Join Mario Batali on a road trip across America as he explores the humble cornerstones that have shaped our collective palate. The dishes in Big American Cookbook are simple staples collected from passionate home cooks, and entirely accessible for culinary enthusiasts of all levels. It’s not possible to traverse the country without running into some killer meat. The United States is home to a wealth of famous regional roast beef sandwiches, and Batali recommends all of them.
Honestly, the stories about how John Montagu — the Earl of Sandwich — may or may not have instigated putting meat between two slices of bread aren’t very interesting. In eighteenth-century England, the best-case scenario is that that’s probably all it was: meat and bread. What is very interesting is everything that’s happened to that basic premise since then. We can consider bread and beef — roasted or otherwise — a starting point. Add a small detail or a flourish, and a roadmap of America begins to emerge.
Buffalo Beef on Weck
In Buffalo, the wing is king, but locals will tell you their version of the roast beef sammie is just as much an icon. The game here is the bread — kummelweck — which is like a soft kaiser coated with salt and caraway. For added attitude, the sandwich is dressed with as much horseradish as it takes to get your undivided attention.
While Buffalo’s beef sandwich has largely stayed a local landmark, cheesesteaks are so ingrained in the lexicon that “Philly” is attached more as a general descriptor than a geo-locator. Stories of abusive countermen are largely played up for travel show drama. Know what kind of cheese you want, and whether you want onions, and all will be fine.
Pit Beef Sandwich
To obtain a classic Pit Beef Sandwich, you’re pretty much going to have to be willing to get off the highway somewhere within about a two-and-a-half-hour radius of Baltimore. For the best one, it’ll feel more like you walked into a friend’s cookout than a business. The meat will be seasoned mostly with fire, then topped with a horseradish mayo and raw onion.
Few cities sport as much character as the Big Easy, so we would expect no less of its entrant on this tour. The Po’ Boy has many iterations, but chief among them is this juicy one defined by the addition of all the remnants — solid and liquid — in the pan after the beast is roasted. Every cook who has picked at the pan knows these are the best parts.
Italian Beef Sandwich
For a city so defined by its relationship with beef, it’s sort of funny that the unmitigated star of Chicago’s favorite beef on bread is the vegetable salad that gets piled on top. The pack of pickled cherry peppers, olives, and cauliflower make this sandwich. And napkins. Lots and lots of napkins.
Santa Maria Tri-Tip
California checks in with another entry that’s simply seasoned and kissed by fire. Tri-tip is a cut of the sirloin more likely to be readily available west of the Rockies than east of them. At a cookout in Santa Maria, your sandwich would be on a tortilla and adorned with bacon-y beans and pico de gallo.