Review: Arby’s Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich

True innovations in fast food are few and far between. More often than not, they’re simply the same old recycled ideas with a slight twist. Case in point: McDonald’s comes out with a breakfast sandwich using pancakes instead of bread, and Jack In The Box follows suit but substitutes waffles. Then Taco Bell takes the waffle concept a step further with breakfast tacos. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then every fast food chain in America must be feeling the love. The consumer, however, is not. There’s simply very little originality. Everybody’s got their version of a chicken sandwich, a fish sandwich, etc. So when Arby’s introduced the Smokehouse Brisket last year, the public sat up and took notice: this was a truly innovative new product, one that hadn’t been seen before. Something that never had feathers or swam in the ocean, and while it may have once stood in a field and mooed, it wasn’t ground up and flattened into an uninspiring gray patty.

Bet you’re drooling now.

By all accounts, the Smokehouse Brisket was a runaway hit for the struggling chain best known for their roast beef sandwiches and “horsey” sauce. Arby’s declared it their most successful new product launch in company history; sales increased 12%, and approximately one out of every five customers tried the new offering. Unfortunately, it was only available for a limited time. Unwilling to look a gift horsey in the mouth, Arby’s has brought the sandwich back this year, though it’s uncertain how long it will be available.

If there is any justice in the world, this will become a permanent addition to their menu, because I’ve gotta say – the Smokehouse Brisket is one of the most delicious fast food sandwiches I’ve ever had. It’s a truly unique product, unlike anything else on the market.

Arby’s describes it like this:

It’s slow smoked for 13 long hours. Which proves we’re pretty passionate about brisket.  Arby’s Smokehouse Brisket is piled high with slow-smoked beef brisket, topped with smoked Gouda cheese, crispy onions, BBQ sauce and mayo, and served on a toasted, bakery-style bun.

My first impression? This sandwich is stacked. True, it doesn’t look like the photo below – these things never do – but it comes pretty close. It’s the rare fast food sandwich with true heft. Bite into it, and a few things are immediately noticeable: the delicious smokiness of the beef, the pleasantly mild gouda (smoked itself, the perfect accompaniment to the brisket), the sweet-with-a-touch-of-tang barbecue sauce, and the fresh, soft chewiness of the bun. The sandwich screams quality: the beef is a cut above anything else out there, and in an industry ruled by American cheese – one in which pepperjack is considered exotic – the use of gouda isn’t just “out of the box,” it’s downright inspired. The bread is especially good: it’s got that “bakery fresh” taste. The finishing touch that truly elevates the Smokehouse Brisket is the addition of crispy onion straws. These offer a nice textural contrast, though they were a bit overwhelmed by all the smoky, beefy goodness. I think you would be hard pressed to find a sandwich this good even if you were in a barbecue joint in the Deep South, one in which everybody speaks in a drawl and peppers their speech with plenty of “y’all”s.


Arby’s has a winner here, and if they continue to offer innovative menu additions (a similarly inspiring Roast Beef & Swiss on King’s Hawaiian sweet bread was also well received last year), then Wendy and Jack had better be worried, while the Burger King is going to have a tough time hanging onto his crown.

My rating: 5 knives. This is as good as a fast-food sandwich (or really, any menu item) gets!

5 Knives

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261/365: National Cheeseburger Day

Quick playing patty-cake and march your buns down to the nearest fast-food joint for today’s quintessentially American food holiday. September 18 is National Cheeseburger Day!

Or, grill ’em yourself. Either way, it’s hard to go wrong with a food that is so closely associated with the U.S. of A., though in reality hamburgers have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. Way back in the 11th century, Mongols carried flat patties of meat with them on long horseback trips. The Mongols brought their meat to Moscow (how’s that for alliteration?), and Russian sailors carried them over to Hamburg, Germany. From there they spread to New York, but the first person to actually place a meat pattie between two slices of bread is open for dispute. There are several claims for its invention; while the Library of Congress officially recognizes Louis Lassen as the inventor of the hamburger – he began selling one at his lunch wagon in New Haven, Connecticut in 1900 – Wisconsinite Charlie Nagreen allegedly tried selling fried pork meatballs at a county fair in Seymour in 1885, but when customers had difficulty carrying them around, he flattened the meat and named it after the Hamburg steaks that German immigrants were familiar with. Others who claim to have invented the hamburger include Oscar Weber Bilby, Frank and Charles Menches, Fletcher Davis, and German Otto Kuase. About the only thing agreed on is that White Castle invented hamburger buns. Things are just as murky with the cheeseburger; once again, multiple parties claim to have been the first to add cheese to the sandwich. Credit is generally given to Lionel Sternberger, a fry cook at his father’s restaurant in Pasadena, California in 1926. He is said to have added a slice of American cheese to a sizzling hamburger patty just to see what would happen. I’ll tell you what happened: delicousness happened! The cheeseburger has been a mainstay of American casual dining ever since.

To celebrate, Tara and I stopped by our favorite local fast-food burger emporium, Burgerville, to take advantage of their special. Burgerville is recognizing the food holiday by offering a free Pepper Bacon Cheeseburger with the purchase of another one. Throughout this year’s challenges, very few businesses have capitalized on the associated food holiday, which has surprised me. I suppose they’re simply unaware of them? I’d think advertising that it’s a certain food holiday when that item is on your menu would be a great marketing ploy and could be worth a little extra business, at least.

Which is why blogs like ours exist, folks…

Can't see the cheese because of the bacon, but it's in there, folks!

Can’t see the cheese because of the bacon, but it’s in there, folks!

Categories: Beef, Sandwich | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

252/365: National Steak au Poivre Day*

September is moo-ving right along, and the food celebrations continue. The 9th is National Steak au Poivre Day!

It’s also National Wienerschnitzel Day and National I Love Food Day. All of these choices sound celebration-worthy. This blog exists because we love food, so in that regard we’re celebrating our love of the edible all year long. We debated going with wienerschnitzel – there’s a great German restaurant right here in town – but I was intrigued by Steak au Poivre, so we decided to give that one a whirl.

Setting food on fire is always fun!

Setting food on fire is always fun!

So what the heck is Steak au Poivre, besides difficult to pronounce? (It’s ah-pwav-er, but you have to roll your tongue and arch your back and hold your breath while reciting the alphabet backwards skipping every other letter). Just call it “pepper steak” instead. This French dish is made with steak (Julia Childs said,  “This famous dish usually calls for individual tenderloin or loin strip steaks, but other cuts may be used if they are of top quality and tender”) steak coated with cracked peppercorns that form a crust, and then cooked in a hot skillet with butter and oil. It’s served with a pan sauce containing cognac and heavy cream. Yum!

Steak au Poivre is a descendant of Steak Diane, though its exact origins aren’t clear. Several chefs claim to have invented the dish in the 1920s and ’30s, but it was already a specialty at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo in 1910. Evidence suggests it may actually have royal origins: Leopold I, king of Belgium, was a skilled cook who came up with a recipe for beefsteak and peppercorns that certainly resembles modern-day Steak au Poivre.

To celebrate, we turned to the man who mixes science and food: Alton Brown. His recipe for Steak au Poivre looked remarkably simple – and it was! There’s nothing difficult about making this dish; it’s all about the flavors. And these were delicious: the sauce was earthy and creamy, the steak itself, peppered to perfection. We really enjoyed this meal!

National Steak au Poivre Day

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148/365: National Brisket Day

You won’t have a beef with today’s holiday if you’re a carnivore. Sink your teeth into this: May 28 is National Brisket Day!

Brisket was once considered one of the poorer cuts of meat. It comes from the lower chest of a cow, and because these animals have no collarbones, is responsible for supporting 60% of the cow’s weight. This is why it contains a lot of connective tissue, and requires slow cooking over low heat for a long time in order to properly tenderize it. It contains a fat cap which can be cooked either face up or face down; debate rages over which is the better method. That argument can probably best be answered by Texans, who love their brisket and have made barbecuing it an art form. In Colonial America, brisket was usually coated in large salt crystals and allowed to age for four days. This method – known as corned beef – was the best way of preserving meat in the pre-Frididaire days. While corned beef is still popular – especially among Irish-Americans on St. Patrick’s Day, even though it’s not an Irish invention – brisket is also delicious cooked slowly over a grill, smoked, braised, or boiled. It can be covered in a spice rub or marinated.

I would have loved to have slow cooked the brisket over indirect heat for six hours or so, but since we had to work today, that would have meant dinner wouldn’t have been ready until midnight-ish – which is not only really late to eat, but also a potential disqualifier if it wasn’t ready by 12:00. We figured, if the meat requires slow and low cooking, it should work in a crockpot, right? So we turned to the internet for recipe ideas. This is where Pinterest came in handy. I found plenty of crockpot brisket recipes, and chose one with ingredients similar to those recommended by our friend, Wendy. It contained tomato sauce, beef bouillon, apple cider vinegar, onion, and garlic. I put that sucker in before work, and let it cook on low for ten hours. The result? Yummm-amazing! But a little salty. In any case, the recipe is definitely a keeper.


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117/365: National Prime Rib Day

Steak lovers will have no beef with today’s food holiday: April 27 is National Prime Rib Day!

Beef. It's what's for dinner.

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.

Prime rib, originally known as a standing rib roast, is a cut of beef from the primal rib, one of the eight primal cuts of beef. It is called a “standing” roast because it is usually roasted in a standing position, with the ribs stacked vertically. Removing the bones from this cut and slicing it into steaks yields rib eyes. It’s unclear exactly when and where prime rib originated, but most historians believe roasts became popular during the Industrial Revolution, when hungry men desired a hearty meal after assembling widgets and other doo-dads all day long. Some cuts of meat are more popular than others, and prime rib has always been particularly sought after by beef connoisseurs. A nice slice of prime rib will contain the “eye” of the rib and the outer, fat-marbled muscle. It is typically rubbed with salt and other seasonings and slow roasted over dry heat for several hours. Prime rib is a popular “Sunday roast” in the U.K., where it is traditionally served with Yorkshire pudding. Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., mashed or baked potatoes are popular accompaniments.

April 27 also happens to be my birthday. The fact that it’s National Prime Rib Day is a happy coincidence, as prime rib is my favorite cut of steak, and I have a tradition of going to the Original Roadhouse Grill for prime rib on my birthday anyway. Or I used to, at least. It had been a few years, but today marked the perfect opportunity to reinstate that tradition. And, let me just say: the prime rib was amazing. Cooked a perfect medium rare, with an herb/salt crust, horseradish sauce, and au jus. It was to die for – the perfect birthday meal.

Prime Rib

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76/365: National Corned Beef and Cabbage Day

You’ll be green with envy if you don’t celebrate today’s food holiday: corned beef and cabbage. ‘Tis the perfect way to honor St. Patrick’s Day, lads and lasses (while also perpetuating stereotypes). So, dig in!

Green beer is part of the experience, too.

Green beer is part of the experience, too.

Ironically, corned beef and cabbage is more of an American delicacy. Something we think the Irish ate when, in reality, they were more into bacon. The Irish produced a salted beef around the Middle Ages (the English later named it “corned beef” because large kernels of salt were added to the meat while it slowly cooked), but it was expensive and considered a delicacy. Most of Ireland’s cows were raised for their dairy products – milk, butter, and cheese – and were only slaughtered once they could no longer be milked. Pigs  were the primary livestock animals in the land o’ clovers and leprechauns. So, when Irish immigrants in New York discovered that corned beef was cheap and readily available, they took up the beef moo-vement. It wasn’t until the 1920s that corned beef and cabbage became synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day, and that was the work of Irish Americans and their newfound love of cow meat. Much like Cinco de Mayo is an Americanized version of a Mexican holiday, St. Paddy’s Day isn’t associated with corned beef and cabbage in Ireland. They’re more likely to eat a hearty potato soup or a thick stew with cabbage and leeks today. Or frosted Lucky Charms. (They’re magically delicious).

'Tis true.

‘Tis true.

Last year I made corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, which means this is the rare food holiday where I happened to eat the same exact thing 365 days earlier. However. It was a lot of work, and we were really busy today, so we came up with the brilliant idea of heading downtown to our favorite local watering hole, which happens to be an Irish pub called Shanahan’s. I already knew they had excellent corned beef; we were there for brunch a couple of weeks ago, and the hash was amazing. They have an onsite smoker that imparts the best flavor to their meats. Shout out to Shanny’s! But, we quickly learned a lesson: an Irish pub is the worst possible place to go on St. Patrick’s Day. The place was overflowing with noisy, green-clothed drunken revelers, so much so that there wasn’t a vacant table or barstool within a one-mile radius. Standing room only. No problem, I figured I’d just order the food “to go,” which I did. After standing around surrounded by shoving, pushing, green-clothed drunken revelers for a good ten minutes while trying to catch a server’s attention. Finally I did, and the food came out just a few minutes later. I will say this: all that trouble was worth it. The corned beef and cabbage was absolutely delicious. And in the comfort of our own home, we were able to wash it down with green beer (Tara) and green gin ‘n tonic (me).

As they say in Ireland…or maybe they don’t, but I’m going to toss it out there anyway…erin go bragh!


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14/365: National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day

It’s National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day, which is nice because it’s cold out. And it’s snowing. A tasty, hot sandwich at lunchtime is just the ticket! And besides, who doesn’t love pastrami?

Well, other than Tara, who is proving to be a much pickier eater than I’d ever imagined. But she’s being a good sport about it, and dutifully trying at least one bite of everything we have. That’s all I can ask for!

Originating just a stone’s throw from Dracula’s castle and named after the Romanian word a păstra – which means “preserve” – pastrami was created as a method of preserving meat. There were no refrigerators back then, and Transylvanian folk didn’t want all that wonderful pork and mutton to go to waste, so they cured the meat by brining it, drying it, seasoning it with herbs and spices, smoking it, and then steaming it. Pastrami was introduced to the U.S. in the late 19th century following a wave of Romanian Jewish immigration to New York. The original English spelling, pastrama, was changed to pastrami in order to rhyme with salami, making it easier for American consumers to remember (and paving the way for the chart-topping 1892 rap hit, “(You Gotta) Fight For A Bite (Of Pastrami),” which famously paired verses about salami and pastrami with Tommy’s mommy, a Swami who survived a tsunami and married a commie).  Because beef was cheap, they started using that instead.

A butcher named Sussman Volk claimed to have created the first pastrami sandwich in 1887 after inheriting the recipe from a Romanian friend whose luggage he was storing while the man was out of the country. Volk’s pastrami sandwich was so popular he turned his butcher shop into a restaurant. Not so fast, say the folks at Katz’s Delicatessen, which opened in 1888 and is renowned for their pastrami sandwiches (and also Meg Ryan’s famous fake-orgasm “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in When Harry Met Sally). They take credit for the sandwich. No word on whether they duked it out or decided to split the royalties, but pastrami remains a popular sandwich to this day.

Although, to be honest, it proved a little tricky to find. Neither Subway nor Quizno’s has pastrami on their menu. Luckily, a local cheesesteak joint called Philly Bilmo’s does. Go figure. I ordered the Hot Pastrami and Swiss, with pickles and sauerkraut. What can I say? It was delicious! Hot and salty and flavorful. The pastrami brine is typically made with garlic, coriander, paprika, black pepper, cloves, allspice, and mustard seed, and I swear I could taste each of those ingredients in every bite. Tara took a taste, wrinkled her nose, and went back to her hot dog. That’s okay – I loved the sandwich enough for the both of us.

Hot Pastrami Sandwich


Categories: Beef | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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