Local Flavor: Maryland Pit Beef
Posted by Elizabeth Landry on 8/17/18
This January marks one year for me in Maryland and during this time I have enjoyed many local favorites: hands down the very best crabcakes in the world, steamed and deliciously seasoned blue crabs, golden fried soft shell crabs, Natty Boh, Flying Dog, Heavy Seas and the vast array of local brews, Bergers cookies, rock fish (it’s actually striped bass, but we’ll just let by- gones be by- gones), a dinner to remember at Volt....this is just to name a few. I have truly enjoyed many of the good things that Maryland has to offer, and I have a good feeling that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
As a chef, the most logical way to learn about a new place is to eat. Also, as a chef I enjoy sharing my love of food with those around me, so let’s begin some culinary discoveries in and around the Mid Atlantic. I figured I should start the journey close to home....with Baltimore’s own Pit Beef. Around here it’s often called barbeque, but if you’re expecting a piece of beef that cooked slowly over a low temperature and is seasoned with a rich and sweet molasses, tangy tomato, notes of vinegary mustard and savory onion and garlic, you’re in for a surprise. Stunningly, it is cooked in rather short amount of time....less than hour total for 4 to 5 pound top round roast. Although I saw some evidence of smoking, the vast majority of places cook it over a bed of piping hot coals. And the seasoning is an uncomplicated mixture of salt, garlic, chili and black pepper. You would think that a sparing seasoned cut of beef that is grilled over hot coals in short amount of time would yield something tough and unpleasant. You would be wrong. It’s delightfully moist and tender with a pleasant beefy-ness and studded with bits of flawlessly seasoned and charred edges.
Being new to the pit beef experience, by no means have I achieved expert status on this subject so I’ll just have to continue to eat my way to knowledge. With that being said, I have learned that this little treasure originated on the east side of the city from within the working-class neighborhoods. After it’s seasoned and grilled to a precise temperature and allowed to rest, it’s sliced. This next step is the icing on the beefy cake....They ask you how you want your meat! And that’s exactly how you get it. I prefer medium rare, but found that even the more well-done pieces are delightful. They can slice it either paper thin on a slicer or carved slightly thicker by hand, then it’s piled onto a Kaiser Bun or white bread. Many places offer a good assortment of toppings but I was told the best way to go about this is to finish with sliced onions and Tiger sauce (a delicious concoction made with horseradish).
In order to understand it I needed to sample from a couple of places around the area. My first stop was close to home, a small shack filled the aroma of beef and bacon. Overall it was alright, a bit dry so I was thankful for the generous helping of tiger sauce. I’ll leave the name out as not to offend. This wasn’t the best start to my journey and I was having some serious doubts about my chosen subject, but I was not ready to give up. I had read many reviews about a much loved joint called Chaps Pit Beef.
It’s located in downtown Baltimore, and it was well worth the trip. The small restaurant’s patrons included a good amount of families. And the beef was incredibly moist, tender and utterly enchanting. In life, the simple things when done right are such a treasure!
Now that I had a taste of what I wanted to recreate, it was time to enact the second part of the plan. I found a couple nice pieces of top round, created a simple and flavorful rub (recipe follows), let it sit over the weekend and then on Monday I fired up the grill. Everything I read said if using a propane grill to set it to a medium high setting, get a good char on all sides and move it to indirect heat to finish. Most of the recipes said to cook a 4-5 pound roast for a total of about 30-40 minutes or until it reached 120°F...really? That’s it?
After removing it from the grill, wrap it in foil and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes. This is so simple...there’s no way it will yield a similar result as what I had experienced from Chaps. I was wrong....it was amazing, well at least “not bad” (which according to my oldest brother means pretty darn good food).
All that remained was to slice, pile, top and enjoy...and oh how we enjoyed!
Baltimore Style Pit Beef
Ingredients for the beef:
• 1 Tbsp kosher salt
• 1 tsp cracked black pepper
• 1 tsp garlic powder
• 1 tsp chili powder
• ¼ tsp ground cumin
• 4-5 pound top round or eye round cut of beef
For the sandwiches:
• 6-8 Kasier buns
• 1-2 sweet onion
• 1 cup homemade or store bought horseradish sauce
1. Combine the salt with the spices, and rub generously onto the beef.
2. Cover and place in refridgerator for at least 4 hours. I recommend overnight or 2-3 days for maximum flavor.
3. Remove the seasoned beef from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature while you prepare the hot grill. If using charcoal prepare an area for direct heat to char it a bit, and an area of indirect heat to finish the cooking.
4. You’ll want to use the direct, intense heat to get a nice crust on the outside. Once this is achieved move it to the indirect heat and allow to continue to cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 120-130°F...this took me about 30 minutes total on the grill.
5. Remove it from the grill and wrap it in foil. Allow it to rest for about 10-15 minutes while wrapped in the foil.
6. Unwrap and place on a cutting board. You’ll want to slice it as thin as possible and try to go against the grain.
7. Pile the thin slices of beef on the buns and top with slices of sweet onion and horseradish sauce.
8. For the full experience serve the sandwiches wrapped in foil and enjoy!
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- Elizabeth Landry
Corporate Executive Chef