Oh, Washington Post. At least you’re trying. After publishing a condescending article about Baltimore earlier this year, the WaPo is clearly trying to make it up to us with a fawning article about a beloved Baltimore delicacy: pit beef. But once again, they kinda mess it up. (Fail #1: They mention hons in the first paragraph.)
The whole hook of the article, in fact, is that Baltimore is weird — and pit beef is weird, too! “Baltimore pit beef is to live-fire cooking what Waters is to cinema: a bit . . . different,” writes Jim Shahin. When Shahin ventures to the Sunday farmer’s market under JFX, he notes the “gloriously offbeat prepared foods” (so a portabello wrap counts as exotic now?). Okay, guy, we get it: Baltimore is quirky! Now shut up and talk about the beef.
And, to be fair, when Shahin does get around to discussing what makes pit beef different from, say, Carolina barbecue or Texas brisket, he’s pretty useful. Unlike barbecue, pit beef isn’t slow-smoked; instead, it’s cooked in an open pit, over relatively high hot hardwood coals for a couple of hours. Then it’s sliced thin and doused with horseradish sauce. Still, Shahin finds pit beef’s essence elusive: “Baltimore pit beef is easier to define by what it isn’t than what it is,” he notes. “In other words, it’s not barbecue.”
When Shahin gets around to talking to Bob Creager, owner of Chaps Pit Beef, Creager takes the whole aren’t-both-pit-beef-and-Baltimore-so-strange thesis down a peg. “It’s similar to other foods,” Creager tells Shahin. “Roast beef. Brisket. Italian beef in Chicago. But there’s just a little variation that makes it different.”