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!

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