Scenario No. 1: You’re hosting a barbecue and pork steaks are the main event. You set up the grill for indirect grilling – coals on one side and nothing on the other. You crack open your favorite beer and slice open the cellophane package of pork steaks. The steaks are placed on the cutting board, seasoned and slapped on the hot side of the grill. After the steaks have some beautiful grill marks, you move them over to the other side of the grill, toss in some smoke wood and close the lid. Forty-five minutes later, they are slathered with a couple of coats of your favorite sauce (mixed with a little of that beer in your hand), the lid is closed to allow the sauce to caramelize and, voilà, dinner is served.
Scenario No. 2: Your secret to great pork steaks is to drop them into a slow cooker with a half-gallon of barbecue sauce and let it all simmer for half a day before you toss them on a screaming-hot grill for a minute or two to finish. And everyone marvels at how tender your “grilled” pork steaks are.
These are the two most common preparations for pork steaks served in St. Louis. While both methods bring some great ideas to the table, food science points out a few fatal flaws in these approaches. The first method entails searing the meat before smoking it. Searing imparts a wonderfully flavored crust onto the pork steak, but it also keeps smoke from penetrating the meat. Smoke wood is not cheap, and much of what is used in this method is wasted. In the second method, simmering pork steaks in a slow cooker full of sauce for a few hours will indeed make for extremely tender meat and some fantastically flavored sauce. However, the meat itself will be lacking in flavor. Boiling meat in liquid does not transfer the flavor of the liquid into the meat. It does the exact opposite. The pork steaks will be beyond fork-tender, but all you’ll taste when you dig in is the sauce.
FEAST TV: Visit Schubert’s Packing Co. and see how pork steaks are cut in this month’s Feast TV. Watch the segment here now!
So Let's Start Over
At the beginning. In the grocery store. When shopping for pork steaks, look for cuts that are at least 1 inch thick. And while you’re there, pick up a ham hock and your favorite barbecue sauce. We’re going to make that incredible sauce from scenario No. 2, but we’ll do it without leaching the flavor from your pork steak.
Fill your slow cooker with a half-gallon of sauce, set it to simmer and toss in the ham hock. A few hours later, the sauce will be finished, your kitchen will smell divine and you’ll be ready to step outside to the grill.
The Set Up
Just as before, set up the grill for indirect grilling – coals on one side and nothing on the other.
Season both sides of the thick pork steaks with salt and pepper and follow up with a good coating of your favorite rub.
Place the steaks on the side of the grill with no coals underneath and toss some smoke wood into the coals. Fruitwoods such as apple, cherry and peach and hardwoods like hickory are excellent smoke woods for pork steaks. Smoke at 250ºF for an hour or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 160ºF.
Now that the meat is infused with sultry smoke flavor, we’re going to move it to the other side of the grill to get that wonderful char on the outside. Searing both sides of the steaks over hot coals will caramelize the proteins and create that flavorful crust we started with in scenario No. 1.
Next, move them back to the side with no heat and hit them with a coating of that savory sauce we made earlier.
Toss in some more smoke wood and close the lid.
I Know What You're Thinking: “But you said the meat won’t take on any more smoke flavor after the pork steaks are seared.” And you’re right: The meat won’t. But the sauce will. After 10 minutes, open the lid and slather on another layer of sauce. Smoke for 10 more minutes, remove the steaks from the grill and serve.
This method yields very tender meat with a nice smoke ring, a wonderful flavor char and that gooey barbecue sauce we all love on our pork steaks. It’s a simple approach that makes for a complex and layered flavor profile.
How The Pork Steak Became A St. Louis Staple
Written by Brandi Wills
Pork steaks are a signature of St. Louis-style barbecue, grilled in backyards across the region. The cut − thin steaks carved from a part of the pork shoulder referred to as the Boston butt − is rarely found outside of the Midwest.
The prevalence of the pork steak in local butcher cases is no surprise considering the cut was popularized in St. Louis by Schnucks Markets in the late ‘50s. Don and Ed Schnuck, second-generation owners, first offered pork steaks in stores as an inexpensive cut of meat that people could barbecue. The Boston butt is generally used for roast and sausage, but Don and Ed recognized that half-inch steaks cut from this area performed great on the grill. And customers agreed. For two years, Schnucks Markets was exclusively cutting and selling pork steaks to St. Louisans before others noticed its popularity and followed suit. Today you can find pork steaks in nearly every grocery store and butcher shop in the area.
Craig Schnuck, the eldest son of the late Donald O. and Doris Schnuck, shares his parents’ method for preparing pork steaks: “At family holiday get-togethers my mom would bake the pork steaks first, and then my dad would baste them on the grill to finish them. This process keeps the pork steaks more moist than only cooking them on the grill.”
The Original Schnucks Pork Steak
Serves | 6 |
- 2 Tbsp pork drippings*, butter or shortening
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 cup ketchup
- ½ cup water
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 pork steaks
| Preparation | Place fat in a medium saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Add ketchup, water, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Simmer mixture, stirring often, for 20 minutes. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 500ºF. Place pork steaks in a pan and place in oven for 15 minutes. Drain fat from pan. Reduce heat to 350ºF, pour sauce over steaks and continue baking until the steaks are done, about 45 minutes. Alternatively, after baking them at 500ºF for 15 minutes, you can grill the steaks until they are cooked through, basting often and generously with sauce.
* If desired, cook pork steaks at 500ºF for 15 minutes as directed in recipe and use drippings from pan to make sauce.
Visit Schubert’s Packing Co. and see how pork steaks are cut in this month’s Feast TV. Watch the segment here now!