Despite believing that I knew just about everything there was to know about Italian food, I discovered Italian beef for the first time in my life when the family moved to Chicago. I had never heard of this sandwich before. Turns out it is a very popular regional favorite and, evidently, not well known outside of Chicago. It is sold everywhere in the Chicago area, and you can even find it in the frozen food section of the local supermarkets. When people move away from the area, Italian beef sandwiches are high on the list of things they miss about living in Chicago.
An Italian beef sandwich is a very thinly sliced (sometimes shredded), roasted beef which is soaked in a very flavorful, highly seasoned juice and stacked dripping with loads of the juice on an Italian roll and then layered with sautéed green bell peppers and Italian giardiniera. It is messy, drippy, and utterly delicious. I’ve heard it said when it comes to this sandwich that “the wetter, the better!”
No one really knows the origin of the sandwich, but it is believed that Italian immigrants who lived on the South side of Chicago near the old stockyards created this now Chicago classic. I’ve read different stories about how the stockyard workers took poorer cuts of meat home and roasted them for hours to tenderize the beef and then simmered it in Italian seasonings to flavor it. Then because it was the Depression era, they shaved the meat really thinly to make it stretch. It all worked in a magical way to create a sandwich that is enjoyed regularly by all who live in the area.
If you search for Italian beef recipes, you will find a lot of recipes which are a lot longer and a bit more complicated than the one I am posting here. I found it in our local hometown newspaper about 10 years ago. It couldn’t be simpler or more delicious. In fact, if the recipe were longer or more complicated, I would still make it because it’s that good. If you’ve got a large crockpot and 5 minutes, you can get it going. Several hours later, when the beef is fork tender, all you have to do is shred it and you will have the tastiest sandwich meat this side of the Mississippi. It’s a great recipe to make ahead of time and reheat when you’re expecting a crowd, say, for a graduation or Super Bowl party.
I wouldn’t wait for a reason, though—I’d say, the sooner you make it, the better!
- 16-oz. bottle of giardiniera*—either mild or hot, your choice (I prefer the mild version.)
- 1 packet (1 oz.) of McCormick’s au jus gravy mix (dry seasoning)
- 3 to 6 lbs.** boneless beef chuck roast – DO NOT SUBSTITUTE THE CUT OF BEEF or you will end up with dry meat
- Water – enough to cover chuck roast in your crockpot
*Giardiniera is an Italian relish of pickled vegetables in oil and vinegar.
**The number of pounds of beef you cook depends on the size of your crockpot. You will use just the 1 bottle of giardiniera and the one seasoning packet no matter how many pounds you cook.
Plug in your crockpot! Open the jar of giardiniera and pour in the crockpot. Add the packet of au jus gravy mix and stir with the giardiniera to combine. Place meat over the giardiniera mixture. Add enough water to just cover the beef. Cook the beef on high for the first hour (for food safety) and continue cooking on the setting that works best for your schedule.
Once the beef is fork tender and easy to shred, remove the beef and, using two forks, shred it completely on a cutting board. Remove any excess fat as you do so. Return the shredded beef to the liquid in the crockpot. When ready to serve, pile the beef high on firm, crusty rolls. Add as much of the seasoned juice from the crockpot as you like. Personally, I like my sandwich moist but not saturated. Serve with sautéed green bell peppers and/or onions if desired.
- I have a 6-quart crockpot and can fit up to 6 pounds of chuck roast in it. When I add enough water to just cover the top of the beef, the water is less than an inch from the top of the crockpot.
- The last time I made Italian beef, I cooked it in the crockpot on high for two hours and then turned it down to medium and cooked it for another six hours until it was tender and very easy to shred.
- For food safety, you should never cook meat in your crockpot on the low setting for the entire time. It can be several hours before the crockpot becomes hot enough to get any liquid simmering and kill any harmful bacteria. Always start off on the highest setting for the first hour or two before you lower it and go off to work or elsewhere.