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Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

pitbeef18 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

Lately I’ve been lamenting the seeming proliferation of fake pit beef, which I believe is actually roast beef that’s been charred before serving. So I finally got around to trying pit beef at home to see just how hard it is. Conclusion: easier than pie, since we all know pie isn’t actually very easy.

On a 1-10 scale of difficulty, I’d give it a 3, only because you need to wait for the beef to marinate and be able to start coals – recipe can be found at the end of this post.

There doesn’t seem to be much out there in the way of background information. The resource that seems to keep popping up is this NYT article written back in 2000. This is totally unacceptable! First of all, it’s New York, secondly it’s almost a decade old, and lastly the whole premise is flawed. Pit beef as nothing to do with barbecue as far as I’m concerned, and thus should ne be referred to as “Baltimore’s answer to barbecue”. What an insult! It’s really a very straightforward grilled beef sandwich, chracterized by a highly charred crust. And no offense to the guy quoted in the article, but gas grilling just ain’t gonna cut it hoss.

I’ve driven by the place mentioned in the article countless times, but have never had a chance to stop by. I plan on going this afternoon, but from the signage I think it may have changed hands, since I see so mention of “”Big Fat Daddy’s”, and only signs that read “Little Texas” and “Cookout” (the latter in magic marker). In any case, though I have yet to actually taste it, the recipe included in the article just seems to be wrong. I’ve never had pit beef with oregano, ’nuff said. As I’ve mentioned before, I think the important factors are using top round, a good, thorough, thick charred crust, medium rare doneness, slightly bloody runoff, and a good kaiser roll as the vehicle. And really, it’s pretty easy.

Instead of ordering a whole top round from my meat guy, I figured it’d be a lot more useful to see what was available at Safeway, which was a cut they labeled as a “Top Round Roast”, which was about 4 pounds at $4.50 per. That’s pretty pricey, but it’s good for 8 decent-sized sandwiches:

pitbeef08 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

I left it as is since it was pretty thoroughly trimmed, and a bit of attached fat is always welcome. I used a very simple rub of salt, black pepper and minced garlic. The garlic is probably non-traditional, but it pretty much disappears into the background in the final product. After rubbing the seasoning in to the meat well, wrap in plastic and let it sit for at least a couple hours, and up to a day:

pitbeef09 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

Now, again, I don’t think pit beef has anything to do with barbecue as we know it here in the US, it’s really grilling since it’s cooked directly over coals. And for grilling, using real lump charcoal is essential – it burns much hotter and cleaner than briquettes, thought not for as long:

pitbeef10 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

Form a deep a crust on the broad sides first – this also accomplishes most of the cooking. To replicate a pit somewhat, arrange the coals in two rows, as far apart as the meat is wide. Then place the meat int the middle and let it go for 15 minutes:

pitbeef11 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

Then turn once to get the other side, and give it another 15 minutes:

pitbeef12 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

Now as you can see, there are still uncharred surfaces, and this is the major flaw in cooking pit beef on a grill, as opposed to a proper pit:

beef9 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

So after you’ve cooked the second side, rotate the beef onto all uncharred sides until the entire surface is nice and crusty. At this point, my 4 pound cut (which was about 4 inches thick at its thickest point), had reached rareness in the center:

pitbeef13 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

If you desire medium-rareness, give it another 5-7 minutes on the grill, with the top closed and vents wide open. Here’s a cross-section of mine:

pitbeef14 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

As I mentioned above, it helps tremendously to have access to a meat slicer, but a very sharp carving knife will suffice. In either case, let the meat rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Letting it rest for a bit longer may make it easier to slice if you’re doing it by hand:

pitbeef15 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

Note the pool of clear red meat juice. Now for pit beef, I like my roll soaked with this fluid (which isn’t actually blood, rather water with in this case intact myoglobin. As more heat is applied, the myoglobin denatures into larger molecules and stays behind in the meat, leaving the “juice” clear. This will be on the final exam. Anyway, I like the stuff soaked into the roll, but you could go old-school and make a blood and butter sauce by collecting the juice and warming it through over very low heat with fresh butter:

pitbeef16 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

Here’s the final product, and what a proper pit beef roll looks like:

pitbeef18 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

pitbeef19 Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue

And that’s it, authentic, real pit beef made the way it should be, umm except minus the pit. My pit beef recipe is exceedingly simple, the key is in using the right cut, forming a good crust, and slicing thin against the grain.

Homemade Pit Beef Recipe

1 Top Round Roast, 3-4 pounds

salt (not kosher, unless it’s fine-grain like Diamond), black pepper, garlic (optional)

1. Season the beef thoroughly, wrap with plastic, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight

2. Over two rows of hot lump charcoal, grill the beef on one side for 15 minutes

3. Turn over and cook for another 15 minutes

4. Char any undercooked surfaces using tongs

NOTE: This pit beef recipe yields rare doneness for a 3-4 lb. piece of top round. Cook longer for a larger piece of beef or for more well done temperature. A whole top round weighing 15-20 lbs. should take about and hour and a half total on a flat-top grill for rare-medium rare. Use a probe thermometer to monitor doneness.

5. Allow the meat to rest for at least ten minutes before slicing

NOTE: When slicing, be sure to slice against the muscle grain

6. Serve on kaiser rolls for added “correctness”

7. If you must, add bbq sauce or horseradish/horseradish sauce – I will post my recipes for both later today

NOTE: I cannot condone the use of ketchup, mustard, or mayonnaise in conjunction with pit beef.

-Henry Hong

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17 Responses to “Homemade Pit Beef Recipe. P.S. Pit Beef IS NOT Barbecue”

  1. akchu

    Hey, do you know if one can buy pit beef already cooked or from a butcher/deli type place (like 3 lbs. of pit beef shaved and ready to serve)? I’m having a Maryland themed party for a newcomer to Baltimore and was thinking about serving pit beef on mini buns, but my grill crapped out, so I probably will not be grilling any top round myself. Plus, I’m determined to make a Smith Island and a Lady Baltimore cake, which will probably consume all of my time and patience.


  2. I’m a transplanted Marylander living outside of Philadelphia. My daughters 1 year birthday part is next Saturday, and I’m going to attempt to make pit beef (first time). I, too, was very disappointed when all I could find was that NY article on pit beef. I’ve heard that all you need is salt and pepper for a proper pit beef sandwich; so I was thrown off a little about the oregano. Happen to do a quick google search today to see if anything else popped up, and found your website. Going to follow more of your instructions then the NY guy.

    We’ll see, my slicer is kind of junky, we’ll see how it holds up. All I know is all these Philly guys going to be ticked the stuff is not sitting in au jus!


  3. Sorry for the delay in responding. There really isn’t much to it, slicing the beef properly basically makes or breaks it. That and not overcooking it. Most places I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a lot, don’t even bother to use salt and pepper, let alone oregano. The thing about the guy who wrote the NYT article, it’s someone named Steve Raichlen, which didn’t mean anything to me until recently. Then I saw his show “BBQ U.” on PBS, and this guy was grilling mangos and calling it BBQ! Thus casting more doubt on his expertise. Anyway please let me knowhow it turns out!

  4. Hatepaste

    Hey Henry, happen to think of something. Was getting ready to put the rub on, but I realized…What ratio you use for the salt/pepper? Don’t want to overpower it, one way or the other.


  5. That’s a good point, although I’d say it’s pretty difficult to over-salt a 3-4 lb. hunk of beef, particularly if you are applying the rub pretty far in advance. I would say 2-1 salt to pepper if you’re using fresh ground pepper, or almost equal if you’re using more finely ground pepper. Trust me, a top round roast can handle a lot of salt.


  6. hi,

    I like beef Food , your recipes is looking too tasty , i will try this at my home, thanks for new taste

  7. Carl Woods

    While I agree with your opinion that Pit Beef is not barbecue, I can’t agree with your assessment of Steve Raichlen. Steve is the guy that invented Beer Can Chicken. More recently he’s become somewhat of a BBQ/Grilling (he does recognize that the two are different) guru reporting on stuff that people call BBQ. He doesn’t so much claim that Pit Beef is BBQ as he reports that Baltimore calls it BBQ. Anyone that’s been to Camden Yards has certainly walked by Boog Powels Barbecue on Eutaw St. They sell Pit Beef sandwiches by the ton. I’m sure that there are many to whom Boog’s has been their only exposure to Pit Beef. You can see how an out of towner might think that Pit Beef “Baltimore’s answer to barbecue”.

    Besides, those of that live in the south and pay attention to such things have realized that anybody north of Washington, DC thinks that “barbecue” is a verb meaning “to cook outside”.

    And for the record, I make mine pretty much the same way you make yours except that I add paprika to the rub. Certainly no oregano.

  8. Jennifer

    Did you ever get around to posting the recipe for the horseradish sauce? Thanks


  9. [...] Henry Hong Real Baltimore Pit Beef Recipe using Top Round Posted by root 13 minutes ago (http://foodnerd.org) Jun 30 2008 homemade pit beef recipe p s pit beef is not barbecue if you must add bbq sauce or horseradish horseradish sauce i will post my recipes for both later today posted in pit beef projects middot rss 2 0 trackback comment foodnerd org henry hong t Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Henry Hong Real Baltimore Pit Beef Recipe using Top Round [...]

  10. JNK

    Been doing Pit Beef for years now and I always laugh when a new stand pops up and people tell me how aweful theirs was.( Dry, chewy, fatty, etc.) You don’t just salt a hunk of meat and throw it on a grill. You need to throw some wood on them coals and find a good rub or make one oh leave the fat on till your ready to slice. Trim really good before you slice, no body wants to bite into a hunk of fat, gross. If it is cooked properly you don’t need to get it rare to get it juicy. Have fun with it , experiment, keep some things you learn a secret!!


  11. @Jennifer-Hi sorry it’s taken so long to respond to you, here’s the recipe for my horseradish sauce:

    1 8 oz container of sour cream
    8 oz mayonnaise
    1 tsp. sugar
    1 tsp. cracked black pepper
    a few drops vinegar to taste
    2 tbsp or more prepared or fresh grated* horseradish

    Combine all ingredients, refrigerate for a couple hours for flavors to meld.

    *fresh horseradish takes a while to ‘bloom’. I’ve found that moistening the horseradish helps the process along. Also, the finer the grate, the better as far as potency.


  12. @JNK- Thanks for your comment, and I can’t agree more. I generally keep my beef rubs pretty simple, but there is one ingredient I just don’t divulge. I think most folks don’t seem to realize that that’s the problem with cookbooks, especially ones written by celebrity chefs – they’re not telling you everything haha! I’ve gone back and forth on trimming fat before or after cooking, and something I like to do is trim first, get browning on all surfaces, then replace the trimmed fat back onto the meat to lubricate during cooking. Works extremely well with smoked brisket. Thanks again!

  13. mike

    You mentioned the New York Times article from 2000.
    The author, Steve Raichlen grew up in Baltimore, has a grilling/smoking show
    on the Food Network and has numerous books & recipes covering outdoor cooking.
    He is a master.


  14. Like any cooking that any of us do, there are always matters of opinion. It seems like Henry has spent allot of his time working on this and figuring it out, to try and help others. Just because your from Baltimore doesn’t give the an automatic in too “Pit Beef”. Stop by on Rt 40 there is “The Best Pit Beef In Baltimore” ….its good but I’ve had better and used to eat there quite often, so obviously its not bad but there is better. They just were lucky and had someone like there beef that had a show on Food Network and before that a drunk food reporter walk out of the club behind them. But again its still good beef just not the best.
    So after all this …Henry Thank You ! for taking your time to help all these people and hats off to you!!

  15. Motorcitymac

    Thank you for the recipe! I lived in Baltimore for 15 years and am now in Detroit, a veritable food wasteland! The only thing they can claim as their own is a Coney (basically a chili dog w/onion, mustard). Although, Mexican town is true gem. I have been craving a good Pit sandwich forever and I am going to try my hand at making my own. P.S. Best Pit in charm city is The Canopy in Glen Burnie!

  16. Stacey

    Hey There-

    Just saw your photo as a contributor to the Steak issue of Baltimore Magazine. I recognized your name from this website — it’s the one we use to make our pit beef. Cool.

  17. mike mallon

    Does Canopy -or- any other Baltimore pit beef sandwich company mail out their wonderfull “Baltimore Style” pit beef sandwiches — from an original Baltimore native – transported to Georgia? I’ll try (again) to make them on my grill – but would like to get it freezed dried (if possible) Thanks, Mike Mallon

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