"Pit beef is like crab: It's what this city is all about." So we were told by Brian Schafer, proprietor of Big Fat Daddy's Famous Pit Beef. Yet few people outside Baltimore have ever heard of this mysterious local specialty—much less sampled it. So what exactly is it? According to Schafer, "Pit beef is a nice piece of dry-rubbed top round slow-grilled over a charcoal pit till it's rare—although lots of people who don't know better like it well-done. Then it's sliced paper-thin and served on bread dressed with raw onions and horseradish. If you skip the horseradish, you can't eat it."
Drive on Pulaski Highway out beyond the city limits, past a lunar landscape of flea markets and cheap motels, and you'll be bombarded by stall after stall proffering the stuff. How does it taste? Imagine the smoky succulence of Texas barbecued beef on a New York–style kaiser roll or a slice of rye; it's barbecue with a combination North-South identity. And no one does it better than Schafer, whose cheery slogan—WE PUT MORE BEEF BETWEEN THE BUNS—pretty much says it all. "It's really all about the smell," he told us. "You know—the grease hitting the coals. When you drive by, you just have to pull over."