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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Midwestern BBQ Staple - Pork Steaks

If you are not from the Midwest you are probably asking what exactly is a pork steak. Originally considered just a St. Louis thing it is now pretty prevalent throughout the Midwest due to its low price, ease of preparation, tenderness, great flavor and the vast multitude of prep options with them.

The pork steak is cut from a pork shoulder, pork shoulder butt, pork butt or Boston butt which are all the same thing. The reason a cut of meat taken from the shoulder of a pig is called a pork butt is that when meat was shipped back in the day of wooden ships this cut of meat was salted and packed into large barrels, known as butts, and bound for Boston. The shipping barrel was known as a butt and pork shoulders were shipped in them (often to Boston) and eventually adopted the container name as well as the destination city.

A pork steak can be prepared in a multitude of ways. It can be marinated, rubbed, brined prior to grilling. It can be rubbed, sauced, left naked, smoked, indirected or grilled directly during the grilling process. It can be made spicy or sweet or salty. One of my favorite ways of cooking these is indirect with nothing more than salt and black pepper. The most common method of grilling pork steaks is to slather them in your favorite BBQ sauce. Another beautiful thing about pork steaks is they hold up well for large groups in that they can be stacked up deep in a disposable aluminum pan, slathered in sauce and kept warm and tender for hours.

For this post it will be a tag team between my Dad and my Cousin. Dad will go over exactly how to get a pork steak in areas that carry pork shoulder/butts but don't have pork steaks and Tom will go over one of the many ways to cook pork steaks....

What’s a ‘Pork Steak’?

Outside of the Midwest region of the country (where pork steaks are an extremely popular grilling staple) they aren’t well known and retail grocers do not offer this particularly tasty cut of pork. My cousin, Carol, lives in Maryland and has used the information provided here to obtain pork steaks in her area where they are not normally available. You can obtain them most everywhere if your local purveyor handles ‘Whole Boston Butt’ or ‘Pork Butt Roast’ or any of the myriad of other names such as the 'Pork Shoulder Butt' shown below:

Pork steaks are also known as ‘Blade Steaks ‘ and simply put, Pork Steaks are merely a sliced Boston Pork Butt.

I visited a local Save-a-lot Food Store (known for value, quality, and low prices) where the head meat-cutter, Mike, agreed to assist in illustrating how Pork Steaks are cut:

This is what the Whole Butt looks like prior to Mike performing his craft with this tasty cut:

Mike trims the end and any excess fat to fit the steaks to the tray used to sell at retail :

The Boston Butt is sliced into steaks (usually ½” to 1 1/4” thickness) on the saw:

Mike does not slice the whole butt into pork steaks. He saves a portion of one end to sell as a small roast (the back of the pic below) and sells the small end pieces as 'Finger Ribs,' which Mike thinks are the tastiest part, (the front of the pic below). What's in the middle of the two are known as ‘Center Cut Pork Steaks.’ Some grocers slice the entire Butt and that’s referred to as ‘Whole Butt Sliced into Pork Steaks’ and usually offered at a lower retail price since the end pieces are included:

Finally we have view of what the end product looks like before wrapping, pricing, and offering for sale in the display case - small roast on the upper left, finger ribs on the upper right and center cut pork steaks down the middle:

Our thanks to Mike who is a very accomplished griller in his own right (and a pretty good Texas Hold ‘Em player) for helping out with the explanation of what exactly is a pork steak.

Hopefully you’ll be able to take this information to your local butcher (careful here, they usually prefer to be called meat-cutters!) and obtain Pork Steaks in your area. Watch your local ads for the roasts to be on sale to save a few dollars during these difficult economic times and approach your retailer then. I’ve had them many ways—thick-thin-marinated-glazed-simmered in sauce and so forth and they are always enjoyable.

**Editor's note - now Tom takes over with the cooking of the amazing pork steak**

For a very long time I did not realize that bar-b-que pork steaks were a regional treat. That is until I moved a few states away and the butcher had no idea what I was trying to purchase. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of enjoying a pork steak slow cooked on the grill and slathered in BBQ Sauce, I hope that you will try this and enjoy!

This is a dish I have spent many years trying to perfect. My father-in-law was the master of bar-b-que pork steaks and he set the bar very high. I have cooked these many times and my wife finally told me these are as good as her dad used to make.

A pork steak is just a whole pork butt sliced into steaks (bone in). I typically ask the butcher to slice the pork butt approximately 1 1/4" thick (they shrink a little when fully cooked).

The first step is to use our standard rub consisting of onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, raw sugar and ground red pepper. Click here to see the exact measurements. Rub generously onto the steaks and place into ziploc bags and refrigerate three hours to overnight.

Ready to go on the grill the next day:

Grill is ready:
I cooked these on the Big Green Egg, but you can do this on any grill. I like to start with the coals medium-hot to quickly sear the steaks:

Then close off the air flow to the grill so that the temp drops to a medium-low heat (approximately 250 degrees). Then continue to grill the pork steaks, turning occasionally for approximately ninety minutes:

**Editor's note - cooking time will vary from grill to grill as well as based on the thickness of the pork steak. These are pretty thick. Most of the time pork steaks are cut an inch thick or less and need much less cooking time. The good news is practicing on pork steaks to perfect them does not cost a lot**

During the last 20 minutes of cooking, brush bar-b-que sauce onto the steaks (10 minutes on each side):

So far, I have not been too impressed with bottled bar-b-que sauce. We usually purchase the bottled kind and doctor it up a bit. Here is my recommendation.

KC Masterpiece Bar-B-Que Sauce
1/2 onion finely chopped
1/2 fresh jalapeño pepper finely chopped (ribs & seeds removed)
1 stalk celery finely chopped
1 clove garlic minced
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 dark beers (one for the sauce and one for the cook)

Saute the onion, jalapeño and celery until tender and slightly caramelized. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another minute or two. Add the brown sugar and stir until incorporated, then slowly stir in the beer. Cook over low heat for thirty minutes.

Along side the pork steaks we did some crostinis:
1 loaf french bread in 1" slices
olive oil
minced garlic
muenster cheese, grated (or your favorite cheese, creamy cheeses that melt well work best)

Turn the bread in the olive oil so there is a light coating on both sides. Spread minced garlic on one side of the bread. Grill until golden brown on both sides, then top with grated cheese and continue grilling until melted. These are a great appetizer or served along with the meal.

**Editor's note - for step by step instructions on cooking crostinis click here. Also, the basic process outlined here and in the link is an original recipe of the grillin fool. There are many variations but the concept is an original of mine and one of my favorite things to do on the grill and is always a crowd pleaser**

And here is the final product plated and ready to eat:

**Editor's note - Awesome job Tom. Can't wait to have these at the next big family function. Maybe my house on Mother's day?**


  1. This look GREAT..I am going to fix this on my Gas Cast Iron Grill on Direct heat and then when I get my CG Grill next week I will fix them on that..LOOK Great again!!


  2. I meant indirect heat..LOL


  3. Mala22

    I always use beer in my sauce for pork steaks.All beer has an ingredient in that breaks down proteins in the meat.

    Remember to always simmer your sauce uncovered to allow the alcohol to evaporate completely or it will turn bitter.

    Love your blog

  4. Denny,

    A beer is a must for any sauce. As is cooking it down. I prefer to use a microbrew or an import over the standard New American Light Lagers (Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Miller, etc). Something with a little more flavor to it. O'Fallon Smokey Porter and Schlafly Coffee Stout are my faves. Porters and Stouts in general lend themselves very well to BBQ sauce (and chili).

    Thanks for the props and check back often. We try to add content every week if not more...