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Chaps Charcoal Restaurant, Baltimore


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#1 Henry

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 03:36 PM

Like so many other foods, real pit beef is dying off right before our eyes. I happen to live within a few miles of which I guess recently has attained a rep as the go-to pit beef spot round these parts, even referenced in the pit beef thread that seems to have died a while back. It's pretty good but not really real. Two things should jump out at pit beef enthusiasts from the get go - there's barely any char or crust on the meat, and it is way too tender (also a characteristic of the "pit" beef at Key Pit Stop, which I sorta reviewed for the Citypaper '08 Eat Guide).

After peeking into the kitchen from across the counter, it's immediately apparent that this place uses pre-prepared deli meat, instead of cooking from scratch. Now this may make some sense for pit ham, or perhaps even pit turkey, but not for pit beef. This may explain the sporadic availability of rare and medium-rare beef encountered by some. They do however use real wood charcoal, fwiw.

I need to have that deep, dark char and slightly chewy, bloody texture you get from medium-rare top or bottom round. Here's my default order at chaps, the bulldog (pit beef, sausage, cheese), genius in concept if not execution:

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The ribs here are actually worse than I could have possibly expected. They're completely untrimmed spareribs, so in a full order you actually only get 3 ribs, with lots of the coarser "outside" meat, fat and gristle attached. Very unattractive. Plus they are obviously boiled or baked, lacking any smoke flavor at all. Another candidate down in the search for decent bbq in Baltimore:

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...and then simply thrown on the grill briefly before getting doused with sauce that tastes like genereic supermarket or Sysco. Very bland and more akin to eating pork roast than ribs. DO NOT WANT! Note the total absence of a smoke ring:

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As has been mentioned in the pit beef thread, fries were terrible, one step away from mashed potatoes - yeah, that soggy.

#2 1000yregg

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 11:56 AM

Thanks Henry for the detailed review. I was dissed for recommending Canopy over Chaps on the Chowhound board. I feel vindicated.
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#3 Dmnkly

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 02:07 PM

I wasn't a big fan of Chaps either, and I'm practically a pit beef virgin so I don't have a discerning eye just yet, but are we talking about the same place, Henry?

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Note, bloody bun. It looks like they're cooking hunks of meat from scratch to me. Or did you mean that they're taking packaged deli meat and just putting a little char on them? That could be -- it's not something I was watching for -- but they didn't seem to have that kind of uniformity to me.

I'm not defending the sandwich. I wasn't a fan. But though I wasn't looking with a suspicious eye and might've missed something, I'm a little surprised by the suggestion that they aren't cooking their own meat. I'm curious as to what leads you to think so.

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#4 Henry

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 02:45 PM

To me, the beef had that supermarket deli meat injection brine flavor, and again the tenderness draws suspicion. I didn't mean that they take sliced deli meat and grill it (which they actually do do at Key Pit Stop), I believe they take whole cuts of cooked, brined roast beef, grill them for a time, then slice. When you buy this kind of roast beef, you can get medium-rare or fully cooked styles, thus I think if/when they run out of the medium rare cuts, they can't just take out a raw cut of top round and start cooking it. I also think the excessive moisture content in the commercial deli-style meat is what prevents a proper char crust from forming on their beef. This is gonna sound nasty, but although my sandwiches also had pink stains, I believe it was brine solution, because it didn't taste bloody at all. Ewww. I mean mmmm. When you have the real stuff, you will immediately be able to differentiate. Also, based on the size of the building and what was visible of the kitchen, I couldn't imagine where their actual pit would be. What I did notice was meat being taken out of storage drawers, already cooked, and then being grilled. I really don't know jack about cooking pit beef, but I imagine you wouldn't get good results actually cooking such large cuts on a flat-top grill.

#5 Henry

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 02:54 PM

Also, and I will confirm this next time I go, the cuts on the grill looked way too uniform, semi-spherical with a distinct flat side. Real pit beef tends to be much more irregular:

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Now I suppose I could be wrong about all this, but I'd bet money there's no raw beef in the Chaps walk-in.

#6 Henry

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Posted 30 June 2008 - 10:03 PM

Also, and I will confirm this next time I go, the cuts on the grill looked way too uniform, semi-spherical with a distinct flat side. Real pit beef tends to be much more irregular:

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Now I suppose I could be wrong about all this, but I'd bet money there's no raw beef in the Chaps walk-in.

GRAAAHHH!!!!! Mother Fffiddle dee dee.... Sigh, I guess I was wrong. If Food Network is to be believed, Chaps does indeed cook their beef from scratch. But it is bottom round and not top round, which may account for the inferior flavor, but makes me really respect the place for being able to get it so tender. Sorry Chaps.

#7 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 13 January 2010 - 12:08 AM

Thinking about stopping by this joint on the way back from NJ on MLK Day. Too lazy to do much research, should we go here or somewhere else?

ETA: Looks like we should go to Canopy but that's a little out of the way. Does the difference in quality warrant the extra driving (considering we'll be driving home from NJ, already a 4 hr trip)?

#8 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 10:50 PM

I liked the Tiger sauce :angry: I'm no fan of BBQ but I found the beef sandwich edible, a little dry, a little smoky, but definitely edible. The cheese fries, mac 'n cheese....not horrendous just nothing special. My wife liked her BBQ pork sandwich but she's not inclined to go out of her way to go back. Something to do on the way home from NJ....once!

#9 The Doctor

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Posted 08 August 2010 - 08:36 PM

Disclosure: This was my first pit beef experience.

I really liked the food that Chaps put out. The beef tasted authentic and you could order it done any way you wanted, from rare to well done. I chose medium and topped it with some pepper, onions, tiger sauce, and pickles. My friend had the beef and sausage and was also pleased.

I got scared about the poor fry reviews above, but wanted to give them a chance anyways. I ordered them with cheese because I thought that might make them salvageable if they were bad. In the end, they didn't need saving. They were soft, but in a good way -- they reminded me a lot of Five Guys' fries. (Both are cooked in peanut oil.)

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#10 ol_ironstomach

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Posted 17 August 2010 - 02:18 PM

I took a friend to Chaps last week. Good sandwich, although my 'rare' came out more like a 'medium', and they could have been more generous with the beef. I applied a smear of ground horseradish and some nice thin slices of onion to mine. Good kaiser roll. Rice pudding was on the specials board, so I had a dish and it was good, apart from the small bit of eggshell that I had to evict.

The place has great atmosphere and character (what else would you expect? it shares a driveway with a strip club!) but pit beef-wise, my preference goes to Canopy for now.

Dave Hsu
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#11 Rovers2000

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:13 AM

Had my first pit beef experience this past Saturday for lunch. Ordered the beef sandwich which like above, was ordered rare but was closer to medium. Some raw onion, some tiger sauce, and a generous dollop of horseradish and this was quite a tasty sandwich. It was a beautiful day to sit outside in the shadow of the gold club next door :( and was very easily accessible from our Mt. Vernon hotel which is why we chose Chaps over the other pit beef staples. I will have to return to Bmore to check out the rest.

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#12 ktmoomau

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Posted 30 December 2010 - 06:20 PM

Had a Chaps experience yesterday after dropping off some rescue dogs at a vet nearby. It was the only place nearby that the smell would be so distinct no one would smell how disgusting my friend and I smelled (rescued 18 dogs with Lucky Dog Rescue, 6 in my car, from a backyard breeder who weren't in terrible shape, but smelled terrible and then threw up in my car). I liked the beef and ribs, beef had a nice smoky flavor and taste, the ribs reminded me of southern style spare ribs that your Mom might make. The cole slaw was actually really good and seemed fresh and well balanced- this really surprised me. The fries were awful. Not crisp enough, but couldn't be cooked any longer, not seasoned at all. I think the fry process here is just off. I didn't eat a bun, but looked like just a beef and sauce delivery method.

It's not the type of food you want to eat before being extremely active, but it is good food comma food. But I haven't had Pit Beef anywhere else except for Rocklands, it compared favorably to that.

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