- November 7, 2022
Authentic Chicago Italian Beef Recipe
Enjoy roasted beef in a rich seasoned au jus, shaved thin and topped on a bun with hot giardiniera. Get a tried and true recipe for the most authentic Chicago Italian beef recipe from a born and raised Chicagoan.
Chicago is truly a magical place and I am grateful to have spent 25+ years living there. As a culinary arts instructor and born and raised Chicagoan, I think it’s safe to say I have credibility when it comes to knowing what a REAL Chicago beef sandwich should look like, smell like, and taste like.
It’s important to note that there are many imposters out there and that –
- This is NOT a french dip sandwich
- This is NOT a Philly Cheesesteak
- This is NOT a Mississippi pot roast made in the slow cooker
While all of those beef sandwiches listed above are great, they are not the Chicago Italian beef sandwich, though many recipes on the internet claim to be.
Growing up I have tried all the famous spots across Chicago (my favorite is by far Johnnies Beef which is 5 min from my house, lucky me).
Because we often move due to military life, I needed to master a truly authentic Italian beef sandwich recipe that I could recreate when I cannot enjoy one locally, and share my love of this special sandwich with all of you.
I do not say this lightly (but I do say so humbly), my husband and I both agreed that this recipe rivals some of the top spots in Chicago. Those are strong words but I would not post anything here on my website if I couldn’t back it up.
This recipe on how to make a Chicago Italian beef sandwich takes multiple days to prep and prepare when making this in a home kitchen. I HIGHLY encourage you to read through everything below before attempting this recipe.
Why This Recipe Works
- This recipe requires four major components that must all work together: the roasted beef, the au jus, the perfect bun, and the giardiniera/ sweet bell peppers.
- Slow roast large beef roasts and then shave it thin to cook back in the au jus adding flavor and juice to every piece of beef on the sandwich.
- A combination of spicy and sweet peppers creates texture and additional flavors to complement the beef.
- Large Heavy Bottom Pot (I used this ceramic Le Creuset pan)
- Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Knife & Cutting Board
- Meat Thermometer
- Wire Rack & Small Baking Sheet (for dry brining)
Welcome to my virtual classroom! Use the guided notes below where I often answer commonly asked questions I get from readers and cooks just like you.
This information is meant to help you have a more robust understanding of this recipe and the process so you can find success all on your own.
Ready to begin cooking? Jump to the recipe card below and start.
What Cut Of Beef Do I Use For Italian Beef Sandwiches?
If you’re making Italian beef at home you have two main options for a beef roast:
- Bottom Round Roast (preferred)
- Top Round Roast
These two cuts are often used for making roast beef. While we cannot call this sandwich roast beef (that would be a crime), you are essentially following similar steps.
Choose a large, even looking cut of beef. There won’t be much marbling but the roast should have a large fat cap. You can leave this one, but I prefer to trim it off so the thinly sliced cooked beef isn’t fatty when I go to make the sandwich.
Italian Beef Au Jus:
Au jus is the backbone of this recipe and really makes or breaks a good Italian beef sandwich. The whole roast will slowly cook in the au jus and it will be used again to reheat the slices of beef and to even dunk your sandwich.
To make a truly good au jus you need two parts; beef stock and a homemade Italian seasoning mixture. Here is how to make the spice blend:
- Garlic Powder
- Black Pepper
- Celery Salt
- Smoky Paprika
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Whole Bay Leaves (add these in separately from the blend)
To get the best flavor out of your beef, you need to actually begin preparing the roast 1-2 days in advance.
Remove the bottom roast from the packaging and pat it dry with paper towels to remove the excess moisture. Trim off any large portions of fat or silver skin on the roast, then lightly coat it in olive oil and coarse kosher salt.
Place the beef roast onto a wire rack over a baking sheet. Place it in the fridge for 1-2 days to “dry brine”. This allows the salt to draw moisture out of the meat to dissolve the salt. It then reabsorbs the moisture and helps season the inside of the roast with salt.
Dry brining also intensifies the beef flavor of the meat as it loses some of its natural moisture in the fridge and creates a nice dry outside for getting a perfect sear.
The Au Jus:
If you want to make your own beef broth or stock you can. I used a very high quality beef stock I purchased from my local butcher. Combine the Italian spice blend mixture together and keep it separate from the beef stock.
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place the oven rack one below the center.
- Preheat a heavy bottom pan over medium high heat and add a high smoke point oil to the pan (I like avocado oil). Remove the beef roast from the fridge and pat it dry once more with paper towels.
- Sear each side of the beef roast in the pan until it easily releases with tongs and is brown on all sides. Remove it from the pan and turn off the heat but leave the pan on the burner. Wipe out the excess oil with paper towels.
- In the hot pan, add some butter and allow it to melt. Add the seasonings to the butter and whisk for a few minutes to amplify the aromatics.
- Take the beef roast and coast it in the seasonings. Add the beef broth to the pan and pour it around the beef roast. It doesn’t need to cover the meat completely.
- Bring the beef broth mixture up to a simmer on the stove. Once simmering, remove it from the stove and place it into the oven.
- Allow the meat to cook for 3.5-4 hours uncovered. Remove the roast from the oven when the internal temperature on a thermometer reads 195 F. The meat should be tender but shouldn’t fall apart.
- Let the roast and the au jus rest for 40-60 minutes to cool slightly and then place it overnight into the fridge. You cannot slice the roast until it’s fully cooled for several hours.
How To Make A Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich:
Remove the roast and the au jus from the refrigerator. Remove the roast from the au jus (leave any hardened fat in the au jus, this adds flavor) and place the au jus mixture onto the stove, and heat it over medium-low.
Using a meat slicer or very sharp knife and thinly shave off slices of the meat from the roast. Make sure to slice against the grain. Think paper thin slices (like lunch meat). Doing this by hand is a lot of work, but it is possible.
Once the meat is all sliced, add it to the simmering au jus. Let it sit in the broth mixture for 10-15 minutes and reduce the heat to low.
Slice a french roll and pile beef onto the roll. Like, seriously PILE it on. Use a ladle to spoon more au jus over the beef. Some people enjoy their sandwich dunked into the au jus (this is a little much for me personally).
Finish it off with the signature spicy pickled vegetables also known as giardiniera. You can also try my Chicago style smoked sweet peppers, but I love the giardiniera personally. Pair this sandwich with this grinder salad recipe and a side of fries.
Now that you are officially enjoying one of my favorite Chicago foods, be sure to also check out Chicago hot dogs and my recipe for a keto Chicago thin crust pizza recipe too.
Authentic Chicago Italian Beef Recipe
- 5 lb. Bottom Round Roast or 2 smaller roasts to give you enough meat
- 2 tbsp. Olive Oil
- 1.5 tbsp. Coarse Sea Salt about 3/4 tsp per lb. of meat
- 2 tbsp. Avocado Oil for searing the beef
Au Jus Ingredients
- 8 cups Beef Stock high quality
- 4 cloves Fresh Garlic roughly chopped
- 4 tbsp. Butter melted
- 1 tbsp. Celery Salt
- 1 tbsp. Black Pepper
- 1 tbsp. Red Pepper Flakes use half if you don't tolerate spice well
- 1 tbsp. Garlic Powder
- 2 tsp. Coriander
- 2 tbsp. Fennel
- 2 tbsp. Smoky Paprika
- 2 tbsp. Basil
- 2 tbsp. Oregano
- 2 tbsp. Thyme
- 1 tbsp. Rosemary
- 3 Whole Bay Leaves leave this separate from the blend
- 12 Italian French Bread Rolls
- 1 jar Hot Giardiniera
- 1 batch Chicago Style Sweet Peppers
- PLEASE NOTE: This recipe works best when its made over 2+ day period. Plan accordingly! I highly recommend you read through the entire article above and the entire recipe below before starting. Enjoy!
Meat Preparation (Dry Brine):
- This should be done 1-2 days in advance of roasting the beef in the oven to allow the salt to fully penetrate the beef. Begin by removing the beef roast from the packaging and pat it dry with paper towels.
- Remove the large pieces of exposed fat and any silver skin. Add the olive oil and coarse sea salt to all sides of the roast.
- Place the roast over a wire rack and then onto a baking sheet. Place the roast uncovered and into the fridge for 24-48 hours to dry brine.
Cooking The Italian Beef:
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place the rack of the oven just below the center.
- In a bowl, combine all of the spices (except the bay leaves) and mix together until fully combined.
- Preheat a large heavy bottom pan on medium-high heat. Add the avocado oil (or other high smoke point oil) to the pan. Sear the roast on all sides so it browns. It will take a few minutes per side, flip with tongs when it naturally releases from the pan. Once seared, remove the beef roast from the pan and set it aside. Turn the heat off but leave the pan on the burner.
- Wipe out any large amount of excess oil in the pan. Then add in the butter (leave the heat off so it doesn't burn). The butter will sizzle and melt fast from the residual heat.
- To the melted butter, add all of the spices (except the bay leaves) to the butter and whisk to combine. Allow the spices to develop the aromatics for 1-2 minutes.
- Turn the heat back on to medium low. Add the fresh, roughly chopped garlic and allow it to cook in the spicy butter mixture for 1-2 minutes.
- Take the large seared roast and place it back into the pan. Turn the roast over into the spiced butter so it coats the meat.
- Pour in the stock. It's ok if it doesn't completely cover the meat that is ok. Bring the stock mixture up to a simmer then remove the pan from the heat.
- Carefully transfer the pan to the preheated oven. Roast the meat uncovered until the internal temperature reads 195 F. The meat should be tender enough that any connective tissue and collagen breaks down but the meat should not be shreddable.
- Remove the beef and the au jus from the oven and let it cool 40-60 minutes. Transfer the entire mixture as is right into the fridge to cool overnight. The meat must completely chill to 40 F. to make it easy for slicing.
How To Make Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches
- Remove the chilled beef roast and au jus from the fridge. There will be fat that has separated and cooled at the top, do not remove this (it adds flavor). Remove the beef roast and place it on a cutting board and place the au jus in the pan back onto the stove and heat over medium heat so it simmers.
- Slice the meat as thin as possible (this is key). Use a standard deli meat slicer or get ready to use your knife skills to create thin, shaved pieces of meat. Slice against the grain until you have sliced up the entire roast. This takes a lot of time by hand with a knife, so prepare yourself.
- Place small handfuls of the thinly sliced beef into the au jus and cook on medium low in the the broth mixture for about 10 minutes to heat and flavor the beef.
- Slice a French roll (turano rolls recommended) and pile on the shredded beef and ladle over extra au jus. Some Chicagoans prefer their sandwich dunked into the au jus (so you have that as an option).
- Top the Italian beef sandwich off with some spicy giardiniera (you can also try making sweet peppers but the giardiniera is the most common way to eat this sandwich).
A true Italian beef comes with a mild and hot giardiniera. This has an oil base not vinegar. Another option sweet bell pepper the is baked in the oven tossed in oil. Bon appétito
Yes, there are both mild and spicy forms of giardiniera and yes they are pickled in a vinegar mixture, but preserved in oil. Unless you’re making your own, that’s what’s available to the average consumer. Per my article this information is outlined as well as my grilled version of classic sweet peppers. Enjoy!
My first W2 job was at Frankly Yours back in 1984. Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef. We used to get the sliced beef in buckets and just added it to the au jus, served on Gonella bread. I now live in New Mexico, and go to Portillo’s whenever I possible. No longer. This recipe is the best. The only change I made was adding 2tsp of rosemary to the au jus mix (my grandmother, Carmella Lotesto would insist). Delicious. Like “let’s start a food truck” delicious. My house smells evoked all good core memories – from my Aunt Lucy’s to Frankly Yours and other Chicago haunts. Thank you!
This comment means the absolute world to me and I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to come back and share your experience. This recipe was a true labor of love and as someone who often can’t enjoy Chicago Italian beef locally, recreating this for myself and others like you is why I do this! I’ll definitely try it again with rosemary, thanks again!
Hi, is cooking the meat to 195 degrees a typo?
No, it’s correct! The roast is safe to eat after 145 F. internally but this is a denser lean cut of meat. In order for the connective tissues to break down internally and tenderize you want to roast low and slow (like in BBQ) so the meat is more enjoyable to eat. Letting it cook longer doesn’t hurt the meat, especially since you will fully cool and slice it before adding to the au jus. Hope that helps!
Are the Fennel, Smoky Paprika, Basil, Oregano, Thyme, and Rosemary all supposed to be in Tbsp? I followed the directions and the spices immediately absorbed all the butter and fat and became a paste. Didn’t look like what you had in your video. I was just curious because all the spices together come out to just shy of 16 Tbsps
The spice blend is correct and I have made this recipe dozens of times. You need a LOT of spices to give the meat and the jus flavor because it’s a large amount. Was your butter melted? I use a wider pan so maybe it looks like less in the video because it’s spread out. You can always add a small amount of the beef broth too to thin it out before coating the meat and to slightly deglaze your pan after searing. Hope all went well with the remainder of the recipe and thanks for leaving a comment!
For the roast size I see there is a space.
Is it 1.5 lbs or 15lbs?
It’s one 5lb roast 🙂 Sorry for any confusion
No worries, just wanted to make sure I don’t buy too much meat. Although Italian Beef for days sounds amazing!
Doesn’t The recipe call for 1- 5lb Bottom Round Beef Roast? Not 1.5lbs? I know sometimes recipes can be confusing. Lol
Yes, this is correct. I am going to change the way the recipe ingredient is coming up so it’s easier to read! Thanks!
Hands down this rivals ANY Chicago beef stand and supersedes many. I’m a born and bred Chicagoan (50+yrs.) and have had beefs from the more popular places to the neighborhood places. Worth the time and effort. Personal preference is to tone down the red pepper flakes a little. Thank You for taking the time out to craft this recipe and sharing. This is an amazing recipe! This is Chicago Italian Beef!
Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such incredible feedback about this recipe. It genuinely made me tear up. I love so much about Chicago (especially this sandwich). I am so happy and humbled to hear how much you love it too. Thanks again!
My central Illinoisan Mormor used to make Italian Beef as an entree rather than as a sandwich filler, and since it wasn’t one of my favorites I hadn’t had it in many years and never made it myself after she passed.
On a whim after remembering a really sweet story she once told about making it right after she got married, I found this recipe on google and tried it. After my first taste, the memories rushed back hard. This one is definitely going in the big repertoire.
Thank you so much!
Thank you so much for sharing this story with me Erika. I love that you were able to recreate this and remember her. Have a wonderful weekend 🙂
When am I supposed to add the Bay Leaf?
After you coat the meat in the butter/spice mixture and pour the beef broth in you can add the bay leaves. Then pop the roast in the oven. You can remove them before refrigerating the roast when it’s time to cool it.
How long roughly would a 5lb roast bake in the oven to reach 195 degree internal temp? Also, will other cuts of beef be ok for this?
Timing really depends on a lot of variables. I always base it on the internal temperature, but it usually is about 3- 3.5 hours or so. I would say your best outcome is definitely with a bottom round roast or a top round roast. I do not get the same texture with a chuck roast for example.