This week I made beef on weck sandwiches. Let’s talk about that.
What the heck is a beef on weck sandwich?
Beef on weck is a sandwich that was invented in a city named Buffalo in Western New York State. You might know Buffalo for its other contribution to the American culinary scene in the form of Buffalo chicken wings, but today we’re focusing on the beef.
The history of beef on weck dates all the way back to the late 1800s—when your mom was born. The belief is that a German immigrant baker named William Wahr invented a bread roll called kummelweck. It is rumored that this roll was used by a local tavern as the bread for a roast beef sandwich with a dollop of horseradish on it.
At some point after that, a few other restaurants followed suit and started serving their own beef sandwiches on kummelweck rolls and sandwich history was made.
Some additional beef on weck reading for you:
The “Salty, Beefy, Spicy… Pretty Epically Unhealthy” Beef On Weck – Sandwich Tribunal
Sandwich roll translation
Germans use the word kummel to refer to caraway seeds and the German word weck is used to denote a bread roll. This makes it easy for a sandwich and bread scientist like myself to figure out what kummelweck actually means.
Where can I find a beef on weck?
Visit Buffalo Niagara:
Beef on Weck Trail
- Bar Bill Tavern
- Schwabls Restaurant
- Charlie the Butcher’s Kitchen
- Swiston’s Beef & Keg
- Anderson’s Frozen Custard
In Buffalo, New York!
Visit Buffalo Niagara, the official Travel/Visitor site for the Buffalo, New York area has a Beef on Weck Trail they have mapped out on their site. Their trail suggests five different locations scattered across Buffalo as restaurants you should visit to find authentic beef on weck sandwiches.
If you’re a part-time internet sandwich investigator like I am, you can find quite a few videos and blogs of content creators making or sampling various beef on weck sandwiches from some of these locations across the internet, but when digging for insider knowledge of the process, this video from Buffalo NY’s own, Charlie the Butcher, stood out for me since it shows the process clearly.
The above video of Charlie the Butcher was recorded in 2013 at the National Restaurant Association show—if you live in Chicago, you learn that the R in the NRA event that happens every year stands for Restaurant instead of Rifle. In this video, Charlie cooks his USDA choice top round all night in the “Alto-Shaam” oven (Alto-Shaam appears to be the sponsor or producer of this video).
You learn from this video that Charlie the Butcher shoots for 140 degrees F internal temperature on the beef, which is around medium rare, so the beef should have some pink color on each slice. This is unlike an Italian beef sandwich (from Chicago) where the beef swims in hot au jus prior to serving and never shows any pink or red color in the final sandwich.
Charlie the Butcher also shows how to mix corn starch and water to create a food glue that caraway and salt will stick to on the top of a bun. Most parts of the world would look at you funny if you asked for a kummelweck roll, but using this technique you can turn any sandwich roll into a kummelweck.
Now that we know what a beef on kummelweck is, let’s make our own.
Note: If you don’t want to bake, I offer instructions on how you can turn any sandwich roll into a kummelweck roll down below.
As the name (in German) describes, a kummelweck roll is simply a roll that is topped with caraway seeds. In theory, we shouldn’t say the redundant phrase “kummelweck roll” at all because having weck in the name, plus the word roll is like saying “carraway roll roll.”
I’m not sure how these rolls were made back in the 1800s when this bread roll was invented, but in today’s world, kummelweck rolls are often Kaiser-style rolls with seasonings on top. I’ve already shared my Kaiser roll recipe, and this isn’t that far off from that one. I adjusted the recipe slightly and I was happy to have another attempt to use my Kaiser roll stamp.
Turns out my Kaiser roll didn’t really show itself past the “kummelweck-ing” of the roll. Some of the rolls showed a few proper divots but most of them simply rose too much and expanded through where the Kaiser stamp cut ridges. I will try again next time but the ridges in the top are not what is important with a kummelweck.
Don’t want to bake but still want Kummelweck?
I got ya.
First, you need about thirty minutes (most of it will be do-nothing-time), a Kaiser roll or another sandwich roll, some caraway seeds, and flaky salt. DO NOT do this more than a couple of hours in advance or the salt will eat into the bread and dissolve. This is a right-before-sandwiching technique that will turn a bun into a carraway and salt-coated kummelweck.
In a small pot over medium heat, bring 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to a boil and allow to reduce until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the liquid to cool for an additional 10 minutes. While things are cooling down, preheat your oven to 350 F/175 C.
Paint the cornstarch and water liquid on top of the bun and sprinkle it with caraway seeds and flaky salt. Bake your coated kummelweck bun for 4 to 5 minutes and when you remove it from the oven the caraway and salt should be stuck to the top of the bun with the cornstarch “glue.” Now you have a fresh kummelweck ready for some roast beef.
Beef on weck restaurants in Buffalo appear to just be serving prepared horseradish and not any sort of horseradish sauce. If you watch videos of this sandwich being served or sold, you might hear the beef on weck proprietors state that freshness with the horseradish is very important.
Horseradish will clear your sinuses but it’s not spicy in the same way that hot sauce or peppers are spicy. In my experience, it works well when you have a balanced amount spread into a sandwich with beef and bread.
I only used prepared horseradish on the beef on wecks that I made for this blog post, but I do have a recipe for a horseradish mayonnaise that will work if you would like to try a sauce with hints of horseradish, but not too much nose-clearing spiciness.
I’ve never been to Buffalo NY, but from the videos I’ve seen of beef on weck sandwiches being cooked and assembled, my version of beef is NOT traditional. But it’s tasty and good. I studded a 3-pound piece of bottom round with garlic slices, coated it with salt and ground black pepper, and baked it in a roasting pan with beef broth in the bottom for 10 minutes at 450 F. I then reduced the heat to 250 and cooked it low and slow until the beef reached an internal temp of 130 to 135. If you wanted to be more traditional here, you could leave off the garlic and focus solely on seasoning with salt and black pepper.
I used my slicer for this hunk of beef, but you could slice it very thinly by hand with a sharp knife. Most of the videos showed professional beef slicers slicing by hand, but you and I probably can’t slice as well as they can.
The au jus
This isn’t an Italian beef from Chicago or a French dip sandwich from Los Angeles, but when you roast beef, you’re almost always presented with an opportunity to create a flavorful au jus. Many of the Buffalo restaurants that I have seen preparing their sandwiches on YouTube or other media are dipping the top bun slice into au jus to add extra flavor and moisture to this simple sandwich with very few ingredients.
I ate beef on weck as a sandwich with and without dipping the bun in au jus and it was a better sandwich with this dipping step added. You could (and I did) serve au jus on the side as it would be with a French Dip, but I felt that really wasn’t required with the top bun dipped.
So, my takeaway on au jus for beef on weck is that since you have the opportunity when roasting beef, you should always use it to create an au jus and use just a little bit for dipping the bun or drizzling over the sandwich. You know what I always say, “It’s better to make the au jus and not use it than skip the au jus and regret it.”
Beef on weck sandwich photos and recipe
Here are some of the beef on wecks that I made throughout the week. Scroll down for my recipe for the full sandwich and kummelweck’ed roll.
Ingredients:Roast beef and au jus
- 6 cloves of garlic thinly sliced (optional - not traditional)
- 2 to 3 pound beef roast (top round, bottom round, Boston roast)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 cups beef broth
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 Kaiser roll or another sandwich style roll
- 1⁄2 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon flaky salt, or pretzel salt
- 1 kummelweck roll (from above)
- 6 to 8 slices of roast beef (from above)
- 1⁄4 cup au jus (from above)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
Roast beef and au jus: preheat oven to 450 degrees F (232 C).
Slice garlic cloves into thin slices.
Cover beef all over with salt and pepper. Cut a dime-sized slit into the top of the beef and insert a piece of sliced garlic clove. Continue slicing the beef and inserting garlic into the top evenly all over the exposed surface of the beef. Add the beef garlic-side-up to a roasting pan with 2 cups of beef broth in the bottom of the pan.
Add the roasting pan full of beef to the oven and cook for 10 minutes at 450 F.
After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 250 F (120C) and continue cooking the beef until the internal temperature is between 130 and 135. This will take around an hour, but it's best to try to cook the roast beef to temperature instead of time.
Once the internal temperature is reached, let the roast rest for 30 minutes before slicing.
Pour the au jus in the bottom of the pan into a sealed container for warming up later. Make sure to scrape up any beef bits on the bottom of the pan into the au jus.
After the beef has cooled, slice as thin as possible with a sharp knife or meat slicer.
Kummelweck roll: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).
In a small pot over medium-high heat bring 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to a boil.
After 5 or 10 minutes the cornstarchy water should have thickened. Remove the pot from the water and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.
Paint water and cornstarch with a pastry brush or the back of a spoon on top of a bun and immediately sprinkle it with caraway seeds and salt. Bake the bun for 5 minutes which will allow the cornstarch and water to glue the seeds on top of the bun.
Sandwich assembly: slice and toast your kummelweck roll if desired.
In a small pot add 1/4 cup of au jus and bring to a simmer. You could also do this in the microwave in a small bowl.
Dip the sliced part of your top bun in warm au jus.
Add a few slices of beef to the bottom of the roll. Top the beef with a tablespoon or two of prepared horseradish. Spread the horseradish around as evenly as possible.
Top the sandwich with the au jus dipped bun.
Serve with the warm au jus in a small bowl for dipping if desired.
Weck yourself before you check yourself!
Check back next week when we’re definitely not making beef on weck sandwiches and most likely we’re sandwiching some chicken. But then again, no one knows.