Chipped beef is a dried, smoked, and salted meat product. The modern product consists of small, thin, flexible leaves of partially dried beef, generally sold compressed together in jars or flat in plastic packets. Hormel describes it as "an air-dried product that is similar to bresaola, but not as tasty.
Chipped beef is served in many diners and restaurants as a breakfast item. Notably, most diners sell chipped beef on toast, particularly in the northeast United States. Creamed chipped beef is standard fare on many diner menus, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, but has become harder to find in chain restaurants that serve breakfast; among the restaurants still offering chipped beef on toast are Golden Corral, and Silver Diner. IHOP no longer offers this on their menus, having substituted sausage gravy, and the same is true for Cracker Barrel restaurants. It is also available from companies such as Stouffer's in a frozen form which can be put on top of separately-prepared toast; it is considerably salty in taste. The mixture was also, at one point, available from both Freezer Queen and Banquet as "hot sandwich toppers"; as of Fall 2007, Freezer Queen has gone out of business, and the Banquet variety is rarely found. Finally, several companies make a refrigerated version of cream chipped beef. The meat itself is available for purchase separately as well.
Chipped beef on toast (or creamed chipped beef on toast) is a foodstuff comprising a creamy sauce and re-hydrated slivers of dried beef, served on toasted bread. In military slang it is commonly referred to by the dysphemism "Shit On a Shingle" (SOS). Chipped beef is also often served on English muffins, biscuits, homefries, and in casseroles.
Wentworth and Flexner cite no origin, but note that "shingle" for slice of toast has had "some use since c1935" in the U. S. Army, mostly in the expression "shit on a shingle," and that the latter had "wide World War II Army use.
In the United States, chipped beef on toast is emblematic of the military experience, much as yellow pea soup is in Finland. "Chipped beef on toast (S. O. S.)" is, in fact, the title of a book of military humor. In his World War II book Band of Brothers Stephen E. Ambrose evokes the military basics:
At the end of May, the men of Easy packed up their barracks bags and … [took] a stop-and-go train ride to Sturgis, Kentucky. At the depot Red Cross girls had coffee and doughnuts for them, the last bit of comfort they would know for a month. They marched out to the countryside and pitched pup tents, dug straggle trenches for latrines, and ate the Army's favorite meal for troops in the field, creamed chipped beef on toast, universally known as SOS, or Shit on a Shingle.
In a 2004 story, Chuck Palahniuk talks about deprecated language in "the new and politically corrected Navy" where he says that in official theory, but not in practice,
the dark-blue coveralls crewmen wear while on patrol are no longer called "poopie suits." Crewmen who serve on the mess deck are no longer "mess cranks." Sauerbraten is not "donkey dick." Ravioli isn't "pillows of death." Creamed chipped beef on toast isn't "shit on a shingle.