Baltimore is known for pit beef fame. Quite honestly it all started in the late 1980's along the corridor of Route 40 (Pulaski Highway) in Baltimore. Heading towards the city from the intersection of Chesaco Avenue to the seedy parts of town, there at one time were three successful pit beef shacks. These shacks were tiny wood buildings that almost resembled snowball shacks, only bigger. Inside these shacks something grand was happening.
This, was, PIT BEEF ROW.
Back then, you had what I like to call the THREE HISTORIC BIG BOYS
Chaps Pit Beef (which sat outside the Gold Club boobie bar and still does--beef and boobies?)
Big Al's Pit Beef further towards the county (they moved to Eastern Avenue and eventually closed.)
Big Fat Daddy's (Corner of Chesaco and Rt. 40-another outfit in there now not related to Big Fat Daddy's.)
Here is more about them--in no particular order.
Chaps pit beef was started in 1987 by Gus and Bob in a small wooden shack with no electricity or phone at 5801 Pulaski Highway. They struggled at first but over the years have become a staple in the community--and the only of the original three original big boys that is still there. They are almost like a historic landmark now. If you eat here you won't be sorry and they are open seven days a week. The beef sandwiches are filling and delicious, moist and tender and lots of combos on the menu to order from. You won't walk away hungry. Ironically their shack is outside of the Gentleman's Gold Club (strip bar). They have been awarded City Paper's Best in Baltimore award more than 5 years, landed on Diners, Drive-In's and Dives and even featured on the Food Network. This location was further into the City than the others. You can eat there or take it with you if you mind the seedy area. They have survived in the same location all those years and are the last of the original Pit Beef Row pit beef stands. Read more about them here.
Big Al's pit beef was name after a man name Big Al, Mike DeCarlo's father. It is unclear if Chaps or Big Al's was in existence first--and since Big Al's is no more we can't verify. There is an ironic story here. Many do not know the story of how the stand was originally located at 8014 Pulaski Highway on the corner of Chesaco and Route 40. The owners got into a fight with the landlord, and moved the stand further down Route 40, but on the same side--at 7926 Pulaski Highway. This now sat closer to Chaps but on the opposite side. Big Al's would be taken over by son Mike DeCarlo and friend Jeff Swope . They would also do some fairs and festivals and catering events. The sandwiches were big and portions good. The big irony here is this move proved fatal. Big Fat Daddy's would soon take over their own space (at 8014- see below) and this means there would be three. This wouldn't have been an issue, many customers enjoyed eating and sampling all three places, but the property owner where Big Al's sat decided to sell. They were forced to find a new location. From Baltimore they moved to Essex, then eventually closed. Bo0th owners stayed in the food business in some way shape or form, moving onto bigger and better things such as owning restaurants, bars, and still doing the occasional fair or catering.
Big Fat Daddy's was third to move in, brothers Brian and Wayne Schafer going up against both Chaps and Big Al's. Brian was in charge of the pit beef shack which was located at 8014 Pulaski Highway outside of what was then a country bar. (The shack is still there, but looks different, and the country bar is now a liquor store.) Older brother Wayne did fairs and festivals and both of them kept the names one was called Big Fat Daddy's, and the stand Big Fat Daddy's Famous Pit Beef. While Wayne was doing fairs and festivals, and catering events, Brian was getting into legal trouble by erecting a monsterous maroon and yellow tent outside his shack so he could run propane and have indoor seating all winter long for his customers in the area. After complaints, it ended up costing over $10,000 in legal and zoning fees. That could have been the end of their business until, Saveur Magazine ate there in 1999 and Steven Raichlein came knocking in 2000. Brian blabbed the dry rub recipe which landed them in the NY Times and subsequent reprinted bbq books of Raichlein's, Brian closed up shop and and both concentrated on selling their now famous pit beef at fairs and festivals on the East Coast separately. Sometime in mid 2000's, older brother Wayne acquired 100% rights to Big Fat Daddy's and operates in 8 states. Brother Brian moved to Florida but has food stands still under different names. You can check at your local fair or festival to see if Big Fat Daddy's is there and they have a blog with recipes too. Their sandwiches are delicious, more smokey in flavor due to using an open pit with hardwood and not propane grills. Big Fat Daddy's wasn't a fan with the City Paper, but Rachael Ray Magazine dubbed them "Best Pit Beef in Baltimore (Catering)" in their 2010 Grilling Magazine. As of 2012, they moved operations to Pennsylvania.