Recently I was breezing through some old ramblings and I ran across a piece I wrote in which I quipped on my first job. In 1983, the Chart House changed my young life. I learned things I probably shouldn’t have at 15, and yet still managed to hone skills I was lucky to have at that age.
From there I moved on to Key West Shipping Company, a restaurant at the bottom of Main Street in Annapolis where Buddy’s Crab House has since been docked for years.
At Key West, there was a distinct and glorious smell permeating the property even prior to opening, when other restaurants tend to smell of nursing homes and auto shops, somehow fascinatingly combined. It was the lingering smell of a fresh mesquite fire in our Southern Pride wood-fired equipment.
The grill was a firebox in which we would start a fire in the morning and stoke it all day and night with mesquite logs shipped in by the pallet once a month. The buffalo burgers are still the best I have ever had.
Then came the smoker. Also a Southern Pride piece, it was a monster of a machine, and if memory serves me correctly, it cost somewhere around $25,000 in 1983. It was a rotisserie in which we would smoke ribs, trout, salmon, marlin, chicken, bluefish and anything else we could think of.
Simply put, this brand of smoker still elicits certain emotions as I recall the shenanigan’s of a less politically correct industry. Oh, we had us a time at Key West. The smoker is merely a reminder. It is my totem.
Just this past week, with a hankering for a pit beef sandwich I called a buddy of mine for a suggestion, and he mentioned that his friend had recently given fairly high kudos to the new pit beef stand at The Alamo in the West Ocean City.
“I’m game” I thought, but I had to play my cards right since I could tell from my wife’s response that I would have to convince her. The Alamo; what an iconic Ocean City landmark. And now there’s pit beef?
So we gambled. As I approached the campus, I noted the apparently new smoker, sizable and still shiny, attached to the newly added portion of the building. I walked around and inspected. Could it be?
I ordered a couple of sandwiches, started some small talk and finally asked the question: “What kind of smoker are you using?”
“Southern Pride” the chef murmured as he assembled our order; comfort food. I soon learned that Steve, the chef and partner, comes from a long line of pit beef kings in Baltimore, and the man knows what he’s doing.
He uses the Southern Pride well. That’s about all that I can say. And while I can’t give you his recipe, I included a BBQ sauce that I make and a very skeletal guide for smoking your own pit beef should you want to go through the trouble.
Otherwise, you know where to go. Of course, there are other pit beef joints in town, but so far this was our favorite. Maybe it’s the smoker. Maybe it’s the chef’s heritage. Either way, it was a seriously good way to usher in the next winter storm as I reminisced on the halcyon days of a misguided youth.
Pit Beef Sandwich
Top Round or brisket
Dry rub of choice
Mesquite and hickory chips for smoking
BBQ sauce (recipe follows)
Rub your beef down with the dry rub and place it in a smoker
I wrote about the chips and smoking a couple of months ago, but if you have a high-quality smoker, you do not need to soak your wood, but the smoker needs to have a very tight seal. For best results, refer to the manufacturers’ recommendations
If you use the proper amount of wood, you will only be smoking it for a couple of hours. After that, there’s really not much smoke getting in there, and if there is, you risk the chance of adding too much of that infamous acrid taste
I love the Cookshack smoker that I use, and it serves me well. I simply cannot afford a Southern Pride. With my digital controller, I simply set it to 225 and insert the probe. Then, when the beef hits the proper internal temperature just remove and slice.
For medium beef, take the internal temperature to around 145F. For brisket to be done all the way, 165F is generally considered ‘done’. If you take it up to 190-195, this will further break down the meat and make it tender
Slice the beef as absolutely thinly as possible. If you can get your hands on a slicer all the better. There are finally some decent home slicers available
1 can tomato paste
¼ c. Cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil ¼ c. brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c. Onion, minced
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp cayenne
S&P to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat
Turn down and cook to darken the sauce and develop the flavors. Puree with a stick blender
Adjust the flavors as you see fit.