On January 15th, 2022, I had what was either a good or a bad idea. I tweeted out a plan and have been paying way more attention to NFL football scores ever since.
The idea I came up with was that I was going to make a sandwich by combining foods from each of the towns of the two teams that made it into “the Big Football Game” that is happening next week. This caused me a little bit of stress as time and games went on because I was coming up with great ideas for sandwich ingredients in my head from certain teams and then watching those teams lose.
I mean, a Nashville hot chicken Cuban sandwich sounds like a hilariously messy good time, but alas it isn’t to be (yet – comment below if you want to see this sandwich) because both Nashville and Tampa Bay lost their chances.
Turns out after a few weeks of playoffs with some close games, we have the Los Angeles Rams vs the Cincinnati Bengals headed to the Big Game. I honestly don’t even have a favorite at this point, but this process got me extra excited to get to this point.
Food from the two teams
I came up with two potential sandwich ingredients from each town/team to represent that region. For Los Angeles, there were a lot of other cuisines or ingredients that were suggested to me, but the most popular for Cincinnati stood out very strongly.
Los Angeles Rams
Fried chicken and waffles
Chicken and waffles as a combo were not invented in Los Angeles, but there’s a claim that the pairing was popularized for modern culture there. Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles opened in 1975. Herb Hudson, from Harlem, opened the first location in Hollywood, serving fried chicken and waffles, both together and separately on the menu.
If you’re like me and get a lot of your culinary advice from Snoop Dogg, you’ll enjoy this very grainy, only slightly awkward video where he takes Larry King to eat some fried chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s. What a time that must have been.
Things to note from the video: Snoop says Roscoe’s has “that seasoning salt, it ain’t that shake and bake.” Also, Larry King had to explain to the server what an “Arnold Palmer” is, and then Snoop promptly invented a drink called the “Tiger Woods.”
In-N-Out Burger opened in 1948 in Baldwin Park, California, just outside of Los Angeles. An Animal-style burger option was added to the menu in 1961. The rumors are that the Animal part of the name came about because of the surfer and skater youths that would hang out at the original Baldwin Park location. Many of these young folks ordered their burgers the same way and the In-N-Out employees named the Animal-style of burger after them due to their unruly and teenage way of acting the fool.
An Animal-style burger is cooked with mustard smeared on the outside of the patty and covered with caramelized onions, extra sandwich spread and American cheese. When your burger is halfway cooked, mustard is squirted on the patty, flipped and then the second side is seared on the mustard. This leaves the burger patty with a great mustard flavor that is different than just adding mustard later. If you’ve never tried this before, and you enjoy mustard, I highly suggest trying it on your next burger at home.
The sweetness from the caramelized onions pairs well with the mustard fried patty and the special spread/sauce helps turn any burger into a savory, yet messy one.
In 2013, the Smithsonian named Cincinnati-style chili as one of the “20 Most Iconic Foods in America.” They were writing about a different company than Skyline chili, but with tons of physical restaurants, the Skyline brand is one of the more famous of Cincinnati’s chilis. Skyline also happens to be the only brand of Cincinnati chili that I could find on short notice in Chicago for testing.
If you’ve never had Cincinnati chili, it’s not exactly like chili you might have had in the past. First, it’s one of those no-bean chilis like they have in Texas. Second, it started as not a chili at all. In the 1920s, two Macedonian immigrants who at the time lived in Cincinnati, opened The Empress Chili Parlor and they were serving a Mediterranean meat stew that they had added chili powder to, and then they called it chili. The outstanding flavors of Cincinnati chili are that of warming spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, making this chili unlike any of the other traditional versions you might have tried around the United States.
In a restaurant, Cincinnati chili is typically ordered by saying the phrase 3-way, 4-way or 5-way. Here are some rough descriptions of what those phrases mean in the chili world.
- 3-way – spaghetti noodles with Cincinnati chili on top, smothered with way too much finely shredded cheddar.
- 4-way – everything from the 3-way but add diced onions OR red kidney beans under the blanket of shredded cheddar.
- 5-way – everything from the 3-way but with both diced onions AND red beans.
Goetta, pronounced like GHET-ah, is a mixture of ground meat, pinhead oats and spices and it was developed by German immigrants in much the way meat blends like scrapple and livermush were invented. All three were created to stretch the meat out and make it last longer by supplementing it with grains like oats or cornmeal.
Goetta is primarily found in the Cincinnati area and is often enjoyed in the fashion of breakfast meat, much like you would eat bacon or sausage.
Let me tell you one thing I’ve learned from making goetta, it does not look very pretty until it is seared. But after it’s fried crispy on both sides, it tastes pretty good. The texture is that of a chicken and rice dish or sausage and rice casserole. This is due to the soft, cooked oats and the finely chopped pork. If you get a good sear on the outside, the crispy exterior with a soft savory interior shows me why this dish has stayed popular with the people of Cincinnati.
The Joy of Cooking
This is a side note, but for both of my Cincinnati ingredients, I used recipes from a cookbook called Joy of Cooking (Amazon affiliate link) based on a recommendation from a food and drink writer/editor named Jed Portman. That recommendation also mentioned the Cincinnati connection that Joy of Cooking has. Thanks, Jed! I remember the Joy of Cooking being a staple on my mom’s cookbook shelf and I have had a copy on my shelf since the 1990s, so I felt it was a trustworthy source for this endeavor.
In researching some of this, I learned that the Joy of Cooking has been authored by four generations of the same family which I thought was cool. Great grandmother, grandmother, father and son have all been authors of the huge cookbook.
The Goetta, egg and cheese buttermilk biscuit sandwich
In my testing of cooked goetta, I made this sandwich.
Note: this isn’t a Big Game sandwich, this is just a fun extra. Keep scrolling past the sandwich recipe for the main event.
If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll probably be expecting me to turn something here into a biscuit sandwich. So, I did it. I’m not going to elaborate much about this here, but it was good.
Try the recipe if you want. It’s a heck of a lot more involved than just making a sausage biscuit, but it was fun to make.
Below is my Goetta, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich recipe. You can easily skip the biscuit part and just make goetta if you wanted to give that a try.
This is based on a Joy of Cooking recipe, plus my biscuit recipe. Please check the notes at the bottom of the instructions for tips for searing/frying the goetta.Get Recipe
Now that I have four inspirations for ingredients, let’s use them all in not one, but two sandwiches.
Sandwich one is goetta cooked and served animal-style on a biscuit.
First I made goetta. The whole process took about 24 hours, most of it just letting the goetta firm up in the refrigerator, but it wasn’t hard to make. I used this recipe for goetta from The Joy of Cooking.
You press the already cooked, but not seared goetta into a bread loaf pan in the fridge to firm up, allowing you to make slices when you are ready to sear it. If you’re brave, you can view the formed goetta that I had in the image below. I have some notes about the searing process in my goetta biscuit sandwich recipe above if you plan to attempt to cook your own.
To make a burger (or goetta patty) animal-style, the patty needs to be mustard fried and then topped with cheese, spread, and caramelized onions. Here’s my spread, aka special sauce and caramelized onion recipes below.
Note: In-N-Out dices their onions before they caramelize them. If you want to be accurate, do that and then you can follow the rest of my recipe.
How to build:
You take a goetta patty and cook it in a dry (no oil or butter) non-stick pan for 8 to 10 minutes on the first side over medium to medium-low heat. This is how you get the patty to stay together, long cooks over semi-low heat, without adding extra oil or butter. While that first side is almost finished cooking, you squirt a liberal amount of mustard on the second side and flip. This mustard will “fry” on the goetta and add even more texture and a burst of mustardy flavor.
After the flip, add a slice of American cheese to the cooked side.
Then after the second side has cooked fully (another 8 to 10 minutes), you add it to the biscuit that has a generous spread of special sauce. Add some caramelized onions to the top of the cheese and cover with the biscuit top.
Serve and enjoy.
This animal-style goetta biscuit was a very savory and pleasantly messy breakfast sandwich that I enjoyed for lunch. I would do it again for sure. Even if you don’t have goetta, I would suggest the animal-style option for your next sausage biscuit if you want to change things up.
I probably could have called this a fried chicken and Cincinnati 2-way sandwich but some of you Cincinnati folks would have yelled at me since it’s just added chili and cheese (no noodles).
Fried chicken is good.
This isn’t quite like Roscoe’s fried chicken because they are frying whole pieces of skin-on chicken. We can’t do that in a sandwich due to the bones potentially breaking our teeth, but we are still buttermilk brining and flour dredging like a lot of southern-focused fried chicken recipes.
Below is my recipe for a quick, fried crispy chicken thigh that is great on almost any type of bread or situation.
Roscoe’s does not claim to make buttermilk waffles, but this is the waffle recipe that I use, based on the pancake recipe my dad made weekly when I was growing up.
I also leaned into the Joy of Cooking for their Cincinnati chili recipe. This recipe worked very well. It took a long time, with two and a half hours of simmering, but the result was similar in flavor to Skyline. They weren’t exactly clones, but they were close enough.
First off, I did not nail the consistency of the canned Skyline version, which was soupier than I was expecting. I cooked my version down until it was a Bolognese consistency and the “pebbles” of ground meat in mine weren’t as finely ground. But when it came to flavor, they were more closely matched. The version I cooked was a little bit sweeter and a considerable amount hotter in spice. It isn’t super spicy, but it has more heat than Skyline. The canned version has more of a lingering cinnamon and clove flavor than the one that I made as well. But tasting them both side by side, you could tell from the common flavors that they are attempting to be the same dish.
Note: there are two components of the Cincinnati chili process that seem to be a bit divisive. I don’t live there, so I don’t really want to get into the argument too much, but some Cincinnati chili recipes call for unsweetened chocolate (the Joy of Cooking one did) and some people say that chocolate in Cincinnati chili is a big no-no. The other point in the process that people argue about is the fact that most recipes do not expect you to brown the ground beef first. You simply boil ground beef in water with onions garlic and the rest of the spices. Some folks think this is crazy, but it seems to work just fine for the texture of the final product.
Second note: I was going to do a side by side comparison of this recipe with and without the unsweetened chocolate, but I ran out of time.
I would not recommend opening a can of Skyline up and expecting it to work as a sandwich ingredient though, it’s a bit too runny and would make a seriously messy sandwich.
How to build:
Once you have your waffle, your fried chicken, your Cincinnati chili and more than enough shredded cheddar, building this waffle sandwich couldn’t be simpler. If you want to get nuts, add some diced onion or even red kidney beans to change this from a 2-way sandwich to a 3 or 4-way.
The Big Game sandwich recap
You might be expecting me to pit each sandwich against each other due to the VS in the first photo but that was clickbait. If I was forced to pick a favorite, I think I’d have to go with the Chicken and waffles and Cincinnati chili sandwich.
These sandwiches were a lot of fun. Overall, the week and this self-imposed challenge were a little stressful. But I survived. And I think I’m a better sandwich cook because of it.
I can’t imagine many people making either of these sandwiches fully from scratch. First off, there’s a lot of effort involved in both the Cincinnati components and most people are lazy. Secondly, very few people are as crazy about sandwiches as I am. But I do hope you can take some of what you’ve read here and apply it to future sandwiches!
I’d be happy if you enjoyed reading and enjoyed what I put into this crazy week of sandwich making. Check back next week when we make sandwiches out of hearts (but not really – psst: check the calendar).