Baltimore Pit Beef Sandwiches

If revenge is a dish best served cold, then redemption must be best served warm, on a kaiser roll with onions and “tiger sauce.”  The Steelers played the Baltimore Ravens a couple of weeks ago and unfortunately did not win, but the crab cakes we made for the Steeler Opponent-City Challenge were winners to us.  Although Maryland is most known for its crab, we couldn’t let the Steeler/Ravens rivalry continue into a second game this season without trying another Baltimore food specialty — the “pit beef” sandwich.  Pit beef is Baltimore’s version of barbeque, but without any sauce or rub typical of Texas or southern BBQ.  Pit beef is delicious in its simplicity — top round seasoned with salt & pepper, then grilled over charcoal using a technique that makes the beef rare in the middle and seared on the outside, sliced thin and served on a bun with white onion and a sauce made with mayo, horseradish, sour cream, lemon juice and garlic.  This week’s S.O.C.C. was win-win — we loved the pit beef, and the Steelers redeemed themselves by SWI-zing out a win against the Ravens with a field goal by their kicker Shaun Suisham (pronounced “swi-zem”) — which brings the current S.O.C.C. record to:  Steelers 7-5, Foodie Lawyer 11-1.


The top round we bought was pretty big for just the 2 of us, so we cut it in half and put the other half in the freezer for later use.  Trim any visible fat from the beef.


Season the beef generously on both sides with lots of salt and pepper, then let it rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  This step allows the beef to reach a uniform temperature throughout, which helps with the grilling process.  If the beef is fresh out of the fridge when you grill it, then the outside will sear too quickly while the inner portion of meat remains cold.  (As cold as Steeler receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ other hand apparently was when he attempted to shift the football on his way to a touchdown and fumbled it.  C’mon Man!)


While the beef rests, make the tiger sauce by combining 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup prepared horseradish, 1 tablespoon sour cream, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 clove of minced garlic, and salt & pepper.


Whisk the sauce ingredients together, taste, and adjust the flavors as needed.  Authentic Tiger Sauce is apparently very spicy, so add more horseradish if you like it hot.  Additional sour cream with help make it more smooth and tart, while more mayo will tone down the heat.  The sauce is really good and you don’t have to make pit beef to use it — make it the next time you’re having steak (especially if it’s not a particularly great cut of beef) and use it as a dipping sauce.


Part of the reason that pit beef is a winner is that we learned a new grilling technique when we researched pit beef recipes.  The trick, for a cut of meat of this size, to getting a good sear on the outside while keeping the meat rare on the inside involves wrapping the meat in foil and cooking it over indirect heat at first, then moving the meat to high heat to sear it.  Heavy duty aluminum foil and the remote thermometer are your friends for this process.


Based on our research, grilling the beef over charcoal is the way to get the most authentic “pit beef” flavor.  But a gas grill will also work.  We actually used the bottom half of our smoker as a charcoal grill.


Whether you use charcoal or gas, the key is to have a small amount of space with no coals (for charcoal) or no heat (for gas) to place the beef initially, in order to achieve the indirect heat for cooking the beef during the first step of the grilling process.


Place the foil-wrapped beef over indirect heat, cover the grill and cook until the internal temperature reaches about 100 degrees.


Then unwrap the beef and sear it on all sides over very high direct heat until charred and the internal temperature reaches about 125-130 degrees (medium rare.)


Allow the beef to rest for about 12-15 minutes so the juices redistribute.


Thinly slice the beef.  Authentic pit beef is sliced with a meat slicer for super-thin pieces, but even Dan couldn’t justify the purchase of an actual meat slicer just for purposes of this little post in our latest food challenge.  (See previous challenge-related purchases here and here, just to name a few.)


We were very impressed by how the pit beef turned out, and will use this technique again when we want charred-outside-rare-inside results from a large cut of meat.


Serve the thinly sliced beef on a roll with onion slices and a generous amount of tiger sauce.  Victory never tasted so beefy, complemented perfectly with the bite of onion and a creamy spicy sauce.

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