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Feb 3, 2010 04:44 PM

Review - Pioneer Pit Beef

Last week, I reviewed Chap’s Pit Beef, and after reviewing the comments to my post, I decided to give Pioneer’s Pit Beef a try. Due to the weather, we wanted to call and confirm that they were open for business. To our surprise, Pioneer has no business phone number and only a cross-street for an address. We crossed our fingers and headed out.

To get to this little out-of-the-way meat shack, exit 17 Security Blvd/MD 122 and turn right at N Rolling road. You will see the “Pioneer Pit Beef” sign and can enter the parking lot at the intersection of Rolling and Johnny Cake Rd.

They stick to what they know: turkey, ham, and beef and don’t offer much for side selections. Their fries are completely homemade, cut and prepared right in house. While I was deciding, they gave me a sample slice of roast beef and I did enjoy the savory, smoky, slightly charred piece of roast beef. For sides, we had a small ($0.75) order of coleslaw and fries with gravy. We got two roast beef sandwiches (1/2 lb for me, 1/3 lb for her), both topped with horse radish, barbeque sauce, and fresh onions. For sides, we had a small ($.075) order of coleslaw and fries with gravy. The coleslaw was excellent. It had a little kick to it which we suspected was a hint of horse radish. The fries and gravy were also a pleasing part of the meal. What I didn’t like was the flavor of their florescent barbeque sauce and not having control over the application of the condiments. I’m aware that many elite pit-beef fans go very light on the sauce, if using any sauce at all, but that’s what we like so that’s what we eat.

I had heard I should try the turkey, and I will be sure to at some point. However, I will be using my own sauce and asking for a double application of onions.

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  1. Hey - thanks for the follow up in at least two different ways there.

    FWIW, I don't get any sauce, and while it has been awhile I thought I was able to get sauce on side (though that would've been tiger sauce and/or extra horseradish).

    Also FWIW, I only know Pioneer first hand. I'm in Reston (live/work) but had a customer up that way for a while, and it happened to coincide with a lot of news and attention on pit beef, where many said Pioneer was at least among the top contenders. (I first saw it when a workgroup got lost, I said something and everyone said I was out of my mind for considering such a place - so next time I drove and there we went - the story is somewhere on this board).

    Anyway - thanks again for the full review. I also owe it to (myself atleast) to hit a couple of the others, but I'm thinking Canopy ahead of Chap's - which I really am not optimistic towards.

    22 Replies
    1. re: Dennis S

      I do think the meat at Pioneer had more flavor, but considering the whole package, I'd pick Chaps. But I do put more emphasis on topping control than most people. I am kind of particular in amounts and arrangement of my condiments (a layer of HR beneath and on top of the beef, then the exact right amount of bbq sauce, then circular, non-minced onions). I'm sure the workers of Pioneer would have accomidated my condiment OCD if I insisted, but I never want to be THAT customer that says "a little more....a little more...a little more...wait, that's too much!"

      I guess what I'm trying to say is I can see why people prefer Pioneer, but I think the Chap's hate on this board is undeserved.

      1. re: cainin2000

        I think people get riled up because they resent celeb "experts" like Raichlen or Bitman telling us Chaps is the best thing since sliced bread when many think it's pretty ordinary, pretty much like all the other pit beef stands we've seen in Baltimore over the years. Some think pit beef itself just isn't that special.

        1. re: chowsearch

          I'm sort of with you on this one chowsearch. If you think about it, what is pit beef? It's a charred roast beef sandwich. No matter how good it is, I don't really enjoy eating plain roast beef without at least something added to it.

          I think the biggest weakness with the pit beef tradition is the lack of condiments - c'mon, tiger sauce? It's basically just horseradish! Every great sandwich tradition has something to take it over the top - the melty whiz on a cheesesteak, the jus on a french dip or italian beef. You know, something special like that. I think what pit beef really needs is a little baltimore style gravy/jus. That would take it from ho-hum to NOM NOM NOM for me.

          1. re: joonjoon

            Yet another grump about Pioneer -- I ordered Tiger Sauce on my pit "turkey" and it was just mayo. I guess I could give them a pass on that, since that could have been an honest mistake, just grabbing the wrong squeeze bottle. If that darn "turkey" wasn't so bad compared to the very good beef.

            I like condiments on mine too, not so overwhelming that I don't taste the beef, but more to enhance the flavor. A good jus would be perfect!

            1. re: ivysmom

              Have you ever had Pit Turkey that you liked? In my experience, Pit Turkey at local Pit Beef places is always cheap deli turkey, and pit ham is always cheap deli ham, both cooked until blacked on the outside. Real turkey doesn't stand up well at all to that kind of cooking.

              1. re: Jason1

                I had to re-try a pit turkey I thought I liked before responding. Yes. I have had pit turkey that wasn't bad - at Oakey's in Ellicott City & the Canopy. Yes, it's the same breast they slice in deli's, but it doesn't seem as mushy as the stuff at Pioneer. It's drier (I mean this in a good way) and has some turkey flavor. Sure, a carved real turkey breast would be better but this isn't bad. I need to try the pit turkey at the Lisbon Town Grill and see what that's like.

                Town Grill
                15943 Frederick Rd, Woodbine, MD 21765

            2. re: joonjoon

              I'm not sure if I understand. Are you saying you went to Pioneer, tried the pit beef plain, and didn't like it? Or you felt like it needed something?

              Some things don't need anything covering up the flavor. A Ray's Hellburger or BGR don't need a thing.

              1. re: Steve

                I haven't been to pioneer - my comment was on pit beef sandwiches in general. But I'll go check out their PB soon and we'll see if it's great all by itself. :)

                1. re: joonjoon

                  They will offer you a sample for your approval. No more than medium rare. That's all you should need to know before ordering a pound.

                2. re: Steve

                  A burger's not a burger without a ripe slab of tomato, a slice of raw onion and fresh, crispy lettuce (cheese and bacon if you must); likewise, the pit beef needs to be medium rare with horseradish sauce and raw onions - that's it.

                  1. re: Sop

                    Too bad you've never tasted a really great burger. It's one thing to add toppings once you've tried a great burger straight up. To each his own. But to walk into a great burger place and automatically get the toppings is like pouring bbq sauce over good bbq or salting your steak before eating. Taste it first.

                    Anyway, I stand by my rec of just getting the pit beef plain at Pioneer. If you don't like it, you can always add tiger sauce, but it's kinda hard to remove it.

                    1. re: Steve

                      Sorry, I also prefer sugar and cream in my coffee

                    2. re: Sop

                      I posted a comment about the Californians who think their In-N-Out burger is better than our Five Guys (it seems to have been removed). I was in LA last week and had my obligatory In-N-Out as it comes off the shelf (only option unless you know more is grilled onions or not - I took 'em) and I was, as usual, underwhelmed. I absolutely couldn't taste the meat. Or the bun, for that matter. Mostly I tasted the sauce.

                      I don't know what those people out there are thinking that this is a great way to have a burger. I suppose that if you really want to (or need to) cover up the taste of the beef with the horseradish sauce and onions, then you can get a good pit beef sandwich anyplace that has good sauce.

              2. re: cainin2000

                I'm one to be particular on sides and extras, so I know where you're coming from. Again, the memory is a tad faded (2 yrs or so), but I did love Pioneer and remember getting side extras upon extra.

                And for Chowsearch, yeah - prolly too much hate is geared that way, some of it deserved, some not. But on this one particular case, I feel CH is the better guide and has picked right (and that's not to say Chap's isn't - but I trust a lot of the souls who have said their pref. over the years on this topic).

                1. re: cainin2000

                  I have to comment on topping control - I like the meat at Canopy but boy can they get carried away with the toppings. I want just a little, to complement the meat but they tend to have a really heavy hand. Onion you can take off but the sauce is a little harder. Have not been able to get to Pioneer, but appreciate the review. We will get there one day an your review Cainin2000 makes me want to go there all the more!
                  FYI, Oakeys has a much lighter hand with toppings, but you still can't put them on yourself.

                  1. re: ivysmom

                    The only pit beef I've had recently has been Pioneer. Not only do you not need toppings, but you don't even need the bun. Straight, it is perfection. Like the best roast beef ever. Make sure you get it rare. That's important.

                    1. re: Steve

                      When you order a sandwich at Pioneer they give you a sample slice as they make the sandwich,. I sometimes stop and get sammiches for my fellow workers and order about 8 sandwiches but I still only get one sample slice of beef!!!!!!!.

                      1. re: Hue

                        Last time I was there, I had already eaten lunch and was going back to DC. So I order just a pound of beef. Most of it made it back to DC, honest.

                        1. re: Steve

                          I'm considering ordering just the sliced beef from there to take home and make sandwiches with that.

                    2. re: ivysmom

                      MANY months later we finally got to Pioneer this weekend. The pit beef is definitely among the best we've ever tried. My husband got that. And folks are correct, it does not need any toppings. I, however, made a huge mistake and got pit "turkey". Mind you, the pit turkey sandwiches were flying out the door (excuse the pun), everyone in front of us got them, one man got 3. The turkey was gray (yes - gray), spongy, mushy and tasteless. Like the cheapest deli meat you can imagine. Fries were so-so. Go for the pit beef, though, definitely !!! ((fyi, they are a "cash only" operation)

                      1. re: ivysmom

                        There's another place at Robert Young Parkway and US 1 in Halethorpe that is first-rate. It's in a trailer parked more-or-less permanently a block off US1. There's a hand-lettered sign on US1 that just says "Pit Beef" with an arrow pointing the way. Like I said, first-rate. Good variety of fixin's as well. A stacked pit beef sandwich and a cold drink was about 7 bucks.

                      2. re: ivysmom

                        Y'know, that's funny. I order my sandwiches at the Canopy with bbq, horseradish and onion and always have to add a little extra. I guess excess is in the eye (or on the pallette) of the beholder.

                  2. Thanks for the great review, but being a geography geek I have to correct you: you turn LEFT onto N Rolling Road from Security. Pass by the Security Square Mall and under the I-70 overpass. Turn right at the next light and you're there!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: bordeauxfan

                      Thanks for the correction. I just wrote down what google directions said.

                      1. re: cainin2000

                        I'D pick Charcoal Grill but PPB is OK...

                        1. re: EatNLoveLife

                          What do people think about Harbor Q down in Ft McHenry? I enjoy it their Pit Beef (plus location) - but I'm definitely not an expert on the subject being a Baltimore transplant.

                          1. re: wooyeah

                            Had their pit beef and found it totally bland, it needed salt, pepper and condiments.