What Sets Italian Beef Sandwiches Apart From Other Roast Beef Sandwiches?

If you've only recently become acquainted with the Italian beef sandwich after binge-watching "The Bear," you might think it's just another roast beef sandwich. That technically would be correct, as roast beef is the featured protein in this Chicagoan delicacy. However, as natives of the Windy City would probably tell you, there are a few distinct characteristics of the Italian beef that make it entirely its own.

For starters, while most delis offer the option of ordering roast beef sandwiches cold or hot, the Italian beef is always the latter. It is always served on French bread, and when it comes to toppings, the only two acceptable options are sweet peppers and Jeff Mauro's beloved giardiniera, though some may argue that cheese is an exception. However, what ultimately sets the Italian beef apart from other roast beef sammies is the gravy.

No, we're not talking about the kind you pour over your turkey and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. In the case of this sando, gravy, also referred to as juice or jus, is the flavorful broth made from the drippings of the beef while it roasts. After the meat is cooked, it is sliced thinly and returned to the gravy to absorb its flavor, but that's not the only role of this liquid gold.

The juice is worth the squeeze in an Italian beef sandwich

Okay, so there isn't actually any squeezing involved when it comes to getting the juice for an Italian beef sandwich (although, if there was, we're sure Midwesterners would agree that it would be worth the work). The succulent broth is arguably the most crucial component of the handheld sandwich. It imparts its flavors not only in the meat, but in the whole sandwich. And, it's custom for Italian beefs to be served with extra juice –- though we're not talking French dip style.

Some people do indeed prefer their Italian beef "dry" — aka, with as little juice as possible — or dry with a cup of juice on the side, especially if they're grabbing their sammie to go. However, some will argue that this is the wrong way to order an Italian beef sandwich. So what is the right way? If you're asking Chicagoans on Reddit, either "wet" or "dipped" is the way to go, with "wet" referring to a sandwich that is lightly soaked in gravy, possibly by dipping one side into the broth or ladling some on top. On the other hand, "dipped" is when the Italian beef is completely submerged in the juice before the additional toppings are added on.

Ultimately, whatever way you order this classic Chicago food, just don't make the mistake of asking for a roast beef sandwich instead of an Italian beef.