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Italian Beef - Feeding of the 250

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    Italian Beef - Feeding of the 250

    Now this is the story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute just sit right there I’ll tell you how it went feeding 250+ people at a homeless shelter for my wife’s birthday. Hmm, that last part doesn’t quite have the right rhythm to it… Also, it seems that I write a lot, so fair warning that this will take more than a minute.

    Well it’s been two months since the big event and I’m finally writing it up (see my original posts here and here). Sorry for all those waiting for it, I have no good excuses – but plenty of bad ones! Spoiler alert, we ended up feeding all the people and then some. There were a lot of things I learned during the process and I’ll try to write them down here so the next time my wife or I gets a crazy idea, I have something I can reference to remind me that nothing goes as planned.

    The Research

    We have to start way back to get to the event. We decided our menu would be Italian Beef sandwiches with homemade giardania (I can never spell that right), and roasted peppers as the main course, Frozen Smoke's baked beans and Meathead's Deli Slaw for the sides, and homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert. We didn’t have to bring anything to drink or plates/silverware, they had that at the shelter. We fundraised by doing a GoFundMe with some of our friends. Sounds simple, right? Well,
    • How much coleslaw constitutes one serving? I found several different answers on several websites, and ended up going with ½ cup per person
    • How many cups does Meathead’s recipe make? Can you just add all the volume measurements together? I assumed a bit less because some of the smaller ingredients would “fit” inside the larger ones
    • Same questions with the baked beans
    • What type of bread should we use for the sandwich? Ciabatta are expensive so we initially ruled that out, but after going through several types and with a generous donation, we ended up with a few days to go deciding on the Costco “artisanal rolls” which are basically ciabatta
    • How much meat should go on a sandwich? That depends on the type of bread we use, which again was a decision that came down to the wire. Based on some test runs, we ended up using 2.5 oz per sandwich, which I’ll discuss later
    • What cut of meat should I buy? This ended up being a harder decision than I anticipated, for reasons I’ll discuss
    • How much raw meat should I buy to get the right amount of cooked meat? I also considered losing some weight to the meat slicer, which was not insignificant
    • How much gardiania per sandwich? How many people would prefer spicy vs. non-spicy?
    • How many peppers should we use, and how many peppers per sandwich? How many green bell peppers vs. red?
    • After all those decisions were made, how much do all the ingredients cost? That depends on which store we get them at (Fred Meyer/Kroger, Costco, Costco Business Center, Restaurant Depot, Cash and Carry), the brand, and also if we buy cases, bundles, or individual units. I had a spreadsheet set up for this one to figure out the sizes/weights (what weight of cabbage do you need for 8 cups?)
    Only after all this was done did we have an idea of how much to ask for in our GoFundMe.
    Last edited by PBCDad; March 20, 2019, 09:36 AM. Reason: Added links to original posts

    The Cook
    One of my earlier posts were about how I followed Meathead’s recipe, and it just didn’t taste right to me. I wasn’t happy with it and I was afraid it would come out tasting like a bad, soggy roast beef sandwich. To my eternal gratitude, Daniel aka Dr. Pepper sent me an IM saying he was from Chicago, had done Italian Beef sandwiches for big gatherings lots of times, and best of all, lived in Seattle and would have us over to talk us through how to cook it! My wife and I went over one night, and I have to say that besides having some of the best sandwiches I have ever had, Daniel, his wife, and daughter were also some of the nicest, friendliest, most caring people you could ever hope to meet. My wife is Facebook friends with all of them now, and if I ever went on that site, I would be too. To top it off, they also very generously donated to our effort and offered to help wrangle our volunteer food-prep people and help prepare everything with us!

    However, his method of cooking was different than what I had planned on, since it involved braising the meat instead of smoking it over drippings. When I did my test run and ended up with the roast beef, I smoked it per the original recipe. I carefully weighed it raw, cooked, and sliced to come up with the raw weight I would need, and tried different amounts on sandwiches. For the bread I was using, 3 oz looked like a good amount, but to cut costs we decided on 2.5 oz per sandwich, which still looked okay.

    After a lot of indecision on the cut of meat, I decided to try to go for Sirloin Tip, the meat that most people seem to say is the best one for these sandwiches. However, for this much meat I was limited to Costco Business Center or Restaurant Depot. I went to CBC first, but they didn’t have quite enough roasts. But when I went to Restaurant Depot, they didn’t even have Sirloin Tip! I wandered through the different cuts for probably 30 minutes not sure what to do (this was my last stop) before an employee helped me. He said the closest they had was Top Sirloin, and they didn’t have select, only Angus Choice. Also, because it was the only case they had, I had to get more than I planned, about 73 pounds. It ended up working out though, because the braising and the extra fat meant I ended up with just about exactly what I had planned for in cooked meat.

    First step was browning the meat. I worked in three or four large batches using my flat top, man 70 lb is a lot of meat! So glad I had my flat top, I would have been at it all day otherwise with just a cast-iron pan. Daniel came over and helped get the garlic and other spices ready, and we dumped it all into the aluminum pans along with enough beef broth to come within 1” of the top of the pans. I maxed out the capacity on my Jambo, maybe I need to tell my wife that I need a bigger smoker It was definitely too much for our oven, so I’m glad I had the smoker capacity.

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    One problem that I experienced a couple times during this adventure was that it is really hard to get a pan of liquid to boil or simmer in an oven environment. I loaded up Big Tex with more wood than I ever do and got a ripping fire, but with all the meat and liquid it only got up to around 300 or 350. That wasn’t enough to get the liquid boiling, but it did cook everything – it just took about two hours instead of one. I sealed up the meat in ziplock bags and put them in the fridge until the big day.

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      The Prep
      My church graciously offered us the use of their commercial kitchen for the day, including their flat top, several ovens, cutting boards, sheet pans, and hotel pans. My wife wanted this to all be a social event, and several of her friends and family were coming during the day to make the coleslaw, beans, and prep the sandwiches. I’m afraid I stressed her out a little bit on the big day by trying to start before everyone got there, as I was worried that there was too much to do.

      To make sure everyone had a job and we had enough time for it to be a social event, we did almost everything by hand. That included slicing the 10 lbs of carrots for coleslaw – I felt sorry for those volunteers. The two machines we used were my new meat slicer for most of the meat and a big mixer for the cookies.

      Lesson learned – no matter how specific you think you are being in your instructions, you’ll never be specific enough. For example, I walked my dad through how to use the slicer safely, how thin to slice the meat, etc., but I didn’t think to tell him to make sure he was slicing perpendicular to the grain of the meat. I also had pictured the cabbage being sliced in long, thin strips, but the volunteers instead chopped it into small roughly square pieces (no biggie). I again learned that an oven is a bad instrument for simmering food. But all in all, the volunteers did a great job, nobody cut themselves, and we got everything prepped.

      The second pit member who came to the rescue was bardsleyque who I had met once before. He generously offered the use of three cambros, adding to my one. We used them all – two 6” pans for the meat, three 6” pans for the beans, and probably eight 2 ½” pans for the coleslaw. It made transport of all that food soooo much nicer than anything else we could have done.
      Last edited by PBCDad; March 17, 2019, 02:21 PM.


        That's great, man! Sounds like a heap 'o work, but for a good cause! I'm glad it worked out well, I for one am looking forward to the pictures later on! Great job, that meat looks awesome!


          What a tale! It is stories like this that make me smile when I look back 5 years and remember the planning and indecision over starting the Pitmaster Club. Who knew?


          • Donw
            Donw commented
            Editing a comment
            Well we all gained from your decision to give it a go. A lot of us just wanted to learn how to produce good food for our families and now have the skills and confidence to cook for 50, 100, 250. And most of it in the name of charity or fellowship.

          • PBCDad
            PBCDad commented
            Editing a comment
            None of this would have been possible without this site. In fact, almost all of my cooking period is thanks to this site.

          Pictures from the prep stage, I couldn't add them in an edit.

          Volunteers working away
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          Finished coleslaw
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          Finished peppers for sandwiches
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          Beans in the oven
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          • treesmacker
            treesmacker commented
            Editing a comment
            That looks great! Wonderful job!!

          The Delivery
          We were initially told to be there by 6 because we would start serving at 6:30. Then, a week or so before, they told us to show up at 5:30 and to start serving at 6, which cut our prep time a little bit but it worked out fine. Well, when we got there at 5:30, there were already men at the shelter, and as soon as we got set up they started lining up for food. Oh well, we were ready at that point, but it would have been nice to give the volunteers who were serving a quick dry-run on how much to give of each thing and what to say. I ended up doing that in real time as people were being served.

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          Because I was so worried about the amount of meat, I took my kitchen scale along and showed my sister-in-law how to use it to get 2.5 oz of meat. Looking at how the meat filled up the roll though, I needn’t have worried – it looked like a good sandwich, and if you were filling them up free-hand you’d probably average around the right amount. But she’s an engineer and I think it may have stressed her out to change abruptly to free-hand, so I just stuck with the scale. Some of us went in the back room to prepare plates for people coming in the front who didn’t have a bed at the shelter, and my second scale ended up not working so I took the liberty of free-handing it. My daughter and her friend from school handed out the cookies, with a few jokes about farts sprinkled in. Below you can see my dad and I working behind them and my son waiting for everyone to look away so he can steal a cookie.

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          I gave my uncle a ½ cup scoop for the beans, and another one to a few people helping with the coleslaw. I think the beans were popular (they were really good), the coleslaw was passed by several people (it was also really good), but the sandwiches were the star (they were goooooood). Everyone liked the meat, the gravy/juice, the toppings, even the giardinaria (I’m going to switch up the spelling each time and at some point I’ll hit the right one).

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          Lessons learned were many. When the shelter says to make food for 250 people, that doesn’t mean you’ll be serving 250 people in a short amount of time. There were probably 150 or so that we served directly, and we had a huge pile of meat and coleslaw left over at the end. They said they would continue serving to people coming through the doors all night, and they assured me several times that they would use up every scrap that we brought. If I had known that, I wouldn’t have worried so much about portioning. We kept the food hot while we were there, and I cringe a bit about them maybe leaving the meat out all night, but at that point I had handed it all over to them. Also, we made too much coleslaw and not enough gardeniaria. Finally, the whole reason I put it together was for my wife and to give the men in the shelter a really good meal. While my stress helped put on a really great meal and my wife had a great time, I think next time I’ll try to stress about it a bit less.

          Several men came back for seconds, some thirds or fourths, and many told me that we needed to open up a restaurant because this was restaurant food. Several went beyond that and said it was better than restaurant food. I sat down to eat a plate, and I’d be real happy to have that plate for any occasion – it wasn’t just good shelter food, it was good food. Plus, we all got to serve food to people in need and do it in the name of a person we all love, a woman I am lucky to call my wife.

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            Absolutely awesome!! The cook look like it turned out great and the satisfaction of the achievement must be immeasurable. Love to try this some day !!!


              My hat is really off to you and all your wonderful volunteers.


                Great job!!! Congrats to you, your family (especially the inspiration, your better half) and all of the people that helped out.


                  So cool man! That was an awesome thing y'all did. I'm sure that the people who ate were vastly blessed. Thanks for sharing!


                    Great story of hard work for a greater good. Everyone pitching in sharing their time and talent resulting in camaraderie not seen enough these days. Thank you for sharing a ray of sunshine on this winter's day.


                      Looks like it turned out awesome! And I thought cooking for a wedding rehearsal dinner for around 50 was stressful. Way to go!


                        Thanks for sharing your story with us! Fantastic job serving others with your time and talent! You have every right to feel pride and satisfaction for helping less fortunate people.


                          Great effort, great story, and great job.



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