Shit on a Shingle might not sound dinner-appropriate, but it’s definitely breakfast-appropriate.
The unofficial term—abbreviated as “S.O.S.”—became popular slang among American soldiers during World War II. It refers to “cream chipped beef on toast,” a dish that’s been featured in Army cookbooks for over 100 years.
Any creamed meat (shit) served on toast (shingle) could be referred to as S.O.S. The meal amassed many nicknames, including “Creamed Foreskins on Toast” and “Shit on a Raft,” depending upon the ingredients and division of soldiers eating it. But, despite a collection of unpalatable titles, creamed chipped beef is a relatively beloved wartime dish. Or at least not as hated as the name implies.
The first appearance of a Shit on a Shingle recipe may be in the 1910 Manual for Army Cooks, which listed it as “stewed, chipped beef.” It features 15 pounds of beef to feed 60 men. However, cream chipped beef has been a breakfast staple in the Northeastern United States since the turn of the 19th century. The reason for its success in both contexts is the same: Chipped beef has been dried, salted, pressed, and thinly sliced, making for a compact and shelf-stable snack that’s an ideal source of protein on long-haul journeys. In a plight much like that of American soldiers, European immigrants relied on the same economical, transportable, and filling meat.
Over time, cream chipped beef over toast spread throughout the Mid-Atlantic U.S.—particularly in Pennsylvania—where it remains a popular diner breakfast item. At one point, cream chipped beef was even offered nationally on IHOP and Cracker Barrel menus.
Though S.O.S was coined during World War II, the nickname extends far beyond the mess halls of the 1940s. In fact, the soldiers’ uncouth name choice has remained popular. Pennsylvania Dutch recipes insist on “Dutch frizzled beef,” and diners offer “cream chipped beef over toast.” But locals still call it Shit on a Shingle.