Baltimore-Style Sour Beef and Dumplings (Slow Cooker)


for the sauce/marinade:
1 3/4 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 onions, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3 whole cloves
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt

for the dumplings:
4 cups plain well-mashed potatoes made from peeled red potatoes
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg

3 1/2 lb beef round, cut into 1 1/2 in thick slices or left whole (see notes)
1 tablespoon canola oil
8 gingersnaps, broken into pieces

WARNING: This part has to be done the day before you want to serve. Stir together all of the marinade ingredients in a nonreactive bowl. Place the roast in a nonreactive container (or large ziplock bag) and marinate overnight. The day before is also a good time to make the gingersnaps if, like me, you are using homemade.

The next day: Remove the meat and pour the marinade in the slow cooker. In a large skillet, quickly brown all sides of the meat in the canola oil. Add the meat into the slow cooker and turn on low for 6 hours.

During the last hour or so of cooking time: Start to make the dumplings. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. In a large bowl, combine the cooled mashed potatoes and salt and the egg. Stir in the baking powder and add the flour in 1/2 cup increments until the it resembles a dough and the mixture holds its shape when molded (roughly 3 cups). Form into 2 to 4 inch balls. They should be able to hold their shape but not be too floury. Drop them into the water. They should sink, then rise to the surface when cooked through. Set aside.

During the last 1/2 hour of cooking time: Skim off any visible fat that may have risen to the top then add the gingersnaps and turn the heat to high.

After the time is up, shred the meat a bit with a fork or break it into pieces. Serve hot, with dumplings on the side.

Have an Instant Pot? I’ve created a new recipe that makes sour beef in just over one hour! Check it out here.

My thoughts:

My grandpop loves sour beef and in turn so do I. Baltimore has strong German roots and some of the old food traditions continue today.

As a child my mother and I would sweet talk the ticket takers at the yearly German festival at Carroll Park to let us in (for free) just long enough to pick up a large order from our favorite stand to take home. Now you can buy bottles of Mrs. Minnicks’ sauce at the grocery store but freshly made is always best. Until I made this, I had never made sour beef before but after a year of watching beef prices* I finally found a good deal on some meat suitable for cooking for a long time and decided to take the plunge.

Here in Baltimore, it is traditional to make the sour beef with gingersnaps. I know some people sneer at the use of cookies, and I admit it is a little retro sounding but they really add some flavor and thicken up the gravy without having to add cornstarch or flour. Plus I found an old German recipe (as opposed to just German-American) that calls for lebkuchen, a spicy cookie somewhat similar to American gingersnaps so I feel some what vindicated in my decision. It is also very “Baltimore” to serve sauerbraten with very large, fluffy potato dumplings. Many restaurants that serve the dish offer extra dumplings as a side along with sweet and sour cabbage.

Some notes:
I bought the traditional beef roast but cut it into large (roughly 2 inch wide) chunks/thick slices so the marinade would penetrate better and more quickly. In deference to the extremely hot weather we are having, I used the slow cooker but you could also follow the same instructions but use a dutch oven and roast it for about 4 hours at 350 or until thoroughly cooked and fork tender. While I only marinated the meat overnight (or more accurately, about 20 hours) you can marinate it up to 3 days if you would rather use the whole roast. Also, some people add juniper berries to their sour beef but I sort of think I am allergic to them so I left them out. I also don’t think they are entirely necessary, flavor-wise, at least not for the kind of sour beef we eat here in Charm City.

*I just can’t bring myself to pay $13 (or more!) per pound for meat that is going to cook for hours. When did cheap cuts of meat get so expensive? Doesn’t anyone make stew anymore?


  1. eatingclubvancouver_js

    Sounds like an interesting dish. I love sourness with beef: something about the acidity just brings out beef’s deep flavour. Keeping this on file to make for cooler weather.

  2. My very German grandmother made sauerbraten periodically and her family swooned over it. (I never liked it; too harsh.) But she made her dumplings by ricing the potatoes, and her dumplings had chopped-up pieces of very brown toast in the middle. She marinated her meat over a period of several days in her “summer kitchen.” On the whole, it seemed then, and seems to me now, like an e coli festival waiting to happen!
    VERY ambitious project, Rachel!! (And yours looks a lot tastier than hers did.)

  3. $13/lb for any beef that isn’t a prime cut seems kind of crazy. Even for 100% grassfed, organic beef, from my CSA farm stew meat is $9/lb and chuck roasts are about the same.

    Is it because you are on the coast? I’m in the Midwest.

    Slow cooking cuts of beef from factory farm are about $3-$4/lb.

    Looks great though. The cookies in it seem intriguing.

  4. My grandfather was German and instilled a thorough love of German food — especially sauerbraten — in me. I’ve never made it though. But this recipe sounds so doable.

    Do you think that I could cheat and use pre-cut stew beef?

  5. Sarah-
    I think precut meat would work, especially if you didn’t want big chunks in the finished product. I’d reduce the cooking time a bit though.

  6. This looks really awesome, I will make it in the fall!

  7. Susan from Food Blogga

    Sour meat with gingersnaps is completely new to me, Rachel. Thanks for introducing me to it.

  8. This was amazing (even at 88 degrees in Seattle). Both the hubby and the kids loved it, had seconds and my 6 year old wants to erve dumplings to his friends now.

    BTW we used Costco stew beef ($2 something/lb) and it turned out tender.

  9. Thanks for this recipe. I made it yesterday and it was a hit with a group of folks who have spent a lot of time in Germany.

  10. Wow!
    We made this last weekend, and it was wonderful!
    I grew up on sauerbraten and love it, this version was very flavorful (and just the right German grandmother type favor from childhood!), and easy to do.
    I have heard of using gingersnaps in the sauce before, my parents taught me to make an old “family favorite” type recipe for sauerbraten hamburgers that uses them to flavor and thicken the gravy.
    Great stuff, thanks!

  11. My grandparents were German born and raised my mom, and consequently me, in Baltimore.

    For us, Sour Beef was a “winter dish” and when we felt the first chill in the air, it was time for Sour Beef!

    My mother would forgo the dish if she couldn’t get “Idaho” potatoes.

    Preparing Sour Beef was about the
    messiest dish imaginable. Mom would make the gravy as her mother had and it was definitely from scratch. One time she was browning flour and the pan caught on fire! Scared the heck out of us and is remembered here 52 yrs afterwards.

    Years later, my mother discovered Mrs. Minnick’s and she began to use it for its convenience as I do today.

    I can never hear the words Sour Beef without thinking about all of the comforting memories it brings. I hope you all enjoy yours as much as I have over the years.

  12. I grew up in Catonsville, MD and loved to go to Haussner’s as a child for sour beef! Of course, this was always a special occasion.
    Coming back from the DE shore last weekend, I picked up some Amish-made ginger snaps at a produce stand. I bought them with sour beef in mind. Can’t wait to use your recipe! Thank you!

  13. Sorry about the loss of your grandfather. The memories we can keep with us forever. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe with all of us. Blessings!

  14. I can't believe I haven't come across this on your blog before… Sauerbraten is one of my favourite dishes (I'm German) and my mum makes – of course 😉 – the best one! Mine never turns out as good as hers.

    My dumpling recipe is almost the same as yours is with the only difference that I use potato flour and no baking powder. I also press a couple of croutons into the dumplings, that's how my grandmother taught me.

    Isn't it wonderful how some recipes are repeated all over the world and each one of us makes it a bit our own?

  15. Love your blog! I was actually looking for a dumpling recipe I could make in a crockpot for a pot luck at work when I came upon your "Baltimore-style" sour beef. Leftover dumplings are little inedible lumps, so a freshly-prepared one would be great. I am from the area, and my mom made the best sour beef! Funny, I'm a better all-around cook, but I could never beat her when it came to sour beef and fried oysters, both Baltimore staples!

    She always used pickling spice–just fill a teaball 3/4 full (it will expand once moisted to fill the ball), about a tablespoon and a half. Otherwise, the recipe is pretty close to hers.

    She always served leftovers over mashed potatoes the next day, so I think I will stick with the spuds. A lot easier to reheat. Dot

  16. Thanks for the great recipe. My gmother who was pure German made this quite often, and gave the recipe to my mom. I decided after this harsh winter here in Baltimore to try it myself. When I told my parents who are in their 90's, my dad said great, but don't forget the gingersnaps! Wish me luck.

  17. This sounds great. My husband is a Baltimore boy and would always tell me about his grandmother's sour beef. I had never heard of it before! I'm going to try this recipe for his birthday. Hopefully I can do his Granny some justice! Thanks for the post.

  18. I didn't think I'd write since I was just comparing my sauerbraten recipe but i was brought to tears at all the notes of this dish and Baltimore and German very German mother died dec 24th 2008 I miss her so much. I am also a Baltimore girl who was born a week after my mom arrived in US. This dish is wonderful and so are the bonds generated when it is shared! thanks to all of you! this recipe is fantastic!

  19. It was always a treat when my mom made sour beef a couple of times a year. And yes, with ginger snaps. Cannot wait to try this recipe and then share it with her. I think I remember croutons in the middle of the dumpling. I never understood it but always looked forward to finding it.

  20. I am way late coming to this but I just last night made sour beef for the first time. I love love love all of the tips here for potato dumplings! Last night I used Mrs Minnicks (which was awesome) but I really wanted to try it without a premade mix too. It was my first time trying sour beef and not only am I of German heritage but I live and have grown up in Baltimore!

    Thanks so much for this post!

  21. Grew up in Baltimore, my Bohemian grandpop's mom is the one the recipe came from. We made it in mid-winter every year as a big family project! Our recipe uses beef cubes, pickling spice, and the gingersnaps – and the dumplings use half mashed potatoes and half raw ground potatoes (that makes it into a project) along with eggs and cream of wheat – baseball sized heavy dumplings!

    Thanks so much for posting this, I will try in crockpot with your dumplings and maybe get to make this on a school night instead of giant Sunday project meal!

  22. Hi Kim, my grandmother was born in Bohemia. When she made it for us she used allspice, instead of gingersnaps it was 16oz sour cream for a nice white sauce. You should try it. It's very good.

  23. Hello kim, I'm from Baltimore and we moved to Baltimore county when I was 7 it was 1971 so I guess I never went to far. Both my great grandmothers on my mom said had the same last name. Schaffer one side Schafer the other side… Ginger snaps all the way and Mrs Minnicks, Is garbage!!!

  24. Thank so much for posting this. I was lloking to find a sour beef recipe for my husbands birthday. Here in Baltimore they have so many traditional foods it is really great. Funny thing is that grew up with German grandparents but never had sour beef homemade until I moved to Baltimore. John's mom-mom used to make it and now that she has been gone maybe it is time to pick it back up!

  25. Yup, this recipe looks about right. Yes, we use gingersnaps too! Depending on our mood or lack of time, we serve it with potato dumplings, egg noodles (wide), or sweet and sour cabbage. Oh, and just to throw it out there…my mom-mom was a Klaussmeyer from Baltimore.

  26. I also going to Carol Park for German Festival. The tastes and smells from those days will never be replaced. I love my Grandma's sour beef and dumplings recipe and this is the closest I have ever found. Love it!

  27. My sour beef is cooking in my slow cooker and I would like to know about the ginger snaps. When you add them in the last 30 minutes, do you put them in whole or crushed? Thank you!

  28. I just broken into a few pieces, they basically melt into the sauce.

  29. Does anyone have an estimate on how many this will feed? Thanks!

  30. It should have about 6-8 servings.

  31. Hi, I live in Baltimore and I make sour beef almost every winter. I saute minced onions in butter and add some bread crumbs.I then form the mixture into a ball the size of a large marble. I put that into the middle of my potato dumpling then drop the in boiling water to cook. Great flavor when you cut into the middle of the potato dumpling. I am going to make a double batch for my Bunko party this month. Hope everyone enjoys.

  32. I grew up with this mean as a child in Baltimore. Ginger snaps are the essence of this dish…It is just not the same without it. I live in Florida now and every time I cook it people are amazed at how good it is…The first question is "what's i the gravy and you should see their expression when I sag gingersnaps. Thank you so much for this recipe. My Mom is not with us any longer and this recipe is authentic Baltimore.

  33. Yes! You can’t make it without the ginger snaps!