Italian beef
Italian beef sandwich
Place of originUnited States
Region or stateChicago, Illinois
Created byMultiple claims
Serving temperatureHot
Main ingredientsRoast beef, French bread

An Italian beef is a sandwich, originating in Chicago, made from thin slices of roast beef simmered and served au jus on French bread. Common toppings are a choice between spicy giardiniera (called "hot") or mild bell peppers (called "sweet"). The entire sandwich is traditionally dipped in the juice the meat is cooked in before serving with a side of French fries.

The sandwich traces back to Italian American immigrants in Chicago as early as the 1930s, but the exact origin is unknown. The sandwich gradually grew in popularity and was widely eaten in the city by the 1970s and 1980s.[1] The sandwich saw a substantial rise in popularity upon the release of the television show The Bear, set in a fictional Chicago restaurant which specializes in the sandwich.[2]


The sandwich is made from beef that has been roasted in beef stock and other seasonings.[3] A 1962 recipe calls for bay leaves, garlic powder, tomato paste, and crushed dried red pepper.[1] The choice of beef cut varies. Inside round is commonly used due to its ease of preparation, but some restaurants use top sirloin.[4] The meat is cooked until it is not pink in the middle, unlike that of a roast beef sandwich. When it is done, it is sliced as thinly as possible, usually thinner than one would for a roast beef sandwich.[5] It is then soaked in the juices it was cooked in.[6]

The sandwich is typically served on French bread, often baked at Turano Baking Co. in particular.[7][8] It is important that the bread is crusty so it does not fall apart after being dipped.[9]

Traditionally the sandwich is either ordered "sweet" with grilled or boiled bell peppers, or "hot" with spicy giardiniera. The sandwich can also be topped with cheese (mozzarella, provolone, or cheddar cheese) which is growing in popularity. Some restaurants offer the addition of Italian sausage, typically called a "combo." Marinara sauce is sometimes offered as a topping.[8]

To assemble an Italian beef, the meat is transferred to the bread still wet, followed by the desired toppings.[6] The completed sandwich is then traditionally dunked in juices before serving. The amount of juices added can be customized using terminology such as "dipped," "dunked," or "wet," but the definitions vary among restaurants. An Italian beef can also be ordered "dry", with or without a side of juice in a cup, similar to a French dip.[8] An Italian beef is frequently ordered with a side of French fries,[7] or sometimes an Italian ice.[5]

Some restaurants sell "gravy bread," bread dipped in juices without meat or toppings. This is cheaper than a full sandwich.[8]


The exact origin of the sandwich is unknown.[5] One possible origin is that the sandwich was invented by Italian American immigrants who sliced inexpensive beef cuts exceedingly thin to feed many people and to tenderize tougher cuts of beef that they were forced to buy due to discrimination. The beef was served on bread to further stretch the meal and mask the poor quality of the meat.[10] Some historians believe that Pasquale Scala invented the sandwich in the 1920s to serve at weddings. Al's Beef claims that Tony Ferreri invented the sandwich in the 1920s to serve at weddings; his son Al later began selling beef sandwiches in 1938.[6] Others believe that Chicago restaurants adapted the French dip sandwich from Los Angeles in 1948 or 1949.[8]

According to the Chicago Tribune, the sandwich was not very popular in the 1950s and 1960s, but it began to take off in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the sandwich was ubiquitous throughout Chicago, celebrities such as Neil Diamond and Jay Leno reportedly enjoyed the sandwich.[1] Still, the sandwich was mostly unknown outside the city until the release of The Bear in 2022.[11] Restaurants across the U.S. reported a surge in demand for the sandwich in the months following the premier of the show.[2] Chris Zucchero, owner of Mr. Beef's, starred in the pilot episode, which was filmed in his restaurant.[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Kindelsperger, Nick (January 15, 2024). "Dip into Chicago's Italian beef history: From peanut weddings to 'The Bear,' how this sandwich became a staple". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 9, 2024.
  2. ^ a b Serman, Rachel (August 8, 2022). "Demand for Italian Beef Is Booming. Thank 'The Bear.'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 14, 2022. Retrieved November 14, 2022.
  3. ^ Wacholz, Charlie (March 9, 2023). "Visiting Mr. Beef, the Sandwich Shop That Inspired The Bear". Paste Magazine. Retrieved April 11, 2024.
  4. ^ Canavan, Hillary Dixler (July 8, 2014). "The Italian Beef Sandwich at Al's in Chicago". Eater. Retrieved April 11, 2024.
  5. ^ a b c Peterson, Lucas Kwan (September 23, 2022). "This Chicagoan explains why true Italian beef is so hard for other cities to get right". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 13, 2022. Retrieved November 14, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Pang, Kevin; Tribune, Chicago (December 6, 2014). "Hunting the best Italian beef in Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 9, 2024.
  7. ^ a b Kiu, Ximena N. Beltran Quan (June 16, 2023). "The 8 Best Italian Beefs in Chicago". Bon Appétit. Retrieved April 9, 2024.
  8. ^ a b c d e Kindelsperger, Nick (November 14, 2022). "The ultimate guide to Chicago's Italian beef". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on November 13, 2022. Retrieved November 14, 2022.
  9. ^ "Straight Dope Chicago: Who invented Italian beef, and why can't you get it outside of Chicago?". Archived from the original on February 20, 2009. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  10. ^ Simon, Scott (July 23, 2022). "How Chicago came to love the Italian beef sandwich". NPR. Archived from the original on November 14, 2022. Retrieved November 14, 2022.
  11. ^ Pang, Kevin (June 22, 2023). "Will 'The Bear' Ruin the Italian Beef?". Esquire. Retrieved April 9, 2024.
  12. ^ Scorziello, Sophia (June 23, 2023). "Why the Owner of the Shop That Inspired 'The Bear' Hasn't Seen the Show: 'Somebody's Still Got to Make Beef'". Variety. Retrieved April 9, 2024.