In the first episode of The Bear, the award-winning FX series that captures the chaos of a fictional Chicago restaurant, one thing is made clear: Crumbly bread does not belong on an Italian beef sandwich. Not only is this bread assertion true—it might be the most useful tip for recreating the show’s signature sandwich at home.
An Italian beef is a classic Chicago sandwich of thinly sliced roast beef piled onto a French roll with either sweet peppers or spicy giardiniera. Typically served hot and wet (i.e. alongside a bowl of au jus for dipping or fully submerged into a pot of its own juices) this nourishing, warming sandwich sits alongside the hot dog and deep-dish pizza as one of Chicago’s iconic foods.
In The Bear, Italian beef plays as central a role as some of its principal actors. According to Emmett Burke, a Chicago native and the owner of Emmett’s—a Manhattan restaurant specializing in Chicago’s specialties—the sandwich’s prominence within the show matches its real life importance. “In Chicago, the beef stands are kind of everywhere,” he says. “There’s only one Italian beef, there’s no California-style Italian beef. It’s a quintessential Chicago sandwich.” While the restaurant’s culinary identity progresses into something more complex as the season goes on, an expertly prepared Italian beef sandwich appears numerous times throughout every episode.
Effectively functioning as a widely distributed sizzle reel for the Chicago sandwich, the popularity of The Bear’s first season caused an uptick in Italian beef interest throughout the country. At Dog Day Afternoon, a Brooklyn restaurant that sells the sandwich, Italian beef orders doubled following the release of season one. At Los Angeles’ Gino’s East of Chicago, Italian beef purchases briefly rose from 150 to up to 300 per day.
Alongside the spike in restaurant orders came a wave of Italian beef recipes, video tutorials, and complete guides across all corners of the internet. (Speaking of which, if you’re in need of an Italian beef recipe, refer to this video tutorial from former chef, Chicago native, and The Bear’s culinary producer, Courtney Storer.) Don’t let the hype fool you, though—the beauty of Italian beef is that it can be perfected in even the most barebones kitchens, with just a pot and an oven at your side.
However, there is one consistent recommendation among Italian beef experts that’s worth seeking out: commercially distributed Turano French Bread Rolls. According to Emmett, the reason comes down to the bread’s flavor and structural integrity. “They’re fresh enough where they taste good, but they also kind of have that commercial component where they can soak up the juice,” he says. Turano is the preferred choice of vendors within the Windy City, adds Emmet, and as such, it’s a natural choice for the Italian beef sandwiches served at his restaurant.
While Turano is based just outside of Chicago in Berwyn, Illinois, its sturdy, hearth-baked French bread can be purchased on Amazon and shipped anywhere in the country. However, this hasn’t always been the case: “When we first opened 10 years ago, I was flying to Chicago or driving back to Chicago to source all this stuff,” says Emmett.
It’s worth noting that in The Bear, Turano is not the bread of choice. Instead, the restaurant’s baker, Marcus (played by Lionel Boyce), painstakingly prepares dozens of French rolls from scratch, daily. However, despite making his pizza dough in-house, Emmet doesn’t foresee a future in which the restaurant would ever serve Italian beef on anything but Turano—and neither should you. “I’d be a real a–hole to think that I’m going to come in and do it better,” he says.
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