Famous all over Chicago, Italian beef is the zesty, hearty sandwich recipe you'll want for game day, graduation parties and family gatherings. Plus, since it's cooked in a dutch oven, this Chicago Italian beef is a great make ahead recipe. A recipe inspired by living and eating lots of Italian beef in Chicago for over 35 years!
Having lived in Chicago for 35 plus years, I love the fact that you can drive down any main thoroughfare in Chicago and the 'burbs and you'll find a shop proudly serving Italian beef sandwiches. Italian beef is one of those iconic Chicago foods and just like Philly cheesesteaks, everyone has their favorite Italian beef stand like Mr. Beef, Portillo's or any place along North Avenue.
What is Chicago-style Italian beef?
French rolls (oftentimes dipped or dunked in au jus) are packed with thinly sliced beef and served "with hot or sweet" peppers.
This Chicago-style Italian beef recipe is made in a dutch oven topped with a unique cooking technique for the most beautifully tender meat chock full of zesty flavor.
You might have to hang a sign outside. It's that good.
For this Italian beef recipe, you'll need two key pieces of equipment:
- Dutch oven. I use a Le Creuset 5 ½ quart dutch oven. Need to double or triple the recipe? Use a larger dutch oven, like a 9 or 13 ¼ quart.
- Parchment paper. We are going create something called a "cartouche" which is a parchment paper lid that allows the au jus to reduce but still allow the meat to stay nice and juicy.
Don't have a dutch oven?
You can use a slow cooker instead and cook the beef on high for 4 hours. I'd check it after 3 hours to see how tender it is since every slow cooker is different.
You also can try using a wide stock pot (but not a tall pasta one) as well.
To make the best Italian beef sandwich, we are heaping layers of flavor on our roast.
- Browned seasoned beef. Browning the bottom round roast in oil before roasting creates fond. Fond is all those yummy crispy, browned bits that happen as the meat browns. You're going to scrape all those up at the bottom of the pan.
- Broth. Beef broth and bouillon add a richness and saltiness and helps deglaze the pan, loosening the fond.
- Spice blend. Our Chicago-style Italian beef is taking its cue from Chicago hot dogs with a blend that uses celery salt. Smoked paprika and crushed red pepper add big warmth and heat rounding out Italian classics like oregano and thyme.
Step by step instructions
- Cut the roast in equal pieces so they fit comfortably side by side in the Dutch oven [left].
- Season with kosher salt [middle].
- Brown meat in oil on all sides over high heat. Remove meat to plate and add 1 T fennel seeds to toast them.
- Remove meat to plate and toast fennel seeds in pan drippings [left].
- Add water and stock to toasted fennel [middle]
- Sprinkle in Italian beef spice blend and stir until combined
Braising School: The Cartouche
In order to make a really great au jus for Italian beef, we are going to borrow a French braising technique called a cartouche, which is basically a parchment "lid". A cartouche allows meat to cook evenly and pretty quickly while creating a rich au jus for the Italian beef.
How to make a cartouche
Trace the bottom of the Dutch oven on a piece of parchment paper and cut it out. Place the cartouche on top of the submerged beef.
Add beef back to Dutch oven in the spices and broth.
Braise the beef for 3 hours at 300˚. .
The best way to thinly slice beef without a meat slicer
- Immediately wrap meat in plastic wrap and place on a plate in the freezer for about 30 minutes or so if you are eating the same day. If you aren't planning to serve right away, place the wrapped beef in a freezer-safe bag for up to 3 months.
- Remove the beef from the freezer and using a very sharp slicing knife, slice the beef into paper thin pieces. If you have a meat slicer, all the better!
Cutting beef across the grain means cutting perpendicular (or across) to the muscle lines in a piece of meat.-Josie + Nina
Chicago-style Italian Beef Lingo
After slicing, pour the au jus back into the Dutch oven and heat over medium heat until hot. Add the sliced beef and toss in the au jus for about 3 minutes to warm it through.
Slice long loaf of French bread into sandwich size segments and cut to open on one side. Don't cut all the way through.
Pile the thinly sliced beef into the French bread and top with giardiniera or sweet or hot peppers
Dipped: The inside of the French roll is dipped (heavy or light) in the au jus before piling with beef.
Dunked: The entire sandwich is dunked in au jus before wrapping in parchment
With: Sweet or hot peppers
Without: sweet or hot peppers
Storing, Reheating and Freezing
Separate the meat from the au jus and store any leftover meat in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Store the au jus in an airtight container or storage bag.
On the stove. Add the au jus to a sauce pan and heat until hot. Gently add the refrigerated meat to the saucepan and simmer until the meat is heated through, 5 minutes or so.
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Chicago Style Italian Beef (Dutch oven recipe)
- 4 lbs top round roast, quartered
- 3 T veg oil
- 1 Tablespoon whole fennel seeds
- 1 qt beef stock
- 1 ½ qt water
- 1 T better than bouillon
Spice Blend (1 Tablespoon each):
- grated cheddar cheese, for a beef and cheddar like at Portillo's
- sliced mozzarella or provolone cheese(s)
- sweet peppers
- hot peppers (giardinieria)
- Trace the bottom of the dutch oven on a piece of parchment paper. Cut out the circle and set aside. You have just made a cartouche (parchment "lid) that fits inside the dutch oven but still allows evaporation
Prep the beef
- Cut the bottom round roast in 2 equal pieces so they fit comfortably side by side in the Dutch oven.
- Brown meat in oil on all sides over high heat. Remove meat to plate and add 1 T fennel seeds to toast.4 lbs top round roast, 3 T veg oil, 1 Tablespoon whole fennel seeds
- Mix the fennel seeds and remaining spices in a small bowl.garlic powder, onion powder, celery salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, oregano, thyme, crushed red pepper
- Deglaze pan with beef stock.1 qt beef stock
- Add water, stock paste and the spice blend.1 ½ qt water, 1 T better than bouillon
- Braise meat at 300 degrees for 3 hours.
- Remove meat from the au jus and immediately wrap each piece of meat individually in plastic wrap and place on a plate in the freezer for about 30 minutes (or so) if you are eating the same day. If you aren't planning to serve right away, place the wrapped beef in a freezer-safe bag for up to 3 months.
- Remove the beef from the freezer and using a very sharp slicing knife, cut the beef into very thin almost shave slices. If you have a meat slicer, all the better!
For the au jus
- Meanwhile, set a strainer in a bowl and pour the juice from the beef, pressing on the solids to extract as much beef au jus as possible.
- Next, pour the strained au jus back into the Dutch oven and heat over medium heat until hot. Add the thinly sliced beef and toss in the au jus for about 3 minutes or until warmed through.
- Slice long loaf of French bread into sandwich size segments and cut to open on one side. Don't cut all the way through.
- Pile thinly sliced beef into the loaf French bread and top with optional giardiniera or sweet and/or hot peppers.
Storage / ReheatingSeparate the meat from the au jus and store any leftover meat in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Store the au jus in an airtight container or storage bag. Reheating Tips. Add the au jus to a sauce pan and heat until hot. Gently add the refrigerated meat to the saucepan and simmer until the meat is heated through, 5 minutes or so. Freezer Notes. Freeze the meat and au jus in separate airtight containers/storage bags for up to 3 months. Defrost before reheating following the method above.
Serve your Italian beef Chicago-style:
- Dip the inside or dunk the whole French bread roll in the au jus before topping with meat
- hot or sweet peppers
- shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese (for a beef and cheddar)
About Lori Murphy
Lori has over 30 years in the food industry as a marketing strategist, culinary instructor and chef for three kids with discerning palates. As the chief content creator at Josie + Nina, Lori is dedicated to helping home cooks create food memories through fresh ingredients and Italian flavors.