Baltimore Pit Beef On the Grill
~Chef Perry Perkins~
We've talked a lot, this year, about how different parts of the country have their special take on barbecued meats.
From Texas brisket, to Memphis ribs, to Carolina whole hog. In East Baltimore, they've specialized in their own little piece of smoky meat history since the early 1970s.
They call it...pit beef.
Now, two things we need to be clear on, right up front, "BBQ" Pit Beef is neither BBQ, nor is it cooked in a pit.
It's basically the best roast beef sandwich you've ever eaten, with a lovely fire and smoke aroma that brings people from all over the country to Maryland...and they ain't comin' for the blue crabs!
Pit beef, as far as anyone can tell, started out in a handful of road-side stands along Baltimore’s Pulaski Highway, somewhere around 1972. Now, pit beef joints in Baltimore are about as hard to find as coffee shops in Seattle.
To make this now-classic sandwich, Chefs use an eye of round, or bottom round roast flat cut from the hind quarter of the beef. Just to be difficult, I used a 7-blade chuck roast, because...well, I had one.
So, it's grilling, not BBQ. But, far more importantly…it's unbelievably delicious!
Here's how I make it:
2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. coarse black pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. chili powder
One 3-pound cut of beef (eye of round, bottom round, 7-bone, whatever’s cheap)
8 potato rolls or 16 slices of regular white sandwich bread, for serving
½ cup horseradish sauce
1 large sweet onion, sliced thin into rings and halves
Trim excess fat and any silver skin from the roast.
Mix salt, black pepper, garlic powder and chili powder in a small bowl. Rub the beef all over with all the spice mixture (don't forget the sides), wrap with plastic wrap, and overnight.
A half-hour before you're ready to start cooking, unwrap the roast, and let it rest on the counter, to bring the beef to room temp.
While the roast is resting, fire up a chimney full of coals. Once those are evenly grey, prepare a single-zone fire, slightly larger than the size of your roast, on your La Caja China for direct grilling.
NOTE: To test the heat of your fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 5 inches above the coals for no more than 3 or 4 seconds.
Oil your top grill(s) and set them over the coals and let them heat 1-2 minutes.
Set the roast over direct-heat, and grill (uncovered) for 2 to 3 minutes, flip and repeat until the exterior becomes evenly crusty.
Now, divide your coals, leaving a gap a little larger than the roast, in the middle.
Move the beef to this indirect-heat space, and cover with a roasting pan lid, or disposable pan (as pictured).
I like to toss a small handful of chips or pellets on the coals, about every 10 minutes, just to get a little more smoky flavor.
I’m a big fan of oak for almost any beef dish, but cherry, hickory, or mesquite work well, too.
Grill for around a half-hour (for medium-rare, after resting), covered, or until a probe thermometer in the center reaches 130F.
Move the beef to a cutting board; rest the meat for 5 minutes, then slice it against the grain as thinly as possible. Don’t worry about full. pretty slices...it's all getting piled on the bun.
Pile the meat onto buns or bread. Top with horseradish sauce, and a few white onion slices.
BTW, this makes an amazing quick lunch for the pit-masters, while a piggy's roasting inside the box!
As a third-generation chef, Perry P. Perkins focuses his love of cooking on barbeque, traditional southern fare, and fresh Northwest cuisine.
Perry runs the non-profit organization, MY KITCHEN Outreach Program, which teaches nutrition, shopping, and hands on cooking classes for at risk youth.
His cookbooks include La Caja China Cooking, La Caja China World, La Caja China Party, and the NEW “La Caja China Grill.”
You can follow the rest of Chef Perry’s cooking adventures at ChefPerryPerkins.com