By now, you’ve heard a lot about this delicious sandwich, and you want to order one like a pro. Unfortunately, you don’t want to walk into Johnnie’s or Mr. Beef and look like a complete chump, because there’s a good chance that a gang of hefty men with mustaches and union electrician t-shirts will get pretty annoyed having to wait behind you as you try and make up your mind. And of course, this may come as a shock to you, but some Chicago restaurant workers aren’t the most patient people in the world, and they may snap at you if you’re taking too long. Don’t worry, were here to help. Luckily for you, there are actually only a few options available to you when ordering a beef sandwich, and you will probably try several combinations of them until you find the one that’s your favorite. But pay attention, practice the lingo, and learn to order like a pro.
1) Dry, Wet, or Dipped?
The most important thing to decide, and the first word that should come out of your mouth after the word “beef” Some restaurants may try to mess around with the terminology (for example, Portillo’s exchanges “Wet” for “Splashed”), but true Chicagoans go by these three terms:
Dry – The beef is pulled from the juice with tongs, most of the juice is allowed to drip off, and it is put into a roll. No juice is added, and the sandwich is about as dry as it can get.
Wet - The beef is pulled from the juice and immediately put into a roll, leaving the beef wet? Some restaurants will add a spoonful of juice over the top after this step.
Dipped – The beef is pulled from the juice, stuffed into a roll, and then the entire roll is dipped into the beef juice, making a soggy, delicious sandwich. This style of sandwich also gave birth to the style of eating known as the Chicago Lean (see below).
Most die-hard fans will try to tell you that “real Chicagoans” eat their beefs dipped, and if you don’t, well then, you’re kind of a wuss. But we here at ItalianBeef.com want to make one thing clear: real Chicagoans eat their sandwiches any damned way they want to. So order it how you like it, and don’t worry about the naysayers.
2) Sweet or Hot?
We’re talking about the peppers here, not the waitress. Sweet peppers or hot peppers, to be precise, although even that isn’t very precise, because “hot peppers” is actually incorrect. When ordering a beef “hot” refers to “hot giardiniera”, an Italian relish that does include peppers (sport peppers, usually), but also includes celery, cauliflower, carrots, jalapenos, oregano, and garlic, all pickled in a vinegar/oil mixture. Some restaurants may offer you a choice between hot and mild giardiniera (usually depending on the amount of jalapenos in the mixture), but don’t count on it. Marconi and Scala are perhaps the two most popular brands of giardiniera used in beef stands and restaurants around Chicago today. Meanwhile, “sweet peppers” is a collective term typically referring to roasted green bell peppers. Some confusion occasionally arises when people mistakenly think of any of a variety of Italian sweet peppers, which are longer, thinner peppers that taste more like chili peppers. However, any Italian beef emporium will most likely be serving you a beef sandwich containing roasted, sometimes marinated strips of green bell peppers.
3) Cheese or No Cheese?
While we Chicagoans hold Italian beef sandwiches dear to our hearts, our hearts may not always appreciate the less-than-healthy foods we love. However, when it comes to a beef sandwich, there aren’t many corners you can cut to make it better for you. As such, why not top the whole thing off with some delicious, gooey cheese? Zippys home of cheezy beef picture There are two main types of cheese offered on a beef sandwich in Chicago: mozzarella (a.k.a. “mozz” pronounced “mots”) and provolone. Most beef stands won’t give you a choice; they will carry one or the other (or none at all, depending on where you are at). Some restaurants may offer a version of a beef-and-cheddar sandwich, which is also quite popular in Chicago. However, it is also not considered a true Italian beef, despite having the exact same beef inside of it. (Like I said, we Chicagoans are very stubborn about our food.) Anyone who attempts to give you a beef-and-cheddar and calls it an Italian beef should be avoided at all costs, and possibly reported. And that’s about it! Now you know how to order a beef like a pro. But before heading down to Al’s, Jimmy’s, or Mickey’s, or Tony’s, or whatever the beef place on the corner is called, practice these handy phrases: “Beef, dipped, hot, mozz” “Beef, wet, sweet” “Beef, dipped, sweet” “Beef, dry, hot, provolone” We Chicagoans are a people of few words. (Talking interferes with eating.) WAIT A MINUTE! What’s this Chicago Lean thing you were talking about?
Ah, we almost forgot. How to eat an Italian beef is an important art form, especially if you’re ordering your beefs “dipped, hot, mozz”-style, so the whole affair is a gooey, dripping, delicious mess. Now, we are working under the assumption that you know how to eat a normal sandwich already, so we’re not going to go over the basics. However, many beef joints contain long, thin counters without stools, and these counters are designed specifically for eating sloppy sandwiches without getting beef juice all over your work shirt, so you don’t have to come back from your lunch break looking like you went for a run in a slaughterhouse. The Chicago Lean (a step-by-step guide) Put your sandwich on the counter and stand in front of it, with your chest about 12 inches from the edge of the counter Lean forward so your chest is at a 45-degree angle to the counter (Note: if you’re wearing a tie, make sure it’s tucked inside your shirt) Pick up your sandwich, resting your elbows on the counter Angle the sandwich at a 45-degree angle to the counter, with the top end towards your mouth. (Imagine making a triangle: the counter is the bottom, your head and chest are one side, the sandwich is another) Eat and enjoy. For best results, keep the sandwich wrapped in the wax paper it most likely came in, unwrapping it as you go Enjoy your Italian Beef Sandwich!!