Monday, May 31, 2010

Pit Beef: The Research Continues

by Erin

Readers might recall that a few months ago, I went to Chaps BBQ to try their infamous pit beef sandwich. Since then, I have been to TWO other pit beef stands to try their beef, fries, and tiger sauce. Here are their stories:

Pit Beef Stop #1: The Canopy (9319 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, MD)

As I mentioned in the Chaps post, I have fond memories of going to Canopy with the BCD family when I was younger, often after a lacrosse or field hockey game. After reading my post about Chaps and my reference to the Canopy, friends Bryan and Laura suggested we hit up Canopy since it was near their house and -- amazingly -- neither of them had ever had it before! I was excited to go back to The Canopy after having been away for so many years. We arrived and the smell of the pit welcomed us.

I ordered my usual: pit beef sandwich, medium rare, with tiger sauce, and an order of their boardwalk-style fries for the group to share. There are no tables at the Canopy anymore (there used to be but since it burned down and was rebuilt, the tables have been removed), so we grabbed a bit of sidewalk nearby and had a little picnic.

Saxton family and their sandwiches!

The sandwich was great - well-cooked, charred on the outside, with a strong smokey flavor from the pit. The tiger sauce was PAINFULLY horseradish-y, but in a good way! Who needs sinus-clearing meds when you have this stuff?

Sunset-lit pit beef sandwich

Bryan and Laura also got pit beef sandwiches, which they also enjoyed. Baby Noelle had her first pit beef too! Bryan reported that the sandwich wasn't big enough for him. I think next time he should get a pit beef sandwich AND a pit turkey sandwich and report back to BCD fans.

Like I said, we shared the fries and while we ate them all (quickly), they were not as awesome as I remembered from back in the day. They just weren't hot enough or salty enough for my taste...



Overall, a great experience on a lovely spring evening! I loved hanging out with the Saxton family and having a satisfying sandwich, fries, and trip down memory lane. I definitely recommend The Canopy if you find yourself amongst the chain restaurants of Rt. 40 and want a good, down-home, Maryland classic for lunch or dinner.

Pit Beef Stop #2: Pioneer Pit Beef (1602 N. Rolling Road, Woodlawn, MD)

Last week, co-worker and friend Ben suggested that we go to this pit beef shack off of Security Blvd. He couldn't tell me the name, just that there's a shack with "pit beef" written on the side, and that it's really, really good. Amazingly, the Yelpers helped me out (see link above) and I determined that the place is called Pioneer. The reviews echoed Ben's feelings on the pit beef and I was excited to see for myself.

We gathered a crew from work and headed to the shack, which is only open from 11-5, Monday-Saturday. Even on a gloomy, muggy Friday, the line was long and all the picnic tables beside the shack were packed.

Again, I ordered my usual pit beef sandwich, medium rare, with tiger sauce. This time, I also got thinly sliced onions on the sandwich. I'm not a huge fan of raw onion in general, but it IS a traditional topping and I decided to add it on this time at Ben's urging.

The line moved slowly and we moved into the shack foot by foot. It was like waiting in line for a ride and the anticipation was building. I may or may not have danced around a bit in excitement. When I got to the first little window to order, the guy was right there at the window with the deli slicer. I said medium rare, he slices off a piece of thin, juicy, perfectly-cooked beef and hands it to me to sample. Ridiculously good. Needless to say, the excitement dance continued in line on the way to the cashier's window.

One thing (of many) I liked about Pioneer was that they dressed the sandwich for you, so you could just grab it and go. They were also super-sweet and organized, and tried to keep the line moving without being brusk.

We had to take our lunch to go since we had to get back to the office (and also because there weren't really any seats outside) so when we got back to the office, it was go time. Like the sample earlier promised, the sandwich was GREAT! The meat was perfectly cooked, the bun was fresh, and the thinly sliced onion added a nice bite to the sandwich. A slight criticism was that the horseradish sauce wasn't strong enough for me, could have been a lot stronger. But overall, a great sandwich.

Again, however, I was unimpressed with the fries. Is it me? Are my standards so ridiculously high that no one except for Brewer's Art, 5 Guys, and Xani can make fries that I deem acceptable? Perhaps it was because they were not fresh due to the trip home, but I made a point of nibbling them before we headed home for that very reason, and even then I was not that impressed.

Ben got gravy fries, another old-school Maryland treat

So, where does this leave us in the hunt for the best pit beef? I think Pioneer takes it over Chaps or Canopy. The beef had the most flavor and juiciness; I am STILL thinking about that sample they gave me. Although Chaps and Canopy had better horseradish sauce, perhaps I could ask for stronger/more horseradish next time I go to Pioneer to make the ultimate pit beef sandwich. And don't worry, there will be a next time.

If I hit up anymore pit beef stands (recommendations welcome!), I'll be sure to let you know where it falls in the heirarchy.

Viva la pit beef!


  1. I've been to Pioneer with my dad and sister!! I'm pretty sure dad goes a few times a month because he works nearby. That's the place that has a sign on the roof that simply says "PIT BEEF." Excellent pit beef sandwiches and you can pick how well done you want it. (Not sure if other places allow you to choose.) Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. wow, that is a lot 'o' beef. I enjoy your commitment to your craft Erin :)

  3. It's a drive, but there is great pit beef at Olde Tyme Days in Fawn Grove, PA. It's the weekend of July 9th...

  4. Cool review. There is another place close to The Canopy that does all pit beef and pulled pork bbq. It's called Oakley's (next to Rita's). I've had their stuff and it's almost on par with the Canopy. As for the Canopy, I used to go there quite a lot, but I'm really turned off by the people who work there (haha, maybe it's because they wouldn't hire ME one year I applied as a teenager.) But did you know you can customize your bread at the Canopy? I wish they'd tell you that up front, but if you ask for rye they will give it to you. Actually, I usually would get the pit turkey there. That's some good stuff. One other place to possibly try is off 144 in downtown Lison, right by the Howard County/Carroll County line. It's called The Town Grill.

  5. thanks for the run down. Husband and I love it but have to keep it under control. I love my horseradish strong too with not much sauce to it. THanks for posting about this. I am a new fan of your blog! Stephanie in Columbia

  6. Try little texas on Pulaski highway... Tiny shack, great pit beef. Decent fries if recall. Missing in your rundown on fries, SALT's Duckfat fries.

  7. We were thinking of having Canopy's pit beef, BBQ Chicken and pit turkey for our son's graduation party. However, I was underwhelmed by the pit beef. I found it to be bland and a bit dry. The BBQ chicken looked like it was cooked chicken that was dipped in a bbq sauce just before it was applied to the roll. The Pit Turkey was so so...We ended up going to Maimond for Kabobs, and soo glad we did...

  8. May I suggest a fun and not very far road trip for your next pit beef adventure? Olde Tyme Days in Fawn Grove, PA July 9-11. There is a pit beef stand there that is one of the best around! Plus, it's fun day of all things country (like lawnmower races).

  9. haha...I suggested it twice :)

  10. What about Kirkwood Pit Beef on Pulaski Highway? It's right next to Sorrento's, near Double T Diner. They also give you a slice to try... and the sandwiches are HUGE!

  11. I just tried Kirkwood Pitbeef this past weekend. They are actually located on Batimore National Pike in Catonsville. I got there just before they closed. They give you a sample slice and then like Pioneer ask what fixings on the sandwich. I got a pit beef medium rare naked (nothing on). I judge pit beef by flavor by itself. I also got an order of their fries. The verdict...totally awesome!!! The beef was juicy and flavorful and the lightly salted fried were excellent!!! The staff were nice and helpful. This is my go to place! Enough said.

  12. One thing your review didn't touch on was cost. I frequent both these establishments, but Pioneer has it way over Canopy in the price department. I always order the "Super" size at both and Pioneer gives you much more (maybe 30-40%) over Canopy for at least a dollar less. But you are right on in your review of both. Thanks for critiquing this Baltimore favorite.

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