Sunday, October 21, 2012

Crock Pot Italian Beef

If you're not from Chicagoland, you probably don't have easy access to good Italian Beef sandwiches.  In Chicago and the suburbs, I would bet you're never further than a 5 minute drive from a good Italian Beef.  Out here in Ohio, sadly, things are not the same.  All is not lost, however - it's easy to make a good beef sandwich in the crock pot at home.

Italian Beef sandwiches are traditionally wet-roasted to medium rare, then shaved thin on a deli slicer and finished in "the juice," then served on dense, chewy bread and topped with sweet peppers, hot peppers, or giardiniera (or some combination of the three).  I don't have a deli slicer handy, so my own version is shredded rather than sliced, but the result is much the same.  This recipe is an easy, delicious way to feed a large group - but make plenty, they may want seconds.

Here's what you'll need: 3-4 pounds of cheap beef (sirloin butt, top round, or bottom round), a couple of sweet onions, a couple of bell peppers, some beef broth, worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.

Start by chopping the peppers and onions into large pieces.  Too small, and they'll either end up mushy or disintegrate altogether after cooking all day - and that just won't do.

Cover the bottom of the crock pot with a little more than half of the chopped veggies.  The rest will go on top in a minute.

Next, nestle the star player into the pot on top of the veggies, and cover that enormous hunk of beef with the rest of the chopped vegetables.  My cut of beef was a little bigger than I usually use, so it just barely fits in the pot - it took a while longer to cook, but it still turned out just fine.

With the beef and vegetables in place, it's time to add the cooking liquid and the seasoning - add the Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to the pot.  Be sure to lift up the beef a bit to make sure that the liquid gets all the way down to the bottom of the pot.

With your liquid and seasoning in place, your beef is ready to cook.  Set the crock pot to low and cook 6-10 hours - the amount of time can vary quite a lot depending on the particular cut of beef you get.  The good news is that it's pretty tough to drastically overcook this beef, so if it goes an "extra" hour or two, no big deal.

You'll know the beef is done when it shreds very, very easily with a fork.  If it's at all tough to get apart, put it back in the pot and try again in an hour.  Once the beef is tender, shred it with a couple of forks until it's in nice, bite-sized pieces.

To assemble a sandwich, pile plenty of beef onto a good, chewy sandwich roll.  Drizzle with extra juice and/or serve with a cup of juice on the side.  Top the sandwich with roasted sweet peppers, giardiniera, hot peppers, or any combination thereof.  This time around, we used these Pickled Hot Peppers to great effect.

While this sandwich may never entirely stave off my craving for a Portillo's sandwich, this recipe is a nice approximation of the Chicago classic.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Crock Pot Italian Beef
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 6-10 Hours in Crock Pot | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 12-16

  • 3-4 lbs Beef (sirloin butt, top round, bottom round)
  • 2 large Sweet Onions
  • 2 large green Bell Peppers
  • 4 cups low-sodium Beef Broth
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 tbsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1 tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Black Pepper
  1. Chop onions and peppers into large pieces.
  2. Line bottom of crock pot with half of chopped vegetables.  Set beef atop vegetables, then cover with the other half of the onions and peppers.
  3. Add Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to crock pot.  Add enough beef broth to cover all of the ingredients.
  4. Cook in crock pot 6-10 hours on Low until a fork can easily pull the beef apart.
  5. Shred beef into small pieces with two forks.
  6. To assemble sandwiches, pile beef atop chewy sandwich rolls.  Drizzle with additional juice and/or serve with a side cup of juice.  Top with sweet peppers, giardiniera, and/or hot peppers.  Serve hot.

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