Italian beef sandwiches are a Chicago specialty, made with tender beef, vegetables pickled in vinegar and oil, and a beef broth flavored with Italian seasonings. It's a hearty sandwich, perfect for tailgating or a game day party at home, and since this version cooks hands-free in the slow cooker, it makes an excellent weeknight meal.
As with so many iconic American dishes, the origin of Italian beef sandwiches is often the subject of debate. Al Ferrari, a Chicago street vendor, purportedly needed a way to serve many people at weddings or work, so he stretched the roasted beef by slicing it thinly and serving it in French bread with "secret spices." In 1938, he founded his famous restaurant, Al's #1 Italian Beef, with his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli. Some give Pasquale Scala of Chicago's Scala Packing Company credit for the sandwich. He made a similar sandwich in the 1920s with a similar story about stretching inexpensive beef to serve many.
Today's recipes are typically made with shredded or thinly sliced beef, Chicago-style chopped giardiniera, tangy Italian pepperoncini, and jus. The sandwiches are served on a hoagie or sub roll and are often topped with slices of provolone cheese. Our version is slow-cooked to perfection with Italian salad dressing mix, beef stock, and some of the giardiniera and pepperoncini. It's a sandwich that everyone will fall in love with.
Choose a tossed salad with Italian dressing, potato chips, and pickle spears for side dishes. Italian-style side dishes that go well with Italian beef include pasta salad, Caprese salad, grilled eggplant, and seasoned roasted potatoes.
"Toss the ingredients in the slow cooker before work, and the result is an effortless and very flavorful filling for hearty beef sandwiches. The pickled vegetables add bright notes to offset the savory beef. I highly recommend boiling the cooking liquid down for a few minutes to create jus for dipping." —Danielle Centoni
For the Beef:
3 pounds beef pot roast, lean chuck, or rump roast
1 (16-ounce) jar Chicago-style Italian giardiniera, divided
1 (16-ounce) jar sliced pepperoncini peppers, divided
1 (0.7-ounce) packet zesty Italian salad dressing mix
1 1/2 cups beef broth
For the Sandwiches
8 to 10 large hoagie rolls
16 to 20 slices provolone cheese
Steps to Make It
Gather the ingredients.
Place the meat in a 3 1/2- to 5-quart slow cooker.
Drain the giardiniera, reserving the jar's marinating oil. Add two-thirds of the giardiniera to the slow cooker.
Drain the pepperoncini reserving 1/4 cup of the jar's vinegar. Add two-thirds of the pepperoncini and the reserved vinegar to the slow cooker.
Sprinkle the mixture with the Italian salad dressing mix. Add the beef broth.
Cook the beef until fork-tender, 8 to 10 hours on low, or about 4 to 5 hours on high. Remove the meat from the slow cooker to a work surface. With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables and peppers to a small bowl.
Transfer the liquid from the slow cooker to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces slightly, 5 to 6 minutes.
Shred the beef with two forks.
Position a rack 6 to 8 inches from the heat and turn the broiler to high. Split the hoagie rolls in half lengthwise. Brush the cut sides lightly with the reserved giariniera oil.
Fill the rolls evenly with the beef, then drizzle with some of the jus. Top some of the reserved giardiniera and pepperoncini from the bowl, then finish with slices of provolone cheese.
Broil the open-faced sandwiches, in batches if necessary, until the cheese melts. Serve immediately with any remaining giardiniera and pepperoncini. Bring the remaining jus to the table for dipping.
- To serve the sandwiches with extra jus for dipping, skim the liquids and discard excess fat. If the juices are watery, put them in a saucepan and reduce them on the stovetop for a few minutes until the flavors are concentrated.
- Chopped Chicago-style giardiniera in oil is the best choice for authentic flavor, but feel free to chop pickled giardiniera if you can't find the Chicago condiment in your area. Mix the vinegar from the pickled giardiniera with a bit of olive oil for drizzling instead of the oil from the Chicago-style version.
- To cook the beef in a Dutch oven, sear it in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until browned and crusty. Add the giardiniera, pepperoncini, Italian dressing mix, and 3 cups of beef stock. Cover and braise in a 300 F oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, until very tender.
- Instead of provolone, top the sandwiches with sliced fresh mozzarella cheese or fontina.
- Swap out the hoagie rolls with French bread. If the bread is thick, hollow it out to make more room for the beef.
- You can use sport peppers on these if desired, for a switch.
- Instead of Italian dressing mix, sprinkle the beef with 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
How to Store
- Refrigerate leftover Italian beef in a covered container within 2 hours and eat within 4 days.
- To freeze Italian beef, transfer the cooled beef and jus to an air-tight freezer container or resealable freezer bag. Label with the name and date and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Defrost frozen Italian beef in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat it in a saucepan on the stovetop over medium heat with a little of the jus until it reaches at least 165 F.