Barrel Grinders: Deli Food From Heaven
By S. John Ross

Man cannot live by bread alone . . . but it's something I've considered trying from time to time! If the stuffing recipe didn't make that plain enough, here's another one of my favorite ``bread foods,'' although these have a lot more meat and vegetables involved.

What's a Barrel Grinder?

The word ``grinder'' has been tossed around a lot, and it's original meaning - a kind of italian meatball sandwich served on a hard roll - has been expanded to include all sorts of hot sandwiches, particularly those with lots of sauce! A Barrel Grinder is its own special kind of food. The recipe for ANY Barrel Grinder can be broken down thus: Take a Kaiser roll or other stocky round roll, cut a plug out of the top to make it into a ``barrel,'' fill it with some sort of filling, put a slice of cheese on for a lid, and bake it. That's a Barrel Grinder.

Barrel Grinders originated, as far as I can tell, in the delicatessens of the northeastern USA (probably in Italian delis, originally), which are the famed home of dozens of lovely sandwiches. They are served hot there, wrapped in paper or foil, but I've found that many varieties are excellent cold! A rule of thumb: If you enjoy cold pizza, you'll like cold Grinders. If you don't, you probably won't. The basic formula can be varied a thousand different ways; experiment with different meats and vegetables and sauces, different cheeses (both in the filling and on the top!), and even different sorts of rolls. I swear by the traditional kaiser (for flavor as much as texture or size), but I've often been forced into substitutions when Kaisers weren't in stock at the local supermarket. To date, I haven't found a single form of roll that couldn't produce a palatable Barrel Grinder. This is ``fun food'' but it can also be healthy food, since the ingredients are up to you. This file contains two of my favorites, but they are only the beginning. If you have any interesting variations, please send them to me! My recipe collection is something I've NEVER tried to keep under control . . .

Preparing the Kaiser Rolls

The recipes below are geared for batches of a half-dozen. Take the six kaisers, and with a sharp, short knife, cut a circle in the top. DON'T cut all the way to the bottom; you'll need to leave a ``floor'' for the barrel. Likewise, leave a healthy centimeter or two as walls. If you have to make your filling stretch a little, do so by making the walls thicker.

What to do With the Extra Bread?

Okay, now you've got six plugs of kaiser-roll bread. What do do with them? Well, it's often wise to take some of the bread and stuff it back into the bottom of the barrels, to provide reinforcement. Some recipes need this (Guinea Grinders do), and some don't. The rest of the bread can be used to make croutons for soup or salad, or (as is my own tradition), can provide snacking for the cook while he/she works . . .

Baking the Barrel Grinder

Once you've got the filling done and you've stuffed the barrel, place a single slice of cheese over the whole shebang and pop them on a cookie sheet and bake them. The oven should be set at 300 degrees for best results - bake them for 15 minutes or so, just until the cheese bubbles a bit and the outer edges of the roll is toasted. If the cheese starts to brown, they've been in WAY too long!

Guinea Grinders

  • 1/2 lb Ground Pork or Sausage
  • 1/2 lb Ground Beef
  • 1 Bell Pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, pressed
  • 1 heaping tbsp whole fennel seed
  • 12 oz tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • 1 rounded tsp black pepper
  • 1 rounded tsp oregano
  • Six Kaiser Rolls
  • 6 Slices Mozzarella Cheese

In a deep pan, cook the meat. Break it up as it cooks, and keep it moving; cook it thoroughly without browning. Drain excess fat.

Add garlic, onion, fennel, bell pepper, and spices. The most important flavor is the fennel! Saute' lightly until the onions are barely tender. In the meantime, prepare the kaiser rolls.

Start munching indiscriminately on the bread plugs (or saving them for soup or salad). Preheat the oven.

Add tomato paste to the ingredients in the pan. Stir in 3/4 cup water and then add sugar to cut down on acidity. Alternately, use milk or wine. The milk will allow you to cut out some of the sugar; the wine will allow you to cut out some of the salt! Either are therefore recommended.

Let the ingredients in the pan go on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally during the process. Remove pan from heat, and distribute the filling among the barrel grinders. Place a slice of cheese over each grinder, and arrange them on a cookie sheet. Bake as above, and serve after allowing to cool for 10 minutes.

Guinea Grinders store well in the refrigerator kept in individual sandwich bags. They last for two days while maintaining full flavor, and they freeze well. They probably last for MORE than two days in the fridge, but I've never been able to hold off eating them that long . . . I actually prefer them cold, the next day, to hot out of the oven (I'm the same way with pizza!)

Steak & Cheese Barrels

  • 1 lb roast beef, sliced thin and then chopped fine
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped into rings or coarse chunks
  • Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup cherry pepper rings (optional)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Six Kaiser Rolls
  • 12 Slices Provolone Cheese

Oil a hot pan with the olive oil and toss in the onions, cooking until they're almost clear.

Toss in the roast beef, and cook for another minute or two, keeping watch not to brown the onions or overcook the meat. Add the pepper rings at this point if you are using them - and toss in some of the liquid they're packed in! (alternately, olives, mushrooms, or other garnishes can be added at this point: if you have a favorite way to do a Philly Steak, apply it here).

Toss in the salt & pepper at any time you feel you need to. The barrels should be prepared as above, likewise the oven. One difference: LINE each of the barrels (loosely) with a slice of provolone before adding the steak-and-onion filling. Then top with a second slice before baking! Serve hot.

If you like VERY cheesy philly steaks, then start with eighteen slices instead of twelve. The first slice in each barrel is a liner; then half the filling, then another slice, then the OTHER half of the filling, then the top slice!

Other Meats, Other Veggies, Other Cheeses

How about a chili barrel stuffed with your best chili and topped with Monterey Jack and a dash of Tabasco? How about a chicken barrel stuffed with white cheeses and chicken chunks - and maybe some broccoli or eggplant thrown in? A Veggie grinder made from sweet peppers, hot peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives and tomato? Lamb and tomatoes and olives and feta, topped with provolone? Hamburger and mustard and onion and ketchup, topped with american? Pork and apples and cheddar? What's that? You've never stuffed pork and apples into a roll and topped it with cheddar? You haven't LIVED!

A friend of mine, Marty Franklin, once prepared what he called "Yeti Grinders," stuffed with pepperoni, ham, and other wonders . . . I never have managed to pry the entire mix from his brain. Maybe he'll put it on HIS page, someday . . . as soon as he gets one ...


This article is Copyright ©1997-1999 S. John Ross. Link all you want; I'll write more.

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