Single Guy Chef: Italian Beef

Single guys like eating, but generally don’t like cooking. If they do cook, it’s usually on the grill where cleanup is as easy as turning the grill on high and brushing off the cinders. Unfortunately at my new place the grill sucks, and since I quit my job I’m cooking more. So I’m going to share some of the wisdom and experience I get in this new venture. You’ll find the directions are explicit, made for other single guys who have zero cooking experience. Of course, this means the recipes will be much longer than usual, so don’t be scared. The prep and cleanup are easy.

Italian Beef
My friend Jonathan turned me on to Portillo’s, a Chicago chain originally famous for hot dogs. I asked him what to get and he suggested the combo sandwich, which is a combination of Italian beef and sausage. I’ve since gone back many times and never wavered from this selection – just don’t forget to add cheese fries.

So I found a recipe on (which appears to be the best recipe site out there) for Italian beef, citing a certain Chicago chain as the inspiration. Was this, perhaps, Portillo’s??? No. Not even close. Don’t get your hopes up. But it is a damn good beef sandwich, an Italian version of the French dip, and it’s dead simple to make. It requires a crock pot, but I’m finding this is an essential single guy kitchen appliance. So get one if you don’t have one – they’re cheap.

1 4-5 lb. chuck roast
2 cans low sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon each of:

  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • dried oregano
  • dried basil
  • onion salt
  • dried parsley
  • garlic powder

1 bay leaf
2 .7 oz. packages of Italian dressing mix (usually Good Seasons brand, and get regular, not “Zesty”)

First, the roast. I couldn’t find a chuck roast bigger than 1.5 lbs., so I went to the butcher and asked if they had any bigger. He said, with reluctance, that he could cut me one. I said do it, because it’s his friggin’ job. “4 lbs.?”, he asked. Make it 3, I said, because butchers notoriously overcut.1 He comes out with a 4.5 lb. roast, saying it’s only slightly larger than the 1.5 lb. roasts on the shelf. “It’s 3 times as big,” I say. “Well, by volume it’s only a little bigger than those.” As the butcher counter was not at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, I sincerely doubted this, but I could tell I wasn’t going to win this one. No biggie, you can go up to 5 lbs. on this one.

First, trim the roast. Just cut off (or out) all significant chunks of fat. You may find a big chunk of fat in the middle – don’t leave that in! When I was done, the fat I removed was literally bigger than my fist. Also, this made the roast more pliable so it fit in the crock pot easier. You don’t care about it being one nice whole roast, as you’ll see. When you’re done trimming, rinse it off and toss it in the crock pot.

Next, pour the beef broth in a medium saucepan and stir in the rest of the ingredients. After it’s mixed, bring it to a boil, then pour it over the roast.

Set the crock pot to LOW and cook for 8-12 hours. I know, this is a huge variation, but it depends on your roast. My 4.5 lb. trimmed roast was done in about 9 hours. If you set it to HIGH you will toughen and dry out the meat. Even on low, you should turn the roast every couple hours with tongs and/or a meat fork.

When it’s done, transfer the roast to a large baking dish, leaving the juice in the crock. Start shredding the meat with forks, pulling out any fat chunks as you go. When you’re done shredding, take a look at the pot with the juice – there will be at least 1/2″ of grease on top. Skim this off with a big spoon or ladle. Finally, put the beef back in the juice.

For the sandwiches, get some grinder/hoagie rolls, preferably from an Italian bakery. You also need some sharp provolone cheese, which smells way stronger than it tastes. Split the rolls, throw on the cheese, and spoon the meat on with the juice. It’s a sloppy sandwich, but it’s worth it.

Optionally, saute some green bell pepper and onions with salt, pepper, and olive oil. If you’re lazy, you can buy pre-diced onion and frozen pepper strips. But the onion should be in rings or strips, not diced, and the pepper strips include yellow and red, when all you want is green (which is cheaper, anyway). If you forgo the vegetables (and even if you don’t), take a multivitamin and a fish oil capsule with it. No need to die early over a sandwich that isn’t from Portillo’s2.

It reheats easily, but don’t reheat the whole thing every time you want a sandwich3. Just put a portion in a bowl and nuke it on high for 1m30s. Now you’ve got an au jus dipping bowl. There it is: dinner (and maybe lunch) for a week, with minimal effort.

  1. I once asked for a porterhouse steak 1.5″ thick. I got one that was 2.5″ thick and rang up for $27. Yes, raw. []
  2. Or the Carnegie Deli. []
  3. Some of you are laughing, but I have an uncle who does this. []

2 thoughts on “Single Guy Chef: Italian Beef”

  1. Wow, I am salivating just thinking about this recipe. It rings very closely to my wife’s Pot Roast recipe, except in a few of the spice ingredients. But I cannot wait to try this with some provolone and fresh-sauteed onions and peppers. I’ve been dying for a reason to sautee onions and peppers and this is it.

    On the health and death side, I don’t see how this dish is not putting you in an early grave. One of the places where I get my onions and peppers fix is at the Orange County Fair; their italian sandwiches are tasty and renowned for the oily toppings. And that’s the key: oily. Even if it’s olive oil, the meat fat will get you.

    Your procedure eliminates a lot of the fat, but I’d love to be able to stick this concoction into the calorimeter (or equivalent) and find out the saturated fat content. Perhaps there’s already a Portillo’s breakdown, somewhere in the world…..

  2. This is from the original recipe, starting with a 5 lb. roast and getting 10 servings:

    * Total Fat: 15.8g
    * Cholesterol: 100mg
    * Sodium: 756mg
    * Total Carbs: 1.4g
    * Dietary Fiber: 0.2g
    * Protein: 39.4g

    However, I think this is generated automatically from the ingredient list, so it doesn’t consider the manual fat removal. And, of course, it doesn’t include the bread. Much better than sausage, which is about 50% fat.

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