Monday, July 2nd, 2012

How To Enjoy A Beef On Weck When You're Not In Buffalo

A series about foods we miss and our quests to recreate them.

I have no idea why the chicken wing was the food to make it out of Buffalo. I mean, I understand the appeal, but its ultimate success is baffling when you consider my beloved hometown’s other signature dish—the beef on weck, which, were this a right world, would be the Buffalo food on every bar menu. It’s a very simple sandwich: roast beef and horseradish, but it’s the roll that’s key. It requires kummelweck, which is hard to find outside of western New York, and that might be what's held the beef on weck back from world domination.

Unfortunately, Buffalo is not a major tourist destination. There are endless reasons to spend a lovely weekend in Buffalo, but that’s a discussion for another time. Let’s face it, most of you probably have zero reason to visit the City of No Illusions.* If you want a weck, you’ll have to make it yourself. Or ask your friends from Buffalo to do it for you (make some friends from Buffalo! Us ex-pats are everywhere and all we want to do is feed you roast beef sandwiches and talk about the greatest comeback in football history**).

The Weck Creation Myth hinges on two main points. The first is that William Wahr, a German immigrant and baker, gets credit for bringing kummelweck to Buffalo.*** Whether this meant inventing it or importing the style of roll is a subject of debate. Either way: hero status.

The second step in its origin is a little murkier. This version is my favorite: at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, an enterprising saloon owner with excellent location—right outside the exposition gates—wanted to serve a sandwich to fair attendees that would make them order more beer. He used a salty roll and a spicy condiment on a run-of-the-mill sandwich and, well, the rest is history.

I don’t live in the city anymore, and I rarely return home more than once a year. When I do visit, I make sure to arrive hungry. The best weck in Buffalo can be found at Charlie the Butcher, which is right around the corner from the airport.**** This means avoiding morning flights; Charlie’s doesn’t open until 10 a.m. The rest of the year I am utterly weckless, scouring the Internet for pictures of the sandwiches as a sad substitute for the real salty, savory thing. During one of these Google odysseys, around page 7 of image search results, it hit me: this is not a difficult sandwich. I can have beef on weck any time I want!

I made the trip out to Wegmans, aka Supermarket Valhalla, for ingredients, but you should be able to find everything on this list at just about any grocery store. Wegmans is based in western New York, so they carry many area products, including kummelweck rolls, but I went with plain kaiser for our purposes today. Underneath the salt and seeds, kummelweck is at heart a kaiser roll. And the sandwich turned out so well I had one for the next five meals. I’d call that success.


(I find it hard to call these ingredients, as there is almost no cooking involved, just assembly.)

• kaiser roll
• hearty pinch of rock salt (like the kind used for pretzels. If you can’t get this, any salt with granules larger than table salt will do. I used sea salt and it was fine)
• hearty pinch of caraway seeds
• egg wash (one egg, beaten)
• the best roast beef you can find. You can roast a beef yourself if you want, but it’s 97 degrees outside right now. In this weather, minimal oven use is key.
• au jus. Sometimes the deli will have this in little containers, sometimes you have to use the powder in a packet.
• prepared horseradish (not cream, please! Gross.)
• a pickle spear

1. Slice the kaiser roll. Dip the top in the egg wash, then sprinkle the caraway seeds and rock salt on top. Be generous: ideally, your top lip will tingle post-sandwich.

2. In a warmed oven (approx 150 degrees), heat both sides of the roll for three or four minutes.

3. Warm the au jus on the stovetop (or if you’re my dad, on a saucer in the microwave. Whichev.) to somewhere between room temperature and a simmer.

4. Carefully dip the top bun in the au jus. Not a dunk or anything, just enough to moisten the part that borders the rest of the sandwich.

4a. (Optional) If your beef seems dry, dip that in the au jus, too

5. Pile the beef on the bottom bun, slightly higher than you think it will be able to fit in your mouth.

6. Add a heaping scoop of horseradish. Note that the jar of horseradish I used has a beef on weck on the label. Clearly, they know their customers.

7. Assemble sandwich. Garnish with pickle spear.

8. Enjoy sandwich immediately.

Pairing: a cold Genny, some kind of sporting event.

* Other nicknames include the City of Good Neighbors, the Nickel City, the Queen City, B-Snack, B-Lo, and the City of Light. Not to be confused with that *other* City of Light—or Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light.

** You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, starting here. Totally worth it for the graphics alone. It is also available on Netflix.

*** The city of Buffalo is always fighting about what to do with the gorgeous waterfront property currently occupied by a defunct steel plant. I fully expect that whatever they decide upon will include a statue of Wahr and Teressa Bellissimo holding hands in victory, possibly over a seated Tim Russert.

****Should you fly into Buffalo, take note of the music playing over the PA. It’s the Goo Goo Dolls. It’s always the Goo Goo Dolls.

Previously: My Attempt To Make The Perfect Nebraska Runza

Victoria Johnson also suggests eggs beneweckt, which involves replacing the top bun with a poached egg and a sprinkle of salt & seeds. She’s still perfecting the horseradish hollandaise.

31 Comments / Post A Comment

Blackcapricorn (#4,791)

Alternate Beverage: A cold Loganberry.

While I loved my time in Buffalo, I am constantly amazed how people leave there in droves but yet transport the town with them. Huge numbers of Bills/Sabes "backers" all around the country and now there are great food mail order businesses so you can even get some Mighty Taco here in LA! Its like being in Buffalo without having to actually live there (best of both worlds?).

frontsidebus (#5,387)

Ideally use more rare roast beef than shown in the pictures for extra juicy deliciousness. Go Bills.

Mile End has a bangin Weck.

Charlotte Flax (#234,743)

@Brooklyn Battery I was just about to post that! It really is bangin'.


One would think that with the number of roast beef sandwich places in NYC at least one would be doing beef on weck, but no, they break my heart every time.

Charlotte Flax (#234,743)

@happymisanthrope Mile End!

@happymisanthrope Also Bonnie's Grill in Park Slope! The owners are actually from Buffalo, so I believe they have Genny (they definitely have Labatt) and THE BEST WINGS. Mmmmmmm.

@happymisanthrope Do they show Bill's games? If so, I'm sold!

Multiphasic (#411)

Fer the rekkid: the last time I followed this site's advice regarding salty roast beef, I ended up in a desiccated meatsweat coma.

I just discovered beef on weck and Genesee last summer, visiting small-town northwestern Pennsylvania. Holy moly- so glad I'm going back for the 4th.

craygirl (#235,415)

@Eleanor's Trousers@twitter

Yesss!! Genny is phenomenal. I buy 12-packs of the cans all the time and they're about $7? For pretty decent beer? You should probably stock up this week!

craygirl (#235,415)

I registered just to say – Wegmans! Genny Cream Ale! Victoria Johnson you may be my favorite ever?
I've actually never tried a Beef on Weck over here in Rochester, but now I must. It looks divine!

garbageplate (#235,418)

@craygirl maybe we should have a rochester meet up? are there any more of us??

Laura Rebecca (#9,980)

@garbageplate Yes! I am in the Rochester-area. I think there are two 'pinners, too!
Beef on a wreck is awesome, so is wegmans and both made me very happy when I first relocated here from NYC.

ladyshiv (#235,544)

@craygirl has the garbage plate been discussed on here yet? Because ohmygod.

martha_always_said (#235,416)

Oh INDEED. I wholeheartedly agree Charlie the Butchers is the best beef on weck, and I remember where I was when the comeback happened. Pretty sure my mom has a sweatshirt that commemorates said event.

frontsidebus (#5,387)

Schwabl's in West Seneca has better rolls but Charlie the Butcher's beef is superior

Beef N Barrel all the way.

jbsquare (#793)

@happymisanthrope omg. I've had the beef n barrel beef on weck. sooo much salt on top of the bun. I thought I was going to pass out from eating it.


O.O.C. (#235,427)

wow…Anacone's…Bailey Avenue?.. you are probably too young to remember or you consumed too many half-pitchers to be able to remember…I have to book my JetBlue flight right away and get back to Buffalo to have a sandwich !!! thanks for the blog…thanks for the memories…also, don't forget to stop at Ted's near the Peace Bridge and Andersons when you head out to Williamsville for Old Home Days !!!

I live in the lovely city of Pittsburgh and I WOULD like to take a visit to Buffalo. I would also like to eat one or four of these sandwiches…then go stalk Ani Difranco. Tell me what to see when I get there. Also, as a current and former dweller of rust belt cities (Milwaukee, WI and Pittsburgh, PA) I can attest that there are amazing things to do and see in these cities. I think there should be a Hairpin series on the rust belt revival…these cities are awesome and more people should come check them out.

mangledChime (#235,561)

@Katie Heldstab@facebook…Things to do in Buffalo: * go to shows at Neitzches, Mohawk Place, Town Ballroom, etc * see art at the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Hallwalls, CEPA Gallery, Birchfield-Penny Art Center, and dozens of other small places * theatre at Shea's Performing Arts Center, Alleyway Theatre, Irish Classical Theatre * walk and drive around looking at architecture – go south along the waterfront to see old grain elevators for some good rustbelt times * hit the shops on Elmwood Avenue * eat all over the place, whatever your heart desires, not only wings and beef on weck * drink to 4 am on Allen Street (best to go out after 11 pm) * sports also happen (football, hockey, minor league baseball). is the local free paper with event listings, to see what people are talking about. you should totally come!

LilRach (#235,462)

I just had beef on weck for dinner the other day, and the roll was from Wegmans, which–you're totally right–is Supermarket Valhalla. I basically live in there. And just so you know, I registered for the sole purpose of sharing in this BUFFALOVE! We Buffalonians love to see our hometown treats celebrated like this. You should make a weekly column about Buffalo. I would read it :)

ok, long time listener/first time caller blah. this seemed WILDLY appropriate:

'Buffalo: We're Talkin' Proud'

jmatt70 (#235,487)

The Goo Goo Dolls. Have been shitty for some time, but their first 3 records were fucking great—especially the covers they did with Lance Diamond. And they were always great live in those days.

caprica six (#235,497)

Some of us who are fonder of Buffalo than others(ahem) have also been known to call it Buffa-love from time to time. That being said, the Bills suck.

The Snack.

Almost half a year late, but still necessary.

yasdguy (#246,634)

While I loved my time in Buffalo, I am constantly amazed how people leave there in droves but yet transport the town with them. Huge numbers of Bills/Sabes "backers"
bandung cirebon travel.

1332847381@twitter (#251,910)

Great Article it its really informative and innovative keep us posted with new updates. its was really valuable. thanks a lot.eas whey protein powder coupons

lost in NE (#262,088)

Great article Victoria.Life long residents of Buffalo, but currently working in Nebraska. I have all our WNY favorites sent here from family.I make the Kimi rolls for my co-workers and they love them.I have then hooked on BUFFALO STYLE wings, lol (love that).When we go out to catch a Bills game or Sabres Game, I tell the waitress I am from Buffalo, But want Nebraska Style wings. Now you have a receipe for Runza. I am hooked on them since coming here, and hope to take that receipe back to Buffalo this summer when we visit home.This is great for foodies

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