Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Baltimore Pit Beef with Tiger Sauce

My latest barbecue project takes me to a place where "barbecue" is not barbecue.  There is no low and slow, smoking large cuts of pork or beef over carefully selected woods until they are cooked through and fork tender.  There is no application of thick tomato-based sauces or thinner vinegary sauces.  Yet, in this place, the residents still embrace what they believe to be barbecue.  The place is Baltimore, Maryland and the "barbecue" is known as pit beef.

I did some research into the history of pit beef, which appears to have originated in the working class neighborhoods of eastern Baltimore city.  The recent tradition of pit beef, according to Baltimore Pit Beef History, can be found along "Pit Beef Row" on Route 40, also known as Pulaski Highway.  The "big three" are Chap's Charcoal Restaurant, Big Al's and Big Fat Daddy's.  Of the three, Chap's is perhaps the best known because of its appearances on shows such as Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Adam Richman's Man v. Food.

When it comes to explaining pit beef, it may be best to draw upon Adam Richman's Man v. Food.  I do so because I am a big fan of his show.   A little introduction, and, then on to the pit beef:

If you think about it, pit beef is the exact opposite of barbecue.  Cuts of beef are grilled over higher heat, with the grillmaster opening the grill often to turn the meat to ensure a crunchy crust develops on all sides of the cut, while ensuring that the meat remains between rare and medium rare on the inside.  Pitmasters from western Texas to eastern North Carolina would label it "heresy" if pit beef were to be called "barbecue."   

Heresy or not, I have wanted to make pit beef ever since I saw Adam Richman eat that sandwich.  During my research, I came across a few recipes for pit beef.  I decide to use a recipe from the professor of "Barbecue University," Steve Raichlen.  As it turns out, Steve grew up in Maryland, although he never had pit beef while he lived here.  Steve based his recipe based on Big Fat Daddy's recipe for pit beef.  This recipe was easy, but I had a problem.  Steve's recipe called for the use of top round.  I went to a couple of supermarkets, but I could not find any top round.  All that was available were eye round and bottom round.  The Man v. Food video above was taken at Chap's, which uses bottom round.  So, I decided that I would substitute bottom round. It was a sizable cut, weighing in at four and one-half pounds. 

The only other thing I needed is the sauce.  A pit beef sandwich is a very simple construction ... beef, white onions and the sauce ... a mayonnaise/horseradish combination sometimes called "Tiger Sauce."  While Steve Raichlen included a recipe for a white sauce from Big Fat Daddy's, but I wanted to find a recipe for the Tiger Sauce used by Chap's.  (After all, I was using a bottom round like Chap's rather than a top round like Big Fat Daddy's).  After a little more research, I found a recipe from a website called Food So Good Mall.  Although I could not verify that it was a recipe for Chap's Tiger Sauce, it was still very good.  

Pit Beef Recipe adapted from Big Fat Daddy's by Steven Raichlen and 
printed in the New York Times; and, the Tiger Sauce recipe
adapted from Food So Good Mall
Serves several

Ingredients (for the rub):
2 tablespoons seasoned salt
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Ingredients (for the sandwich):
1 3-pound piece top round
8 kaiser rolls or 16 slices of rye bread
1 sweet white onion, sliced thin

Ingredients (for the Tiger Sauce):
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 cup of prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons of dry mustard
2 tablespoons of sour cream

1. Marinate the beef.  Combine ingredients for the rub in a bowl, and mix. Sprinkle 3 to 4 tablespoons all over the beef, patting it in. Place in a baking dish, and cover with plastic wrap. You can cover the beef with the rub for a few hours, but for maximum flavor, leave it for 3 days in the refrigerator, turning once a day.

2.  Make the Tiger Sauce.  Combine the mayonnaise, horseradish, mustard and sour cream. Mix all the ingredients well. Set aside in the refrigerator.

3. Grill the beef.  Prepare a hot grill (my estimate is about 400 to 450 degrees). Grill beef 30 to 40 minutes, or until outside is crusty and dark brown and internal temperature is about 120 degrees (for rare).  Times will vary depending upon the cut used and its size.  Still, turn beef often. Transfer to a cutting board; let it rest 5 minutes.

4. Plate the dish.  Slice beef thinly across grain. Pile beef high on a roll or bread and slather the beef with the Tiger Sauce. Garnish with white onions.

One last thought ... given the cut of beef, pit beef should be, at most, medium rare.  Bottom round (or top round) cooked to medium or well is better used as leather than served as a sandwich.  When you grill the bottom round according to the times, it is very likely that you will end up with part of the round being rare or even bordering on raw.  The solution is easy ... just slice off the medium rare slices and put the round back on the grill for one or two minutes.  You can then continue slicing the meat.  I provide this information with one caveat: many people like the rare slices and often request the "rare" when they order pit beef sandwiches whenever they visit one of those shacks on Pit Beef Row. 


Given the pit beef sandwich is a quintessential Baltimore food, it needs to be paired with the quintessential Baltimore beverage ... beer.  I would suggest a beer from one of Baltimore's craft brewers, such as Heavy Seas.  Some of the Heavy Seas beers that could pair well with this recipe include the Classic Lager and IPA, or even some of the Pyrate Fleet Beers, like the Small Craft Warning Uber Pils or Loose Cannon IPA.


1 comment:

Wayne Schafer BFD said...

Thanks for the mention, keep making amazing pit beef.