Green’s Dictionary of Slang

hot beef! excl.

also beef!

a cry of alarm, synon. with and rhyming on SE ‘stop thief!’.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 8: Beef — discovery of persons, an alarm or pursuit.
Bolton Chron. 26 Sept. 8/3: ‘I have nailed a “souper” from a “rattler” (railway carriage) and got “hot beef”’.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 76/2: Wattie ‘tumbled’ the ‘moll;’ ‘beef’ was given and half a dozen voices joined in the cry of ‘haud the keely’ (thief).
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 19 Oct. n.p.: ‘While there [I] heard the cry of “beef” three times’.
[UK]A. Morrison Child of the Jago (1982) 88: It was now that he first experienced ‘hot beef’ — which is the Jago idiom denoting the plight of one harried by the cry ‘Stop thief’.
[UK] ‘English Und. Sl.’ in Variety 8 Apr. n.p.: Hot beef—Stop thief.

In phrases

cry (hot) beef (v.) (also give (hot) beef)

to give the alarm, to call a hue and cry; thus get beef, to be pursued by a hue and cry .

[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: beef to alarm, as To cry Beef upon us; they have discover’d us, and are in Pursuit of us.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Beef, to cry beef (cant); to give the alarm. They have cried beef on us.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum n.p.: Beef, to cry beef (cant); to give the alarm. They have cried beef on us.
[UK]Lytton Pelham III 295: ‘What ho, my kiddy,’ cried Job, ‘don’t be glimflashy; why you’d cry beef on a blater.’.
[UK]Morn. Post (London) 4 Oct. 4/4: The policeman would not swear that the boy did not cry ‘Hot beef’ and that he might not have mistaken it for a cry of ‘Stop thief’.
[UK]Metropolitan Mag. XIV Sept. 333: We many times got beef, and were several times nigh being grabbed.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum 28: ‘Frisk the dummy of the screens, ding it and bolt; they are crying out beef,’ take out the money and throw the pocket-book away; run, they are crying, ‘stop thief!’.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 313/1: to cry beef, [...] donner l’alarme.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 40/2: The fellow must be ‘neddied,’ no matter who he is, and that before he can give ‘beef’ too.
[US]Memphis Dly Appeal (TN) 12 Mar. 3/3: A victim is styled a ‘bloke’ [...] ‘the bloke cried beef’ signifies [...] ‘the victim cried police’.
[UK] ‘Autobiog. of a Thief’ in Macmillan’s Mag. (London) XL 506: I gave a twist round and gave him a push and guyed. He followed, giving me hot beef (calling ‘Stop thief’).
[UK]‘Dagonet’ ‘A Plank Bed Ballad’ in Referee 12 Feb. n.p.: I guyed, but the reeler he gave me hot beef / And a scuff came about me and hollered.
[UK]C. Hindley Vocab. and Gloss. in True Hist. of Tom and Jerry 157: Beef. To cry Beef is to give the alarm.