One of the most unique regional styles of American barbecue hails from an unlikely location — Baltimore, a city famous for blue crab and seafood. Known as pit beef, huge chunks of roasts are barbecued until charred over blazing charcoal and sliced thin for sandwiches.
There’s no clear answer to the historical origins or inventor of pit beef. The first printed mention of pit beef appears in a 1968 ad for Al Kelz’s Elite Tavern on York Road. In the 1970s, pit beef started to spring up as a menu item in the food stands around Route 40.
For some barbecue purists, pit beef is technically not barbecue because the meat isn’t smoked. Instead, large chunks of beef, most often top round roast, are grilled over hot charcoal until charred. Unlike Texas brisket, a smoky and well-done affair, pit beef will have a flavor profile akin to a grilled roast beef. Another difference between pit beef and other forms of American-style beef barbecue is the level of doneness. Like steak, pit beef is often served rare or medium-rare. Finally, the meat is also sliced thin (the thinner the better for most pit beef connoisseurs) on a deli slicer.
The traditional way to eat pit beef is in a sandwich constructed with either a Kaiser roll or rye bread. Condiments are simple — some slices of raw white onions and tiger sauce, a horseradish and mayo mix. The pairing of horseradish and pit beef is classic and will be instantly familiar to anyone who enjoys prime rib with a bit of horseradish. Pit beef purists might shun the addition of a sweet, tomato-based barbecue sauce, but many pit beef restaurants now also carry them. Add with caution — too much of the sweet sauce will drown out the charcoal flavor of the lean beef.
(By Chef Brian Duffy)
A Philadelphia native, Brian Duffy is a television personality, culinary consultant, and chef. He is best known for the popular Spike series, Bar Rescue, where he tours the country helping failing bars and restaurants. As a culinary expert, Chef Duffy studied at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College and has worked for James Beard Award winning Chef Jean Marie LaCroix at The Four Seasons in Philadelphia. In 2012, Chef Duffy formed “Duffified Experience Group,” a consulting firm that works with smaller restaurant & bar operators.
- 1 beef top round (20 -22 lb., trimmed & cut in quarters)
- 3 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp chile powder
- 2 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp smoked paprika
- 2 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tbsp Herbs de Provence
- 2 tbsp mesquite barbecue seasoning (McCormick)
- 2 cups Heavy Mayo
- 1 cup prepared horseradish (to taste)
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp Worcestershire
- Mix all the spices in a large bowl. Season beef on all sides.
- Using a charcoal grill (Chef Duffy prefers Jealous Devil Lump Charcoal), create a pile off to the side of the grill (opposite of the beef, opposite of the chimney if possible).
- Light and prep the coals. Allow to sit for 10 mins until coals have white tips & embers.
- Place the quartered beef on the unlit side of the grill & let sit until internal temp hits medium rare (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Redistribute coals to create a hot surface, adding more if needed. Transfer beef to coal side of the grill & sear each side ensuring that there is charring on the beef surface. Let sit until internal temp is 125 F.
- Remove the beef from the grill and let sit on a cutting board for 5-10 mins to allow the juices to redistribute themselves.
- With a knife, spread a thin layer of tiger sauce on each cut side of the rolls. Place sliced rolls on the grill & toast for 1-2 minutes
- Slice beef very thin on a meat slicer (number 2 or 3) or with a sharp carving knife.
- Place sliced beef on rolls (create a stack about 1.5 inches tall). Top with sliced raw onions & a dollop of the tiger sauce. Repeat again (beef, onions, sauce) for a larger sandwich or serve open faced with a side of tiger sauce for dipping.
- Mix well all ingredients well in a bowl. Hold chilled in the refrigerator until sandwiches are ready.
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