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National Italian Beef Day

National Italian Beef Day celebrates and honors Italian beef sandwiches. Created by Buona, the day also specifically celebrates their Italian Beef and Beefless sandwiches and shows appreciation for their customers. It happens to take place during National Beef Month and National Italian Beef Week.

During the first observance, in 2017, Buona gave away over $12,000 worth of sandwiches. They gave away free Italian beef sandwiches to everyone in line at their Harwood Heights location by 11:00 am on the holiday, and gave a year's supply of beef to 20 sweepstakes winners, who entered the competition by posting pictures of their Buona Italian Beef sandwiches and tagging them with #NationalItalianBeefDay. Buona also gave away goodies and discounted their sandwiches for the day.

Buona continued celebrations in subsequent years. For example, in 2023, anyone who downloaded the Buona app and signed up for MyBuona rewards on it received a free regular Italian Beef or Beefless sandwich with up to one topping. The promotion was good at all Buona restaurants for new or existing app users. Buona also provided free delivery for all orders through the app for the whole week surrounding the day, and offered a 25% discount on all "shop & ship" products on their website. They also hosted a kick-off event the evening before at Hop Butcher For The World's taproom, where those who made purchases received a complimentary Buona Italian Beef sandwich.

The first Buona restaurant started serving Italian beef sandwiches in 1981, and its founder, Joe Buonavolanto, Sr., was instrumental in making the Italian beef sandwich a staple of Chicago's culinary world. By the time of the first National Italian Beef Day there were 19 locations, and by 2023 there were 27. But Buona isn't the only restaurant to have participated in National Italian Beef Day. Al's #1 Italian Beef gave away 500 Italian beef sandwiches in honor of the day in 2023, at an event at The Chicago Food Stop.

Italian beef sandwiches began as a cheap food for working class immigrants in Chicago. Early in the twentieth century, Italian-American immigrants slow-roasted beef in a spicy broth and served it on Italian bread. It became a staple of weddings and large family gatherings. Around the end of World War I, Anthony Ferreri began selling cheap sandwiches to blue-collar workers around the city. He noticed that the Italian-American immigrants had "peanut weddings"—weddings with cheap food—because they didn't have much money, and took note that if the beef served at weddings was cut thinner and cooked in its own juices it could last longer. Ferreri continued to serve these Italian beef sandwiches to workers and at weddings. (Some claim that he wasn't the first to slice the beef thin and that a number of people did the same.)

Ferreri's son, Al Ferreri, along with Al's sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli Sr., started selling Italian beef sandwiches to workers in 1938. In 1940, they opened a walk-up beef stand, Al's Bar-B-Q, at Harrison and Laflin St. (The original location moved to Taylor St. in the early 1960s, and the name was changed to Al's #1 Italian Beef in 1980, after Chicago Magazine named it the #1 sandwich.) Al's was the first Italian beef sandwich shop, nestled in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood, but many similar shops soon popped up in the city. The Italian beef sandwich gained popularity in the city in the 1950s, and became one of Chicago's iconic foods, along with Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs.

In the 1980s, while working as a struggling comic, Jay Leno was a regular for Italian beef sandwiches at Chicago's Mr. Beef. He helped bring the sandwich to a wider audience through television appearances. When he appeared on Late Night With David Letterman, he ate one on the air and handed some out to the audience. Leno continued to laud Mr. Beef sandwiches after he got his own show, and celebrities soon started eating at Mr. Beef. Italian beef sandwiches had a newfound resurgence in the 2020s because of the television show The Bear, which focuses on a Chicago Italian beef sandwich shop based on Mr. Beef; the show even had its pilot filmed at the restaurant. Italian beef sandwiches are now found throughout the midwest, and sometimes beyond, but are still most prevalent in Chicago and its suburbs.

A beef roast with a lot of marbling is used to make Italian beef sandwiches. A chuck roast works well, and top round roasts and sirloin tip roasts do too if they have a lot of fat, which helps develop flavor. As the roast cooks, the fat melts into a sauce that will be used to make au jus gravy. Before cooking, the meat is seasoned with dried herbs like basil and oregano, and with spices like red pepper, black, pepper and garlic, and sometimes nutmeg or cloves. It is then slow-cooked while partially submerged in beef stock. After cooking, the beef is cooled then thinly sliced, then heated back up in the warm juices.

Italian bakeries in Chicago make the bread used for the sandwiches. It is similar to a baguette, being longer and narrower than traditional French bread. Italian beef sandwiches are topped with peppers and can be made "hot" or "sweet" depending on what type of peppers are used. "Sweet" Italian beef sandwiches are made with sweet peppers: roasted and sliced red and green peppers that are often tossed with salt, pepper, fresh garlic, and olive oil. "Hot" Italian beef sandwiches are topped with giardiniera: a pickled relish of spicy peppers and vegetables. Though not a traditional ingredient, cheese is sometimes added, mozzarella and provolone being the most common.

Specifying if a sandwich is prepared "dry," "dipped," or "wet" is another significant part of ordering. With "dry" sandwiches, most of the juices are left to drip off the beef before it is placed in the sandwich, beef is pulled from the liquid and immediately put into the bread with "wet" sandwiches, and the whole sandwich is quickly dipped into the liquid with "dipped" sandwiches. When a grilled Italian sausage is added to an Italian beef sandwich it is known as a combo. With so many ways to prepare an Italian beef sandwich, and a number of restaurants to have one at, there are no shortage of ways to take part in National Italian Beef Day.

How to Observe National Italian Beef Day

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