Amped Up Roast Beef on the Cheap: Baltimore Pit Beef

"If you don't get some on your shirt, you're not doing it right." Meathead

You can make roast beef from many cuts on the steer, but here's how to make a fine roast beef by taking a lesson from the Pit Beef cooks in Baltimore.

Pit beef is served in many restaurants, bars, and pubs in the Charm City area, and surprisingly, it is rarely found outside Maryland. It is essentially a juicy roast beef sammich cooked on a grill. All manner of grills are used, charcoal, wood, and gas.

The meat is a large hunk of beef, often from the rump, often top round, sometimes bottom round, and sometimes sirloin. It is rubbed with a savory spice and herb mix, usually cooked until it is dark and crispy on the outside and rare inside, sliced thin across the grain so there is a narrow crusty ring of flavor from the exterior in every bite. Then it is heaped on a roll or rye bread. You can usually order your preferred doneness since the edges and tapered sections are cooked more and are less red. Cooks will often throw slices back on the fire if you don't want yours rare.

Because the roasts typically used are from the rump and are very lean, they can be tough. Baltimore restaurants machine slice the meat very thin to make it easier to chew, but you can make it tender by cooking it lower and slower than the high speed operations. Low and slow melts the connective tissues that surround the meat fibers (see my article on meat science). Still, if you use one of the cheaper roasts from the rump, it is absolutely essential that you cut across the grain and shave the slices paper thin.

pit beef roast

In order to get that authentic flavor, you should cook over charcoal, but pit beef can be done just fine on a gas grill. I recommend you throw in some smoke. This is usually a big hunk of meat so you need to get as much flavor as possible on the exterior because the interior doesn't have much flavor other than simple beef. Rub and smoke just can't penetrate very far.

Some places proffer a wide range of condiments, but the standard is a horsey sauce, sometimes called tiger sauce, which is a blend of horseradish and mayo, and then thin sliced raw onions top it all. Baltimore Tiger Sauce is very different than the stuff sold in a bottle called Tiger Sauce. As an upgrade, use my Secretariat Horseradish Sauce.

Some places serve their pit beef on caraway studded rye bread, but if the beef is juicy and topped with tiger sauce, rye bread is a recipe for a sloppy mess in your lap. I'll have mine on a kaiser roll or hoagie bun.

Recipe

Makes. 10 heaping sandwiches

Takes. 4 to 6 hours

Tiger Sauce

3 tablespoons jarred horseradish in vinegar

1/2 cup mayonnaise

The Sandwich

1 (5 pound) top or bottom round beef roast

5 tablespoons Mrs. O'Leary's Cow Crust recipe

2 raw onions, peeled, ends cut off, sliced thin

10 kaiser rolls

About the horseradish. I recommend grated horseradish in white vinegar, from a jar or home made, but you can use the creamy version if you wish.

Method

1) Trim excess fat and any silver skin from the roast. The fat does not penetrate the meat. Meat is 75% water and fat and water don't mix. And the fat blocks the rub and smoke from the meat. If your roast is funny shaped, tie it with butcher string to make it closer to uniform in thickness so it cooks uniformly. Now take a look at the meat and figure out which way the grain is running because when it is done, you will want to slice it across the grain to reduce the chewiness. It is easier to find the grain when the meat is raw.

2) Dry brine the meat a day in advance if possible, 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat. In a baking pan, wet the entire surface and coat it with the Cow Crust. I like to amp it up, especially if I use the lean cuts from the rump by injecting about 1 ounce per pound of my beef injection. You can cook right away, but if you let it sit overnight in the fridge, there will be slightly better penetration of the rub and the injection will have a chance to move around and distribute itself.

3) Mix the mayo and horseradish and let it sit for at least 30 minutes during the cook.

4) Set up your grill for 2-zone indirect heat and get the indirect side to about 225°F with the lid down. On a smoker, set it up to cook at 225°F. I know this is a lot cooler than most restaurants cook at, but stick with me. This will make meat more tender than most restaurants. If you wish, throw some wood into your grill for smoke flavor. I recommend it. Place the meat in indirect heat, close the lid and check the color on the bottom after about 30 minutes. If it is different than the color on top, roll it over. The cooking time will depend on the temp and the thickness of the meat. Shoot for about 115°F in the deepest part.

5) Then move it over direct heat to crisp up the crust, and roll it around every 5 minutes or so when the exterior gets deep mahogany. Don't burn it. Watch the temp in the center and remove the roast when it hits 125°F for medium rare. This reverse sear method will give you much more even color inside the meat, and a crisper crust that if you sear first.

6) Slice the meat thin across the grain for max tenderness. If you slice and the grain is running parallel to the slice, rotate the hunk and slice it across the grain. This is crucial! It may be hard to slice warm meat with a machine if you have one, so I slice mine by hand. Just shave it off. Don't try to make large complete slices. The thinner the better. After you slice it, you can throw a few slices back on the grill or in a pan for those who like it chewier and more well done.

7) Mound it high on the roll, drizzle on some horsey sauce, and scatter a few thinly sliced onion rings on.

baltimore pit beef sandwich

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