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Chaps Pit Beef - Not Impressed

Went last night on way back from NJ to DC. The good news was that it's right off 895. But I was expecting and hoping for a great, rather than average sandwich. It was around 8:00 pm. Is that too late? The beef was ok, the roll a little soft. Horseradish helped, but did not overcome my disappointment.

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  1. I wasn't impressed either the last time I had it, the meat didn't taste like anything.

    6 Replies
    1. re: hon

      The most impressive thing is how Baltimore native Steve Raichlen liked Baltimore pit beef it when he was little, and writes about it now, forgetting that something exotic and grill-tasting that can impress a 7YO is actually, at high-volume places like Chaps, just cheap self-juice-steamed cheap meat sliced thin that gets all --all-- its taste from condiments. Back then, smaller quantity pit beef places really finshed off on the grill. The food press is flat out derivative, so the story gets repeated and the legend is born. They are too busy, lazy or underfunded to go taste. It's just lame fast food. Raichlen has been told, but doesn't care. Some others, like the stand on Church Lane in Cockeysville across from Corner Stable, are better with some actual char edge. Anybody got better places?

      1. re: hon

        Totally agree.
        Coming from Seattle and watching the foodies on TV I was excited.
        I don't get it and agree with hon that it was tasteless indeed.
        The only good thing was the gal taking my $100 bill flirted outrageously with me in front of my 19 year old daughter. Well, I guess I started it.
        Are the other pit beef places any better?

        1. re: JayDK

          Pioneer Pit Beef. Literally a shack under the highway. More details downthread.

          Pioneer Pit Beef
          1602 N. Rolling Road, Woodlawn, MD 21244

            1. re: Dennis S

              I ate 2 of them for lunch yesterday. awesome.

              1. re: natewv

                I live in DC and considering the drive, Pioneer is by far the best. Beefalow Bob is a very close second, and I mean very very close.

      2. i almost went after seeing it featured on guy fieri's show but after reading henry hong's criticism, i stayed away.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Minger

          That got me researching--Hong had it right, Fieri got it wrong, but he's entertaining, it just means his production team is gullible and lazy and did it by online research, not tasting. Now I'll take his advice with a bigger hunk of salt. He did get Jim's Blimpie Burger in Ann Arbor right the other day. And the place I was thinking of was Charcoal Grill but they closed their Cockeysville branch, here's their Parkville location which I have not tried:
          Here's a link to an earlier thread mentioning better ones than Chap's:

          1. re: chowsearch

            The place in Cockeysville is called Charcoal Deli and they're open again. They had a fire in April and opened back up in June. I've been to Charcoal Grill in Parkville (live in Parkville) and was uninpressed with their pit beef and pit ham...it was sliced thick and very bland. Charcoal Deli, OTOH, has better flavored pit beef and ham. I've been to Chaps and wan't impressed with their beef, either. Very dry and not dipped in sauce like Charcoal Grill/Deli. I've been recently going to some smaller unknown stands off the beaten path and have found a couple good ones. There's a stand behind the Farmer's Market on Joppa Rd between Loch Raven and Perring (near the Goodwill and Salvation Army). The beef is pretty good...don't like the ham too much, though. There's also one down on Cromwell Valley Rd near the beltway exit for Loch Raven (head towards Providence...he's on the left). He only has lunch hours, though.

        2. I too had the Chaps experience. Bland and tasteless.
          The folks under 83 at the market is much better on Sundays.

          Anyone have a report on Expressway Pit Beef in Odenton, or Canopy in Glen Burnie?

          8 Replies
          1. re: RobertM

            The Canopy has been gone now for at least 3 years! It's now called Jumper's Grille.

            1. re: lrebetsky0423

              Just got off the phone, The Canopy in Glen Burnie is still open.
              Guess I have to make a run up there this weekend......

              1. re: lrebetsky0423

                Jumper's grill has decent Pit Beef, but on weekends I prefer the Riddler's BBQ truck closer to Severna Park.

              2. re: RobertM

                I'm not terribly impressed by Canopy, but others seem to disagree. It's possible that my opinion of their meat is clouded by how much I hate their fries.

                I don't really think of Canopy as a pit beef place, though. They are hawking all kinds of barbecued (and non-barbecued) items, cooked indoors. What I think of as a canonical pit beef place is a shack that's almost outdoors, with a very limited menu. And there wouldn't be a deep fryer for fries anyway.

                1. re: Hal Laurent

                  Noted: Now where else do you suggest a good Pit Beef, BMore style, other than Chaps?
                  Feel free

                  1. re: RobertM

                    Try Pioneer Beef just off Rolling Road near Johhnycake

                  2. re: Hal Laurent

                    I enjoy the food at the Ellicott City branch of The Canopy.

                    1. re: elgringoviejo

                      The Canopy in Ellicott City seems a little better since they reopened after the fire. The beef has been more flavorful and less dry than it used to be. Maybe I've just been lucky, but the last 3 visits have been pretty good.

                2. I'm really not sure we read the same thing written by Henry Hong. They do not use processed meat at Chaps and it is one of few places doing pit beef correctly using charcoal versus a gas grill. I disagree on all levels. I like their pit beef. Also, I don't think any Food Network show has he funding to be sending an advance team to taste all the places they're considering featuring. They can only rely on the local folks they talk to and professional folks who review food for recommendations. Geesh.

                  1. I don't think I've had pit beef from Chaps (but if I did it was a long time ago), but it's perfectly normal for the roll to be soft. Kind of like Carolina pork barbecue, which is served on cheap white rolls or bread.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Hal Laurent

                      Also, the flavor comes from the charcoal. I think folks have become so used to crap processed that the real thing they don't get. The bun has to be soft, ick to the stiff hamburger type bun. At Chaps, everything they make with respect to meats is done daily. Yum. I loved the subtle hint of the charcoal flavor on the beef. Reminds me of the great beef sandwiches I used to be able to get at what are now franchises like Arby's.

                    2. For the record, I did acknowledge my misplaced suspicions regarding Chaps. But they are among the many places that for some unfathomable reason do not season their beef at all. An anecdote regarding this Steve Raichlen - like everyone else who's searched pit beef on the interweb, his NYT article comes up at or near the top. And, not that I'm anything but a casual (but thorough) enthusiast, it just didn't seem...right. Crucially, "Baltimore's answer to barbecue"? No, sir. Etymological nuances aside, an argument could be made that pit beef is in fact a form of anti-barbecue. In any case, I was on a public radio show about a month ago and my co-guest was Rob Kasper, longtime Sun food writer. Never been a fan of his writing per se, but he was very affable and seemed knowledgeable. When we were on the air though, he engaged in some name-dropping, which is a bit of a peeve of mine. Anyway when the convo turned to pit beef, he mentioned Raichlen and the article, calling it "authoritative" I believe, and then it hit me - has anyone else seen his PBS show "BBQ U."? or something to that effect? The one episode I saw he was grilling mango and calling it BBQ. Immediate disqualification as a BBQ person, as far as I'm concerned. Pit beef is rarely going to blow anybody away with its amazingness, but it can suck. I'd say the only truly bad pit beef I've had is at the downtown farmer's market. I have no idea why the line is always so long. It's cooked over charcoal, yes, but the slicing by hand thing? It may look cool but results in really tough, stringy beef. I've never gotten a sandwich that didn't have at least several with-the-grain slices. I'm with hon on the the condiments, which is why I cannot recommend trying pit bison at home more highly. It's like if you could coat beef with a magic extra beefiness powder....actually that's a terrible illustration, but you get the idea. Plug: article on bison is in this week's CP btw.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: henryhong

                        I share your disdain for Steve Raichlen, although mine probably isn't as vehement as yours.

                        That said, I think getting into a "pit beef is/isn't barbecue" argument is rather irrelevant. The definition of "barbecue" varies a lot from country to county, region to region, and even person to person. Pit beef certainly doesn't qualify for the "low and slow" definition of barbecue. But again, that's beside the point. Pit beef is what it is. If you don't like it, fine, but don't dismiss it because it doesn't fit some definition that it never claimed to fit.

                        Properly done pit beef has a nice charred edge that lends a lot to the taste, but will never be tender, given the cut of beef. Because of that, slicing it thin is a must. I wasn't aware that there are places that hand slice it (I steer clear of anywhere at the farmers market that has a long line), but that's just a colossal mistake in my opinion.

                        I've made pit beef at home, with varying degrees of success. The difficult part is slicing the meat thin enough when one doesn't have a meat slicer.

                        1. re: Hal Laurent

                          I agree with you fully on all points. Actually, and this is why I qualified my statement, barbecue in its truest sense IS in fact grilling. Except here in the US it is commonly accepted, especially by avid practitioners, as referring to "slow and low". I digress yet again. I haven't found a suitable alternative to a meat slicer for slicing pit beef. Electric knives are ok, but the two I have don't oscillate fast enough and tend to fray the meat. One cheat is to divide the meat into smaller lengthwise pieces, making it easier to slice thinly. And rather than ever dismiss pit beef, I'm pretty obsessed with it, but as you say it is what it is. My blog is damn near dedicated to it.

                          1. re: Hal Laurent

                            I meant to add, speaking of charred edges, there's a place east of Martin State Airport called Smokehouse of Chase that offers burnt ends on the menu. i used to see this option fairly often not so much anymore. The burnt ends are i think $2.50 and they give you about double the amount of meat you'd get on a sandwich, although all charred of course. They also give out free dog scraps!

                            1. re: henryhong

                              Have you ever tried Uncle Grube's in Elkridge? It just off Rte 1 south of Rte 100. I enjoy their pit beef, but I wonder how it compares to the places that you've been discussing. I live in Howard County, so I'm rarely driving past many of institutions near the city and able to stop and sample.

                              1. re: HowChowBlog

                                Uncle Grube's! No I still have to check this place out, a caller recommended this place when I was on ypr. Bull on the Run is just a short ways up 95 from HoCo, and theirs is good.

                          2. re: henryhong

                            Wow, what a fire (slow and low? no, charcoal!) I fanned by my initial post. For the record, I saw Fieri's program on B'more joints (including a hot dog place I can't recall) and it confirms what I have thought about his show. There must be an amazing number of takes to get his footage, and I wonder how and which meal he's eating - the first take or the last. Second, I agree that the roll is not that meaningful, as NC BBQ rolls are often soft, as they should be to sop up some sauce. Chaps had no juice to begin with, making me wonder how long my "rare" beef had been sitting. Lastly, I did not mention the weak mac and cheese cup for over $1. Must give a call to some of the best 'que, ribs and chopped, I have had in B'more area from a truck on Liberty Road, in the Ollie's parking lot, "Up in Smoke".

                            1. re: nickdanger

                              Ha funny thing is, I actually went to the hot dog place on Eastern when they were filming the episode. Fieri was outside smoking. I really wanted a chili dog, and saw the sign and stopped before realizing what was going on. Got my dog, totally average. Must check out Up in Smoke. I'm originally from Randallstown. Haven't been able to find decent bbq anywhere, although CarterQue is pretty good, and Andy Nelson's seems to be getting better. Everyone is using that damn Somke Chef these days - in Baltimore, there's a smoke nuisance ordinance or some such that effectively prevents proper outdoor bbq business from opening. I called the city and the approval process for such a venture is draconian.

                          3. A few weeks ago I attended baseball game with my son and had a Boog Powel pit beef sandwich.
                            Pricey, but very very good.
                            Who in the general area cooks em like that?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: RobertM

                              Get the platter! for a buck more you get average baked beans and pretty good cole slaw. Boog's is good, but they don't ask how you like it done, and sometimes have slicing issues(see photo). This is perfectly understandable considering the venue. Have you tried Bull on the Run in Halethorpe? Theirs is very good, with decent char. Across from the Super Walmart, there's a Wendy's, and next to that there's a little white sign for pit beef at the entrance to a business park. They serve out of a red trailer from i think 11:30 - 3. There's also Shorty's up on Falls Rd. near Shawan, also good and cooked over coals (even has a smoke ring sometimes!), but almost always overcooked.

                              1. re: RobertM

                                oops, photo of with-the-grain slice here

                              2. I love Chaps pit beef. And their fries. And, their fries with gravy. What an amazing guilty pleasure.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: baltoellen

                                  I will admit, it's pretty impressive that they can get bottom round so tender. But their fries, holy cow are they soggy. Like, astoundingly soggy. I suppose if you're a soggy fries fan, and I know such folks exist, they're perfect. I think they forgo the second fry that makes them crispy.

                                  1. re: henryhong

                                    Ok, the fries aren't crisp, I'll grant you that. But is crispiness the only measure of the fry?

                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                      I'd say given it's called a "fry", crispiness is of paramount importance.

                                      1. re: henryhong

                                        I knew someone would say that. To that I say flaccid fine are fine. (Or can be, if they are bursting with fried potato goodness, which I'd say is the case at Chaps.) Nothin' wrong sometimes with fries you need to eat with a fork.

                                        And, they just somehow work perfectly with the pit beef.

                                        1. re: baltoellen

                                          Actually yes, the fries are very tasty at Chaps, good potato and browned flavors. But I would say flaccid is too generous an adjective. They're really a mound of squishy, oily potato slivers. Not inherently a bad thing, just bad as "fries", imho.

                                      2. re: baltoellen

                                        I'm with Henry on fries needing to be crisp to be good.

                                        Hmmm, I wonder if he's my long lost brother or something? :-)

                                  2. Pioneer! that's all I have to say about it.

                                    7 Replies
                                      1. re: WestIndianArchie

                                        Ok, most of these places are way north of Balmer for me, I live in DC.
                                        I do get up to the market under 83 from time to time, or the North Point area's for the flea market.
                                        And I did find that Red truck one day near the new Super Wal Mart a few years ago and yes it was very good.
                                        Now Expressway Pit Beef in Odenton, Henryhong have you or the rest of the Pit Chewers been there yet?

                                        1. re: RobertM

                                          No way! Where in Odenton is it? That'll give me an excuse to go to Grace Garden and get some take out. Hahaha, "where in Odenton", I realize now is a silly question. Where on 175 is it?

                                          1. re: henryhong

                                            Express Way is actually on Rt 170..
                                            Traveling West on 175 make a left on Rte 170 (Piney Orchard)
                                            go about two - three blocks next to the Hardware Store(Ace?)
                                            Before the light
                                            They use to have a great pulled pork sammich 2!

                                            1. re: henryhong

                                              8388 Piney Orchard Parkway, Odenton, MD 21113: Google is your friend.
                                              Better yet if you use Firefox, get the mini map addon. And find out who is offering pit Bison!!!!
                                              I know which local butcher is offering aged Bison in Grambrils.

                                              1. re: RobertM

                                                Afaik, I am at the bleeding edge of the pit bison genre. I list some sources in my article: http://www.citypaper.com/eat/story.as... , but they're all Baltimore area.

                                            2. re: RobertM

                                              Charlie's Place, E. Gude Drive in Rockville. Decent pit beef and sides.

                                          2. Went to Express Pit Beef today.
                                            I have to say it is the best hands down authentic Pit Beef sandwich I have had to date. Period. Bread was right, beef was crusty very tasty and seasoned. The place was spick and span clean. Lots of local with kids standing in line for chow. Perfect sandwich. We thought so much of it we looped around to try the DC natives special, 1/2 smoked sausage, Man it was like turning back the clock 40 years. Heck of a menu, and great food, great locals keeping the place going too.

                                            15 Replies
                                            1. re: RobertM

                                              Where in GB is The Canopy?

                                              The Guy Fieri show of Bmore joints that he went to featured G and A Restaurant in Greektown. I'm not big into hot dogs but we went and my boyfriend who is a hot dog connosieur loved the place. They have breakfast all day and an array of other dishes as well as home brewed iced tea which is awesome!

                                              1. re: lrebetsky0423

                                                Canopy is here:
                                                5 Vernon Ave
                                                Glen Burnie, MD 21061
                                                (410) 768-1719

                                                Take my word for it, you and your boyfriend will like Express Pit Beef better.

                                              2. re: RobertM

                                                Went to Expressway twice in the last week. Both times the Pit Beef was too done for my liking. Ordered it medium once, then medium rare the second time. Still tastes great compared to others, especially with their nose opening horseradish! Their pulled pork is very good as. Had an urge for some chicken wings too so I had the wife pick up an order as well. I wasn't expecting much, but they were really good! I'm glad I live close to this place as it's becoming a favorite......I just wish they would get my Pit beef right. Or is pit beef not supposed to come that rare?

                                                1. re: cb1

                                                  Hint, just show them what level of done ness you prefer? If I ask for rare, it is really rare, not to my liking. Usually I say medium, and it comes charred on the outside, and there is just a hit of rare on some slices. I drive up from DC to get my Pit Beef fix at Express. The ham is good too. The DC thing is the half smoke, Express does em the way they used to in DC. Nothing in DC today comes close. Great little food shack, and family friendly

                                                  1. re: RobertM

                                                    The last two times, the wife picked it up and brought home. Next time I'll go and show them how I want it. I'm going to try the half smokes this weekend per your recommendation. Do you put anything on those or leave em plain?

                                                    1. re: cb1

                                                      I usually get the hot half smoke w raw onions, mustard. But my better half likes relish & mustard.

                                                      We drive up to get em, but usually dont get past two stops before they are gone. the pit beef sandwich's last a lot longer, but not much.

                                                  2. re: cb1

                                                    I've lived in Maryland all my life and had never heard of pit beef until I saw Guy Fieri's coverage of Chaps. Go figure. Before making the trek up to B'more to try it, I wanted to get the truth from the Chow Hounds. After reading the reviews, I instead drove up to Expressway today. I was really hopeful between these reviews and the recommendations on Yelp.

                                                    I have to say, I was disappointed and I'm not likely to make the 30 minute drive again for it. I ordered both the beef and the turkey for comparison's sake. Both needed some serious doctoring. The beef was incredibly dry and the turkey was reminiscent of the luncheon meat I can get from the prepackaged deli meats section of the grocery store. I was never asked how done I would like my beef and I forgot I had read here that I had a choice. I would've preferred their version of rare as opposed to what I brought all the way back home. I wanted so much to like this place. On a positive note, the staff was very friendly and I enjoyed the corn nuggets.

                                                    I'm a Marylander who wants to know, what is the hype about pit beef? Can anyone offer a clue?

                                                      1. re: Dennis S

                                                        Thanks Dennis S. It's comforting to see that I'm not alone in wondering what the big deal is.

                                                      2. re: MScribe

                                                        You have to order the pit beef medium rare at the warmest. If you don't like your meat on the rare side, you'll probably find it somewhat dry. And you should eat it right where you order it and not drive it around in the car. Lastly, a pit beef place is all about pit beef--not turkey or tofu or corn dogs. But hey, live and learn.

                                                        1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                          I love it!!!!, say it again, "eat it where you order it" in the car, or at a table or bench. Ha ha ha, And dont forget to add your own seasonings and junk.

                                                          1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                            I guarantee you that my opinion would have been the same if they had invited me into the kitchen to eat the slices as they shaved them off the roast. Besides, if meat sitting between two pieces of moist bread can dry out that much and expire on the short trip home, how good can it really be?

                                                            As for toppings, I would've had a ratio of 1:1 if I had added any more horseradish and BBQ sauce to give the meat some flavor and moisture. And, if I had to do again, I'd order the turkey before I'd chance another dry, bland roast beef sandwich. I think a corn dog would be an even safer bet.

                                                            Who knows? Perhaps I caught them on a bad day. If they had offered, I would've definitely ordered medium rare. I just wasn't aware that I had the option when I ordered that first sandwich. If I happen to be in the vicinity of another pit beef place, maybe I'll give it another try. Otherwise, pit beef will be a Baltimore treasure that this Marylander will gladly continue to live without.

                                                            1. re: MScribe

                                                              I like the Canopy on Route 40 in Catonsville. I go there--well, a lot. They use a kaiser roll, which holds up better than white bread. Still, you pretty much have to eat it within a few minutes because it will get soggy and disintegrate. Barbecue sauce, horseradish and onion with rare roast beef and you have a winner. Hell, give it another shot. Couldn't hurt.

                                                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                I'm game. On your suggestion, I'll make the hike to Catonsville one day and try Canopy. I promise that I'll eat the sandwich on/at the spot.

                                                                1. re: MScribe

                                                                  The Canopy also has ribs and barbeque pork, but I never got past the beef. You'll probably eat it in the car, because there are no tables and very little parking. I've had to park at the McDonald's next door. Worth the hassle, IMHO.

                                                    1. Okay, so you'll think she's crazy, but my wife really likes the pit beef sandwich at the Sugarloaf Craft Festivals at the Fair Grounds in Gaithersburg.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: skipper

                                                        Huh, I thought they had done away with both Canopy locations.

                                                        1. re: lrebetsky0423

                                                          Google the place, pick up the phone, give em a call. I did.

                                                        2. re: skipper

                                                          We all tend to like what we like. Most here have some idea or quality they are seeking in a meal. Chow Hounds tend to, well, want to see what is as good or better, in an ever changing world of chow. That being said, Roast beef, Pit beef, Baltimore style Pit Beef are a bit different. But all are still beef sammie's.
                                                          I usually look for a bmore style pit beef sammie a bit more than that fair grounds show, But Im happy she is happy.

                                                        3. Over this last weekend I went and tried Pioneer Beef which was recommended on another post and it was awesome. You choose your blood level, they shave off a slice and hand it to you to taste, which was delicious. Sat right there on a picnic table in the parking lot and enjoyed my first pit beef sandwich ever.

                                                          The one thing I was curious about was the preparation. I believe that it is supposed to be sliced and then again put on the grill for another bit of char, correct? Pioneer beef does not do this. They take the chuck off the grill and slice it and put it right on the sandwich.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                            1. re: sekelmaan

                                                              Yes, put right on the sandwich, NOT regrilled. Glad you liked it. I am craving a Pioneer Pit Beef sandwich constantly.

                                                              1. re: sekelmaan

                                                                I like mine medium rare, so putting the meat back on the grill would be undesirable.

                                                              2. I went there after the DDD show. Very dissapointing. I was there around noon - so hopefully everything should have been fresh. The meat was bland and the sidedishes could have been from anywhere. Wasn't memorable like promised.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: NJLADCgirl

                                                                  to which place? Pioneer or another one? I can never tell who's talking about what when these threads get too long.

                                                                  Anyway my golf outing got cancelled today, so I am leaving the house to find Pioneer right now. Don't tell my boss :)

                                                                2. I have been there twice on trips up north and me and my wife love it. I am driving thru I can get off 895 easily to get to it and find quickly. Food always been great at lunch time and I plan to stop again this Agust when I drive thru

                                                                  1. Once the weather calms down, heading up to Pioneer for a refresher classic pit beef.

                                                                    1. I'm with you mostly. I was like...I drove for this? The beef was good but seemed like regular round with a bit of charcoal flavor. I don't get the attraction.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: GianniB

                                                                        Yep, after all these years, try Pioneer, or Beefalow Bob's
                                                                        Or......Express Pit Beef off 170