cap it off, here's a couple more of Zane's thoughts...

"...ridiculous survey..."

"I care what my customers think. Anonymous prognosticators who pretend to be experts? Not so much."

"..promotes someone else's product as superior to mine and sends customers next door to try a competitor's product? Are you insane?"

So an honest, unbiased review designed to help consumers is insane? I guess if you're a restaurant owner who feels slighted that he's not always number one, that may be true. A smart owner may have looked at the data and found ways to improve rather than insult the messenger.

I was a full supporter of Zane during the Monarch days, but now things smell bad. Too much main stream publicity goes to your head I guess. We were his customers, but no longer.
Thomas said…
Zane refrain, insane in with deckle membrane!
Cure, cure, and cure, take care of your clientele and staff!