Since I grew up in the Chicago area, my family ate Italian beef sandwiches every now and again. When I asked my mom for her recipe, she told me that she just simmered roast beef and a container of au jus on the stovetop, and put it on big, crusty rolls. Au jus is simply the juice from roasting beef, and she can find it in the deli section of her local grocery store. Here in the South, though, I have never seen au jus for sale; I had to start from scratch.
The key to good Italian beef is a leaner cut of meat. I have made this recipe with chuck roast to save a few bucks, but the amount of fat in the jus was off-putting. Use a top round, bottom round, or sirloin tip. Unless it is on sale, it will cost you a few extra dollars—a small price to pay for a healthier cut. And then comes the easy part—tossing it in the slow cooker until dinner time.
I use a mixture of spices, since this is a pretty forgiving recipe. Use a combination that seems logical—basil, oregano, and garlic powder are all Italian flavors, or try a premade spice mixture for beef. Weber makes a seasoning called Chicago Steak, which works great for Italian beef. Be generous with the seasonings, but keep an eye on your salt—the Weber spice contains salt, so I don’t add any extra when I use it. When the beef is done cooking, shred it and allow it to sit for a few minutes in the jus before serving.
Topping an Italian beef sandwich can start off debates. I like the classic hot and sweet peppers; you can break from tradition and melt some provolone on top. Another addition is some Italian giardiniera, which are pickled vegetables that you can find in the grocery store near the olives. If you love the flavor, put the giardiniera in the slow cooker with the beef (I topped my sandwiches after cooking). The roll is important—I like a slightly chewy, slightly crusty hoagie roll, toasted. Dip the roll in au jus before adding the beef, or serve alongside a little bowl so each bite can be au jus.
Slow Cooker Italian Beef Sandwiches
2-2 1/2 pounds lean beef roast (boneless, sirloin tip, bottom or top round roast)
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt (reduce or omit if a seasoning mixture with salt is used)
1 teaspoon pepper
3 cups water
4 large hoagie rolls
Optional: 1 jar Italian Giardiniera, drained
Optional: 2 green peppers, sliced and sautéed
Optional: 4-6 slices provolone cheese
Place the roast in a slow cooker. Sprinkle seasonings over roast; add water. Cook on high for 6 hours or low for 10-12 hours. When tender, shred the meat with two forks and allow to sit in juice for a few minutes. To serve, slice and toast hoagie rolls. Top with beef and desired toppings. Serve au jus.