Baltimore Pit Beef
Let me pose what might seem like an odd question—do you think Baltimore has its own Barbecue style? If your quick response was no, you’re in good company. But, Baltimore has a specialty sandwich that may change your mind.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of barbecue and style is as follows:
Barbecue: “To roast or broil on a rack or revolving spit over or before a source of heat (such as hot coals).”
Style: “A particular manner or technique by which something is done, created, or performed.”
Looking at these simple definitions, I would argue that Baltimore does have a unique style of regional American BBQ. Few outside the region have heard of it, and those inside take it for granted. What I’m talking about is pit beef—the “unofficial” working man’s sandwich of Baltimore. This specialty can only be found in hole-in-the-wall restaurants dispersed throughout the Central Maryland region.
I spent time seeking out these tiny huts in Baltimore and came to one simple conclusion: pit beef is delicious. The inexpensive, primary cut known as “beef round” is slow cooked over an open pit, traditionally fired by hardwood. It is then shaved paper-thin and served on a simple, white bread bun. For toppings: an additional spread of shaved Spanish onions and the specialty Tiger Sauce, which is a combination of horseradish and mayonnaise. This sandwich is what other roast beef fast-food places strive to emulate!
- Very lean meats: the top-round, bottom-round, or eye of round roast.
- Basic seasonings of salt and pepper.
- Sliced paper-thin, against the grain.
- Basic seasonings of salt, pepper and maybe garlic.
- COOKING METHOD:
- Cook at a moderate to high temperature (375 – 425 F) on a grate, over an open fire.
- Roast over a pit with hardwood as the fuel, until crusty brown on the outside, and anywhere between rare and medium on the inside.
- The dark brown to black crust is an essential characteristic.
- Hardwood or oak charcoal.
- Simple, white bread bun, similar to a Kaiser roll.
- OPTIONAL TOPPINGS:
- Thinly sliced Spanish onion.
- A creamy mayonnaise and horseradish dressing, called Tiger Sauce.
- Use a barbecue sauce that is a thinner, tomato base with slight heat. It should closely resemble a Memphis-style barbecue sauce.
- Should come wrapped in tinfoil and paper wrap.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Since most of these places are old, small single-unit shacks, it is not uncommon to find cash only operations.
- The meat is slowly cooking over an open fire all day, so the degree of doneness will vary. I usually ask, “how rare is the beef today?” They will slice off a small piece to sample, but one can always ask for a slightly more well-done piece.
- Usually no fries or fried sides are available.
Baltimore is best known for its crab boils, but second place has to go to the Poor Man’s pit beef, or the turf to the crab’s surf. Many people may still argue that pit beef doesn’t feel like American barbecue, but they will be hard pressed to say it doesn’t fit the basic definition. At the very least, it is a regional-specific barbecue specialty sandwich. The pit beef sandwich is so good, that it may be in the running for the best kept secret in American regional specialties. Next time you’re in Baltimore, search out these small roadside shacks and try something you’ll only find here. If you have any questions on how to develop this or any other trend, please feel free to reach out to Asenzya® and allow us to guide you on your next flavor journey.