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Sour Beef and Dumplings

May 27, 2017 by Nicole Collins

I embraced my inner German Grandma today.

At least, that's the first thing I thought to myself when I looked at the trail of flour and potato I left in various places around my kitchen.

Every year for Mother's Day, I order my mom Sour Beef and Dumplings from a local restaurant. It's one of her favorite dishes that reminds her of her childhood. Her grandmother was an AMAZING cook (from the stories I've heard), and this is one dish that my mom can still see my Granny making.

My mom and I have dinner together every Friday night, and last night we got in to a conversation about my ideal dinner party. We've all heard that question: If you could have a dinner party with anyone, dead or alive, who would be invited? For me, that answer is simple: My Daddy and my Granny. I lost them both when I was little, so I didn't know yet that I needed to know everything that they knew about food.

My dad was from the south, and he was the cook of the family, for sure. I can remember his sausage gravy, his bean soup, and his corn bread like I just had it yesterday. Of those things that I remember him making, I've only been able to master the sausage gravy. I remember Granny, but I don't remember her cooking. My mom grew up in her house, so she's told me stories over the years about her peach cake, her canning escapades, but most often I hear about her Sour Beef and Dumplings. If I could have dinner with these two, I'd be the best fed girl around!

My mama was SUPER DUPER sick on Mother's Day, so she didn't get her annual Sour Beef. She was talking to her friend, Lori, about it at work; and next thing I know, she's bringing me home a recipe to test out. Lori also grew up eating Sour Beef, and she was kind enough to share her mother, Betty's, recipe with us.

Now, Sour Beef and Dumplings is totally a Baltimore thing. Back in the day, New York was not the only entry point for immigrants. Immigrants also used to enter America through the Port of Baltimore, primarily German immigrants. So, there's a huge German American population in Baltimore, and this dish is the Americanized version of the German dish, Sauerbraten. I know Sour Beef sounds a little weird, but it's a dish that equals comfort food to so many people. It's like a German pot roast.

Truth be told, I've never been a fan of Sour Beef. Until today. I think I missed the “likes vinegary things” when I passed through the German characteristics section of my genetic make up lol.

I don't know if it's because it was homemade or if I could just taste the love in Betty's recipe, but I really enjoyed this dish today. Of course I had to taste test it before I delivered it to mama. I told her I must not have made it right, because it actually tasted good. HAHAHA. She thought it tasted great. It was the closest to Granny's she's had yet!

So, here's the rundown. We start by braising the beef in a tangy vinegar based broth. We go low and slow, so the meat can absorb all the flavor while becoming melt in your mouth tender. While we wait for the meat, we work on the dumplings. This recipe makes a lot of dumplings, but what else are you going to soak up that yummy gravy with? DUH! The dumplings are actually light and fluffy, and they compliment the meat really well. Then, we finish the gravy with some gingersnap paste and some browning sauce, and voila. Dinner! As weird as it all sounds, the tangy sweet meat and the salty airy dumplings make the perfect bite.

Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to this dish, but you have plenty of time to work on other things around the house while you wait! In may case, I did all my Memorial Day party prep. I made cupcakes, cookie butter pie, shrimp and mac salad, and some tuna fish (a girl's gotta eat lunch!) all while waiting on the beef to braise. Talk about productivity!

And don't worry, you'll be seeing all those above recipes VERY soon!

So, enjoy your long holiday weekend, and switch up the barbecue routine by embracing your inner German Grandma too! Or get your multitask on like I did.

Let's eat!


Sour Beef and Dumplings

Serves: 6 Print


For the Sour Beef:

  • 3 ½ – 4lbs boneless chuck roast, cut in 1 ½ inch cubes and fat trimmed

  • 2 tsp salt

  • ¼ tsp pepper

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar

  • 2 ½ cups warm water

  • 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 2 tbsp pickling spice

  • ½ cup sugar

  • 12 gingersnap cookies

  • ¼ cup cold water

  • 2 tbsp browning sauce (such as Kitchen Bouquet)

For the Potato Dumplings:

  • 6 medium russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 tsp salt plus more for the cooking water


  1. Make the sour beef: Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a dutch oven. Add beef, salt, and pepper; and sear on all sides until the meat starts to get a brown crust. Wrap pickling spice in cheesecloth or a tea ball. Add vinegar, water, onions, bay leaves, pickling spice, and sugar to the pot. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 3 ½ – 4 hours.

  2. Make the dumplings: At about the 2 ½ hour mark, start the dumplings. Place potatoes in a large pot of cold water and add a generous pinch of salt (about a tablespoon). Bring water to a boil. Boil for 12-14 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain, and place potatoes in a large bowl.

  3. Mash potatoes with a fork until desired consistency. Set aside to cool. Once cool, add 1 tsp salt, flour, and eggs. Mix dough together with your hands until everything is fully combined. Shape and roll dumplings in to baseball sized dumplings.

  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt (about a tablespoon). Add dumplings to water. Boil until dumplings float to the top. Remove from water with a slotted spoon. You'll have to cook dumplings in at least 2 batches.

  5. Finish the gravy: Once the beef is finished braising, remove beef from the pot. Strain the solids out of the liquid. Add the liquid back to pan,. Place gingersnap cookies and cold water in a small bowl. Give the cookies a minute to absorb the water, then mash the cookies with a fork to make a thin paste. Increase the temp to medium heat. Add gingersnap paste to the liquid in the pot along with the browning sauce. Whisk until combined and smooth. Add the beef back to the pot, and toss to coat it in gravy. Remove from heat. Serve with dumplings.

Recipe notes:

*The grandmas like to use cheesecloth to keep the pickling spices together, but I actually prefer to use a wire mesh tea ball (per Lori's suggestion). I don't have any other reason to use cheesecloth (that I know of), and I can clip the tea ball right on to the side of the pot.

*If you like more gravy to meat ratio and are serving less people, feel free to use less beef and cut the dumpling recipe in half.

*My mom likes her dumplings smooth, but the family that shared this recipe like theirs with chunks of potatoes in them. Mash your potatoes to whichever consistency you prefer. I actually ran a hand beater with the whisk attachment through the potatoes after I mashed them with the fork to really smooth them out.

*Thanks to Mrs. Betty for sharing her recipe!

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