Saturday, July 5, 2008

In pursuit of Minnesota's "Beef Commercial" Sandwich

There are many American varieties of hot beef sandwiches; Italian beef, French dip, beef on a weck, sliced roast beef, barbecue beef, sloppy joes, and even fast food such as Maid-Rite and Arby's, just to name a few.

To define a "hot beef sandwich" for the purposes of this blog, what I am referring to is a simple sandwich consisting of white bread, sliced beef, and mashed potatoes, with a rich brown gravy covering the whole thing.

The hot beef sandwich is something of a "blue plate" diner staple in many places in the US. However, they are quite popular here in the Midwest, the heart of beef country. There is nothing shy about this sandwich; we are talking authentic, down home, hearty fare!

In southwestern and south-central Minnesota, they call these sandwiches by another name. Here, they are referred to as "beef commercials." It is, for all intensive purposes, the exact same sandwich described above, so this appears to be a regional variation on the name.

But what is interesting (at least to me) is that outside of this zone, most everywhere else in Minnesota and the upper Midwest simply knows this as a "hot beef sandwich."

What does "commercial" mean? One theory is that it might refer to a specific grade of beef as defined by the USDA. I have also heard it may refer to the fact that a "commercial" white bread is used in the dish. Does anyone really know? This is what I hope to find out.

With this blog, I intend to seek out some answers, go on some pursuits, document places where the beef commercial sandwich exists, and attempt to identify the "demarcation line" in Minnesota where a hot beef sandwich becomes known as a beef commercial.

Yours in gravy,



Anonymous said...

I just did a search on google for "beef commercial" and I found your blog! I've wondered for years why they were called beef commercials, I thought perhaps my family just came up with the name, because I have never heard anyone else refer to them. I grew up for about 8 years in the south west corner of MN and my mom used to make them. 2 slices of bread (side by side) a pile of mashed potatoes in the middle and I remember them with hamburger gravy, although I remember her making them with turkey also. Beef commericals and corn on the cob was what I would request as my birthday meal, it is perfection! The other day I made mashed potatoes, hamburger gravy and corn on the cob and I just couldn't resist having it on bread. Brings back such great food memories! Thanks for sharin!

kaydub said...

Never heard of this before! Thank you for this blog! I love a hot beef sandwich and now I want to order one in SW Minnesota the next time I'm there.

BTW - It's "all intents and purposes" not "all intensive".

Daren said...

Strange as it may seem, I grew up in southwest Minnesota and don't recall hearing of a beef commercial. After traveling and living various places, when I moved back to the U.S, we chose South Dakota, and now live only a mile from Minnesota. And still, I hadn't heard of a beef commercial. But, the town less than 15 miles from me, in Minnesota has them in the diner and I've heard people talk about having them at home. So at least along US Hwy 14, it stops at the border.

Craig said...

They are called "beef" or "turkey" commercials because they were inexpensive, stick-to-your-ribs, filling meals that traveling salesmen, or "commercial" travelers, liked to order. Thus they were nicknamed "commercials."

Jean | said...

I am hoping the commenter Craig will return here and see my question. Since he knew about the origin of the name "commercials," I'm hoping he (or blogger Jean or *some*one) can tell me the origin of the name "sandy mash." I've always seen "hot beef (or turkey) sandwich" and this name is completely new to me!

Fid"s said...

look delicious