How to Make Authentic Chicago-Style Italian Beef

Chicago-style Italian beef is a delicious roasted beef sandwich dripping with spicy, garlic-forward juices. This iconic Chicago specialty has a rich history in the city’s Italian-American communities. While recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant, there are some key steps you need to follow to make authentic, juicy Italian beef at home.

A Brief History of Italian Beef

Italian beef traces its origins to Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood in the early 1900s. Italian immigrants worked in the city’s meatpacking plants and would bring home tough, inexpensive cuts of beef. Their wives transformed these cuts into tender, flavorful sandwiches using long, slow cooking methods.

The early versions were likely quite simple, with just garlic, pepper, and spices added to the beef. As Italian beef grew in popularity across Chicagoland, more ingredients like giardiniera and sweet peppers made their way into the sandwiches.

Choosing the Right Cut of Meat

To make delicious Italian beef, you need to start with the correct cut of meat. Top round or bottom round roasts are traditional. These are lean, tough cuts that become succulent and sliceable after long, slow cooking. Chuck roast can also work in a pinch.

Do not use cuts like sirloin or tenderloin. They are far too lean and will turn dry and chewy with this cooking method.

Prepping the Meat

Authentic Italian beef requires advance prep. You’ll get the best results by dry brining the roast a day or two before cooking. This helps season the meat throughout.

  • Pat the roast dry and coat all sides with olive oil. Generously season with coarse kosher salt. Figure on about 3/4 teaspoon of salt per pound.
  • Place the roast on a rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered for 24-48 hours.

Dry brining concentrates flavors and improves texture. Be sure your roast is nice and cold before cooking.

Building the Flavorful Cooking Liquid

Italian beef’s signature flavor comes from its zesty, garlic-forward cooking liquid known as the jus (pronounced “joo”).

Start by sautéing aromatics like garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Then build a flavor base with beef broth and seasonings like:

  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Fennel
  • Black Pepper
  • Celery Salt

The jus should be highly seasoned. You’ll use this liquid to braise the meat and later to moisten the cooked Italian beef slices for sandwiches.

Cooking Method

Braising is ideal for transforming a tough cut into tender Italian beef. Brown the seasoned roast first in a heavy pot or Dutch oven to develop flavors. Then add the flavorful jus liquid and braise at a low temp until fork tender.

Key tips for braising success:

  • Bring liquid to a bare simmer before adding to oven.
  • Cook low and slow at 300-325°F for around 3-4 hours.
  • Cook until fork tender with an internal temp of 190-195°F.

The meat should be fall-apart tender but still hold its shape when sliced. Avoid shredding.

Slicing and Serving

After braising, chill the cooked roast in the jus overnight. Then slice the chilled beef as thin as possible against the grain. Gravy slicers work great but you can use a sharp knife.

Return the slices to the hot jus to reheat just before assembling sandwiches. Pile generously on crusty Italian bread like a French loaf. Top with hot giardiniera, peppers, and extra jus.

Dig in and enjoy authentic, meaty Italian beef with all the right flavors and textures!

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Having trouble getting authentic results? Here are some tips:

  • Beef is tough – Cook longer and at a lower temp until fall-apart tender
  • Beef is dry – Slice thinner and coat well with jus
  • Flavor is bland – Season jus aggressively and use quality beef broth
  • Too salty – Reduce dry brine salt and use low-sodium broth
  • Falls apart – Don’t overcook; slice just until fork-tender

With the right cut, cooking method, and flavorful liquid you can achieve tender, juicy Italian beef worthy of Chicago. Just be prepared for a labor of love!

Ingredients Needed to Make Authentic Italian Beef

To make about 5 pounds of Italian beef, you’ll need:

  • 5 pound bottom or top round roast
  • Beef broth or stock, about 8 cups
  • Spice blend:
    • Oregano
    • Basil
    • Thyme
    • Rosemary
    • Smoked paprika
    • Fennel
    • Garlic powder
    • Black pepper
    • Celery salt
  • Pepperoncini peppers
  • Giardiniera
  • Sweet peppers
  • Soft Italian or French bread loaves
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Step-By-Step Guide

Follow these steps to achieve tender, flavorful Italian beef:

  1. Prepare roast: Pat dry, coat with oil and kosher salt. Refrigerate 24-48 hours.

  2. Make flavorful jus: Sauté aromatics like garlic. Add beef broth and bold seasoning blend.

  3. Brown roast: Sear all sides in a hot pot to develop flavor.

  4. Braise low and slow: Add seasoned jus and braise at 300-325°F for 3-4 hours until fork tender.

  5. Chill: Cool beef in jus overnight.

  6. Slice thin: Against the grain into paper-thin slices.

  7. Reheat: Return slices to hot jus to rewarm just before serving.

  8. Pile on bread: Serve on crusty loaf topped with peppers, giardiniera, and extra jus.

Tips for Making the Best Italian Beef

  • Use top round or bottom round roast, do not substitute.

  • Make an ultra-flavorful jus with plenty of seasoning.

  • Cook low and slow until extremely tender. Slice thin.

  • Soak sliced beef in hot jus right before serving.

  • Slice bread lengthwise to absorb maximum jus.

  • Top with peppery giardiniera and sweet roasted peppers.

  • Freeze extra jus and beef separately for easy sandwiches later.

The Signature Taste of Chicago

With its ultra-thin slices of tender beef soaked in a zesty, garlic-packed jus, Italian beef is a true taste of Chicago. Part science and part art, mastering authentic Italian beef at home does take effort. But the results are so worth it. Just take that first juicy, peppery bite and you’ll taste why Italian beef is a Windy City icon.



What is the Chicago way for Italian beef?

Place some beef on a roll, then some sweet peppers (with some of the oil they were cooked in), followed by some hot giardiniera. Pour a small dish of reduced jus. Quickly dunk the whole sandwich in the hot jus, then wrap in deli paper or parchment paper and wait for 2 to 3 minutes while the magic happens.

What cut of beef is used for Chicago Italian beef?

The cut of beef used for Italian beef is typically chuck roast. However, top sirloin, top round, or bottom round would also work well. Giardiniera. A delicious blend of pickled vegetables that adds that wonderful, classic flavor to Italian beef.

What’s the best kind of meat to use for Italian beef?

Typically, Italian beef is made with chuck roast. Other cuts of meat that work well include top round, top sirloin, and bottom round (also known as rump roast).

Why is Italian beef in Chicago?

The Chicago-based chain Al’s Beef claims to have invented the sandwich in the context of Italian American “peanut weddings” — where peanuts were served to guests when money was tight. Al’s claims that Anthony Ferreri (Al’s father) created the sandwich as a way to feed a large group of people cheaply.

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