The classic Italian beef sandwich is rich with opportunity. Its flavor system has craveability locked in: shaved roast beef that’s been dipped in a savory jus then piled onto an Italian or hoagie roll and topped with sweet or hot peppers. “What defines the beef sandwich is the au jus,” says Gordon Food Service Corporate Executive Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC. Some are herbal, some are tomato-based. The au jus is all-important—either drizzled or dipped. This sandwich is a flavorful and indulgent classic American handheld that presents huge opportunity for creative menu differentiation.
One of the biggest advantages of tapping into a proven flavor system like this one is that the basic formula for success has already been worked out. We’re seeing a lot of play with other well-loved profiles, like pho flavors applied to loaded fries or Buffalo wings translated onto roasted cauliflower. The next wave of beef sandwiches builds on the foundation of its classic, craveable recipe. During our most recent external research tour, we saw a number of places really hit the spot with their flavor differentiations. Of note, quite a few of them turned to global mash-ups for a signature take. “They created that next level—very careful about layering in the flavors and not straying too far from the original. A few added some kind of indulgent side touches, too, primarily revolving around cheeses and creamy condiments. The result across the board was a demonstration of the potential in this beef sandwich,” Ludwig says.
Ludwig shares three of the best opportunities leveraging this American classic—born in Chicago and embraced across the U.S.
1. Layer in Southern flavors
Southern ingredients and flavor combinations have moved into mainstream in recent years, and chefs continue to showcase the depth of this rich culinary heritage. Restaurants no longer need to claim a Southern-style theme to pull from its pantry. With the beef sandwich, Ludwig says, look to powdered rubs or barbecue sauces for an easy Southern update. “You can go with a mustard-based Carolina rub or maybe feature a bourbon barbecue sauce for a sweet, rich flavor in the beef,” he says. Finish out the profile with a sandwich topper of pickled okra or mustard seeds, and maybe a swipe of pimento cheese on the bread.
- Carolina BBQ: Carolina BBQ sauce, diced pork belly, cheddar cheese, onion straws —BeefBelly, Chicago
2. Reach into the Latin pantry
The exploration of Latin flavors continues on American menus. Chefs have discovered regional Mexican ingredients, Argentinian beef treatments, chile peppers from across the region and so much more. Get creative with the addition of heat in your au jus, maybe with a bit of chipotle or guajillo. Ludwig also suggests pulling in Latin cheeses and garnishes, like a queso fresco or Cotija, and a garnish of pickled or breaded jalapeño peppers.
- Chipotle: Chipotle broth, cheddar Jack cheese, pico de gallo, poblanos, green onions, crispy tortilla chips, chipotle cream — BeefBelly, Chicago
3. Maximize the popularity of Asian flavors
The global mash-up trend is perhaps best expressed with the proliferation of Asian ingredients, like Sriracha, kimchi and gochujang. The classic beef sandwich practically calls out for the flavors and textures from Southeast Asia and China. Look at the success of the Vietnamese bahn mi as inspiration for exploring these big, bold, fun flavors. Add a Korean slaw as a garnish, or enrich the au jus with fresh Thai basil and mint.
- Vietnamese Roast Beef: Chili, basil and mint — Foster Sundry, Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Five-Spice Brisket Scallion Bun Sandwich: Cured Brisket, Chinese five spice, Dijon aïoli spread, housemade pickled mustard greens — M Con, Los Angeles
Unlock signature moves
Spike it with gochujang or miso for an Asian twist.
Offer a trio of au jus for a custom experience.
- Tap into a Sunday roast sensibility with shredded pot roast.
- Use a brisket braised with five spice powder for a flavor boost.
- Top with crushed potato chips.
- Make a giardiniera in house, changing up the vegetables with the seasons.
- Finish with crispy onion strings.
Bring on the Beef
Ask your Customer Development Specialist about our Kitchen-TestedSM Recipes for next-level beef sandwiches.