Coming from a family of seven siblings, with 21 kids between them, my Ohio sister-in-law Michelle can feed a crowd like a boss. For New Year’s Eve in Columbus, we had 40 family and friends over to watch Ohio State play Clemson in the (disastrous for us) Fiesta Bowl playoff game. After Christmas, all I could manage were a couple giant salads, a sheet cake and a pizza order, but Michelle showed up, casually hauling in a few dozen Italian rolls and a seriously supersized electric roaster filled with 16 pounds of shredded beef. The girl is unflappable.
Italian beef is a Chicago specialty, created by some clever Italians in the early 1900s as a way to make cheap cuts of beef tender and flavorful. A rump roast or some lean but tough cut is roasted in beef broth with Italian spices, shaved thin on an electric deli slicer and piled back into warm cooking juices. Delicate sheets of beef are loaded into a crusty roll that’s sturdy enough to hold up to the jus-laden meat.
Because the industrial slicing is key to making the tough beef tender, it’s hard to get the same result at home. For home cooks, it’s more reliable to make a shredded version of Italian beef. If you patiently cook the beef long enough, low and slow, it will become fall-apart tender on its own, no slicer required.
This is made-for-Superbowl food. Meat, check. Crowd, check. Low effort, check. You can also keep it warm in a slow cooker for hours, and people can help themselves while you watch the game (or not). Easy.
East coasters can start their beef the morning of Superbowl Sunday and be done by game time. West coast folks should cook their beef the day before, or overnight, since Superbowl is an afternoon activity here.
If you’ve been sucked into the Instant Pot craze, or have another pressure cooker, you can take the express route and be done in an hour or so.
There are a number of cuts of beef that can work well here. Chuck roast has great flavor and a lot of marbling, which makes for easy shredding. Shoulder cuts (often called cross rib on the west coast) and rump roasts (aka bottom round) are leaner and will leave less fat to skim out at the end. Chuck, shoulder or rump will all work well, so just get what’s convenient and looks fresh.
Aside from the beef, it’s just onion, garlic, herbs, peperoncini peppers, and some beef soup base or bouillon cubes. A bit of Worcestershire sauce and a dash of hot pepper sauce if you like it spicy.
Slice the stems off the peperoncini peppers, saving the liquid in the jar.
Puree the peppers quickly, with garlic, herbs, Worcestershire sauce, and soup base or bouillon, peperoncini liquid and some water. Pour it in with the beef and onions.
Then leave it alone in the slow cooker (or low oven) for 8 to 10 hours. Or pop it in the pressure cooker for less than an hour. I got lured into purchasing an Instant Pot in an Amazon flash sale, and I’m still just starting to play with it. Pressure cooking is kind of magical – here I went from being stressed about not having enough time in the slow cooker to having plenty extra with the Instant Pot.
Use a spoon to skim off the layer of fat on top (the clear liquid before you get to the darker meat juices). Then use two forks to shred the beef, which should pull apart easily.
In a slow cooker, you can keep it on low until you’re ready to serve. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
An easy meal to deliver to a friend in need, your brother with twin preemies, or a roomful of high school kids in the robotics lab. Be sure to get a sturdy French or Italian roll – a soft bun will fall apart in the meat juices.
For real Chicago treatment, you’d add pickled giardiniera vegetables on top of the beef and maybe a ramekin of jus for dipping. Actually in Chicago you can get your whole sandwich dipped, roll and all – but make sure you have your stack of napkins handy before you try that at home.
You’d never serve this with arugula in Chicago – way too frou. But I’m in California. And real Italians will agree that spicy arugula and shaved Parmesan are always a good match for beef.
Guaranteed our Superbowl plates will have more chips and fewer greens. The beef is just as good either way.
(And for Italian beef purists who gotta have sliced, Serious Eats has an at-home method pairing deli-sliced roast beef with a homemade jus if you want to check it out.)
Slow-Cooked Italian Beef
It’s not the industrially thin-sliced Italian beef you’ll find in Chicagoland, but this slow-cooked version is easier to achieve at home, and it will fill a crusty roll with the same drippy, meaty deliciousness of your classic Chicago hot sandwich. Feeding a crowd doesn’t get much easier than this giant pot of shredded beef with a mountain of crusty rolls.
- 4 pound boneless beef roast (shoulder aka cross rib, chuck, or rump roast aka bottom round)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 jar peperoncini peppers (10 to 16 ounces, depending on if you want mild or spicy), juice reserved, stems removed
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 beef bouillon cubes (or 4 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon beef soup base)
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 3 drops hot pepper sauce, or to taste (optional)
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- Trim any large pieces of fat from the beef, if needed. Place beef and onion in a roaster or slow cooker with a tight-fitting lid (you don’t need to cut it except as needed to fit into your cooking vessel).
- In a blender, combine the peperoncini peppers (stems removed), garlic, bouillon, oregano, basil, thyme, Worcestershire sauce. Measure the peperoncini juice from the jar and add enough water to make 2 cups. Add liquid to blender and mix.
- Pour pureed mixture over beef and onions. Cover tightly and cook (low setting in slow cooker for 8-10 hours, or 275 degree F oven for at least 6 hours). Meat should fall apart easily when poked by a fork. If it’s still firm, it needs to cook longer.
- Use a spoon to skim fat from the surface (the fat is clear; the meat juices are opaque). Use two forks to shred meat. Serve meat over crusty rolls, with juice.
- If you have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, you can slay this thing in an hour or so. Set on high pressure for 35-45 minutes. If meat is not yet fork-tender, cook again on high for 15 minutes.
- Herb substitution: 3 tablespoons of Italian herb seasoning in place of the oregano, basil and thyme.
- Depending on the size of your cooker, you can easily double or triple the recipe. My sister-in-law has an 18-quart electric roaster and regularly quadruples the recipe for big gatherings.
- For a true Chicago sandwich, buy or make the vinegary pickled vegetables known as giardiniera to pile on top.
Here’s the link to a printable version.