How to Make Authentic Pit Beef at Home

Pit beef is a delicious grilled roast beef sandwich that originated in Baltimore, Maryland. With its thin slices of rare roast beef piled high on a roll and topped with horseradish sauce and raw onion slices, pit beef sandwiches are beloved in the Baltimore area. While they were once only found around Charm City, pit beef has become more popular nationwide. With the right recipe and techniques, you can make authentic Baltimore-style pit beef sandwiches at home on your own grill or smoker.

A Brief History of Pit Beef

  • Pit beef traces its origins to Baltimore in the 1960s or 1970s. The exact details are fuzzy, but most accounts credit roadside stands as the original pit beef purveyors.
  • Pitmasters would grill large cuts of beef over open pits and slice it to order for sandwiches. The beef was always rare to medium-rare inside with a charred crust on the outside.
  • Pit beef was served on a Kaiser roll and topped with tiger sauce, a blend of horseradish and mayo. Raw onion slices were another traditional topping.
  • Over time, pit beef stands popped up all over Baltimore. By the 1990s, pit beef had become a signature sandwich in the area.
  • Today, you can find pit beef sandwiches at bars, carryout stands, and full-service restaurants throughout Baltimore.
  • Pit beef has also spread to other cities, though it remains most popular in its hometown.

Choosing the Right Cut of Beef

  • The traditional cut of beef for pit beef is top round or bottom round roast. These lean roasts come from the rear leg (round) of the cow.
  • Top round has good beefy flavor but can be slightly tougher. Bottom round is very lean but more tender.
  • Brisket or chuck roast can also be used. They have more fat for flavor and tenderness. Trim off excess fat before cooking.
  • Avoid pre-sliced roasts, as you want a large, intact roast. Plan on 0.5 pound of meat per sandwich.
  • Choose a roast that’s 5-6 lbs for 10-12 servings. You want a roast that will cook evenly over high heat.

Seasoning the Beef

  • Pit beef is not overly seasoned – the flavor comes from high-heat grilling. Keep the seasoning simple.
  • Most recipes call for basic seasoning like garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and chili powder or paprika.
  • You can also use a Baltimore-style pit beef rub recipe with Old Bay seasoning or other regional flavors.
  • Drizzle the roast with oil so the seasoning sticks. Coat all sides evenly. Let it sit for 30 minutes up to overnight.

Cooking Methods for Pit Beef

  • Charcoal grill: This is the traditional way to make pit beef. Use lump charcoal or briquettes. Bank coals to one side.
  • Gas grill: Works well if you preheat grill on high first. Add some wood chips to grill for extra smoke flavor.
  • Smoker: Cook at 225-250°F using hickory, oak or other beef friendly wood. Finish over direct heat.
  • Oven: Not ideal but you can roast in the oven at 450°F then broil to char outside.

Grilling the Perfect Pit Beef

  • No matter the method, the goal is charred exterior and rare interior. Pit beef should be juicy and pink inside.
  • Grill over direct high heat, 500-600°F. Turn roast frequently to build crust on all sides.
  • Cook to an internal temp of 125-130°F for medium rare doneness. Use a leave-in thermometer.
  • If using charcoal or smoker, finish over hot fire to char outside.
  • Let rest 20-30 minutes before slicing to allow juices to redistribute.

Slicing and Serving Pit Beef

  • Slice very thin against the grain. This makes the beef more tender to chew.
  • Slice to order if serving immediately. Or slice all then keep warm in broth in a slow cooker.
  • Pile meat high on kaiser roll or other sturdy bun. Top with tiger sauce and raw onion slices.
  • Have horseradish, BBQ sauce, pickles etc. available for customizing sandwiches.
  • Slice any leftovers as thin as possible for sandwiches or enjoy in stir fries, fajitas, etc.

How to Make Tiger Sauce

No pit beef sandwich is complete without tiger sauce, also known as horsey sauce. To make your own:

  • Combine 1⁄2 cup mayonnaise with 1⁄4 cup horseradish (jarred or freshly grated).
  • Add the juice of 1 lemon wedge and season with salt, pepper and a dash of hot sauce.
  • For Baltimore-style tiger sauce, add 2 tsp Old Bay seasoning.
  • Let flavors meld in the fridge for 30 minutes before using. Keeps for up to 1 week.

Tips for Pit Beef Sandwich Perfection

  • Use good quality Kaiser or bulkie rolls. Brioche or challah buns also work well.
  • Slice onions very thin with a mandoline for maximum crunch. Soak in ice water 10 minutes to mellow onion bite.
  • Add sliced provolone or Swiss cheese to the sandwiches if desired.
  • Use leftover pit beef for cheesesteak sandwiches, tacos, pizza topping or in a roast beef hash.
  • Store leftovers in broth or au jus to keep beef moist. Slice as needed for sandwiches.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best wood for smoking pit beef?

Hickory and oak have nice beefy flavor. Apple or cherry wood also pair well with beef.

Can I use pre-sliced roast beef?

Pre-sliced deli roast beef won’t have the right texture. You need a full roast to cut custom slices.

What sides go well with pit beef sandwiches?

Potato salad, coleslaw, dill pickle spears, fries and chips are all classic pairings.

How long does cooked pit beef last in the fridge?

Leftover cooked pit beef keeps 3-4 days in the fridge. Reheat slices in au jus or broth.

Pit Beef Sandwich Recipes

Now that you know the ins and outs of making pit beef, try one of these recipes for authentic Baltimore-style sandwiches you can make at home:

Pit Beef Sandwich Recipe by HowToBBQRight

Malcom Reed’s step-by-step recipe uses a bottom round roast cooked over charcoal. He tops his sandwich with a killer tiger sauce.

Baltimore Pit Beef Recipe by

Meathead Goldwyn adapts pit beef for the smoker and reverse sears for extra juicy meat. Horseradish sauce included.

Baltimore Pit Beef | Chap’s Copycat


What cut of beef for pit beef?

Pit beef is a dish of roast beef prepared over a charcoal fire, commonly using top round cuts of beef. The cooked roast is sliced thinly and often served on a Kaiser roll, and may be topped with horseradish or tiger sauce (horseradish and mayonnaise) and sliced raw onion.

What does pit beef taste like?

The East Baltimore area along Pulaski Highway since the 1970s has been known for its pit beef, basically a roast beef sandwich with a little charcoal and smoky flavor and people come from all over to experience the tender, flavorful sandwich.

Why is pit beef called pit beef?

It’s All in The Name No one knows for sure, but Maryland residents speculate that it has to do with the dish itself! To achieve the signature flavor, the top round roast must be cooked over an open charcoal flame. Today’s chefs have steered away from cooking their meat over an open pit, but the name remains today!

What is the difference between pit beef and brisket?

For starters, pit beef is grilled, not smoked, so it lacks the heavy hickory or mesquite flavor characteristic of Texas- or Kansas City-style barbecue. It is also ideally served rare, which would be unthinkable for a Texas-style brisket.

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