Italian beef is the quintessential Chicago sandwich. It was invented here by stockyard workers when they needed to turn tough cuts of meat into something they could eat (and actually enjoy). In true Chicago fashion, they made the best out of a bad situation and found the perfect way to create a savory and filling sandwich. No other city replicates the meaty, messy, au jus-y concoction that is Chicago-style Italian beef.

Italian Beef

For the uninitiated, a traditional Italian beef is made of thinly sliced beef piled high on crusty bread and topped with sauteed peppers and giardiniera. Then it's either dipped into the broth from the beef or the jus is ladled over it, creating a dripping delicious mess.

It sounds easy enough, and it is! The key to a great Italian beef is in the flavors of the beef and how it's prepared. Instead of cooking the meat in liquid to tenderize it, it's cooked over a mix of water and bouillon, allowing the spices and juices from the meat to drip into the broth. This creates a heavenly, peppery, savory, and unique jus that will have you feeling like a true Chicagoan, no matter where you are.

This sandwich is messy, so you need bread strong enough to hold up while still soft enough to eat. Enter the French roll. If you can find Turano or Gonnella French Rolls, then you're that much closer to having an authentic Italian beef sandwich. 

Below is a delicious Chicago-style Italian Beef recipe. I've made it several times, including for someone who used to own an Italian beef stand. Her comment? "Perfect!"

TLTip: short on time? Buy some roast beef from the deli and ask for a side of jus. 

Chicago-Style Italian Beef Recipe

Adapted from AmazingRibs.com

Ingredients

  • 2 - 3 lb beef roast - any type of roast will work
  • Dry Rub
    • 1 tbs ground black pepper
    • 2 tsp garlic powder
    • 1 tsp onion powder
    • 1 tsp dried oregano
    • 1 tsp dried basil
    • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 6 cups hot water
  • 4 beef bouillon cubes
  • 2 - 3 green bell peppers
  • giardiniera
  • 1 package French rolls

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Bring the water and the bouillon cubes to a boil until the cubes dissolve.
  3. Mix the dry rub ingredients. This makes a very peppery rub. You can reduce the amount of pepper, but you'll be surprised at the finished product if you leave it as it is.
  4. Rub the spices lightly on the roast, pressing down so it sticks. It sticks better if the roast is slightly damp. DON'T THROW OUT THE REST OF THE RUB!
  5. Pour the water/bouillon cubes into a 9" x 13" baking dish. Stir in the rest of the dry rub.
  6. Put a metal rack on top of the baking dish and put the roast on the rack, making sure that the roast is completely over the rack. You want all those spices and juices from the meat to drip into the water.
  7. Roast until the beef comes to 130 degrees, about 40 minutes per pound.
  8. While the meat's cooking, slice the bell peppers about 1/4" thick.
  9. Saute the peppers in about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Don't stir them too much; you want to get a little char on the skin. When you've got that, throw a couple of tablespoons of water into the skillet. This will steam the peppers and make them tender.
  10. Thinly slice the beef, then dip it in the au jus, pile it high on your French roll, and top with peppers, giardiniera (optional) and more au jus (not optional).

Some slicing tips: if you have a meat slicer, lucky you! If you don't, wrap your cooked roast and refrigerate it overnight, storing the broth separately. It will make slicing the beef MUCH easier. To serve, just reheat the broth and dip the sliced meat. It will be thin enough that the warm broth will heat the beef up.