Chow Town

Discovering and cooking pit beef, a Baltimore specialty

A Baltimore specialty: Pit beef
A Baltimore specialty: Pit beef

On a recent road trip to Baltimore, I stumbled upon Pulaski Highway and discovered pit beef. This long-standing Baltimore tradition is served along the stretch of U.S. 40 in eastern Baltimore and Baltimore County known as Pit Beef Row, with Chaps, Big Al’s and Big Fat Daddy’s roadside stands and diners.

Now I’m a Kansas City boy and barbecue runs through my blood so when I first discovered this dish a few weeks ago, I was quite intrigued. Not a lot of cooking time, direct and indirect live fire over coals? I thought to myself this may be a little tough or perhaps one of the easiest dishes I could prepare for friends and family at my own barbecue.

The American Royal BBQ is just around the corner, and I know this would be a good recipe to try. I called on my daughter’s fiancé and his family from Baltimore to find some of the real tricks of the trade, and I was a little overwhelmed with their skill. Seriously, I just had this idea that only people from Kansas City barbecue. I might also add that I never had to pick up anything but a fork the whole weekend while learning a lot about this tradition and more of Baltimore’s great food scene.

After doing a little research, I found out that some of the more common rubs are very similar to the Montreal seasoning; some have the basics like salt, pepper, oregano and chili powder. My daughter’s fiancé’s father did three different of types of pit beef on the grill for all of us, and I was really delighted that he even used Jack Stack BBQ Rub on one. Between you and me, coming from Kansas City, I thought that may have been the best one. C’mon, you know I am partial! And something else you can never forget to do: The meat must be seasoned and refrigerated for at least 2 to 3 days before cooking.

I also found out some people use a top round, some use a bottom round and some use an eye of round. I chose a top round for its tenderness and versatility on the grill.

The recipe that I have is pretty easy but one thing is for sure: You must place over hot coals at the end to get a nice crispy finish. Now here is the best, I was overwhelmed when they pulled out a delicatessen style slicer to slice the meet paper thin. Very impressive indeed.

Two types of bread are common in Baltimore, the main one being kaiser rolls and the other old-fashioned rye.

A few more must-haves are sliced tomatoes, sliced onions and a little bit of horseradish and mayonnaise. Simple and delicious.

I came up with an easy tiger sauce to use as a spread and I have also shared this recipe.

I like to call this “carnivore heaven” pit-beef stand style that’s smoked deliciousness on a bun!

Tiger Sauce

1/2 cup horseradish, prepared

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 clove minced garlic

salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate.

Baltimore Pit Beef

3 pounds top round

Jack Stack BBQ Rub

8 kaiser rolls or rye bread

2 tomatoes, sliced

1 onion, sliced thin

Fire up your grill. Season the top round generously with Jack Stack BBQ Rub. Place meat in a 1-gallon plastic bag. Refrigerate at least 2 days to marinate.

Remove meat from bag. Place the meat onto a grill, set for indirect heat at 350 degrees. Cook until the meat reaches 120 degrees. Sear the meat on all sides to get a good crust, using tongs to turn every 2 minutes or so. If the charcoal flares up, move the meat to another spot on the grate until the flames die down.

When a nice crust on all sides appears, remove the meat from the cooker and let rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving. It should register 125 degrees for medium rare.

Slice the meat paper thin after letting it rest covered for 20 minutes.

Prepare the sandwiches by adding meat, sliced onions, sliced tomato and Tiger sauce.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.