If you are not from the Midwest, and particularly St. Louis where they were invented, 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 preparation/cooking options.
A pork steak can be prepared in a multitude of ways. It can be marinated, rubbed, brined, sauced, or left naked. Once on the grill it can be smoked, indirected or grilled directly. It can be made spicy or sweet or salty or any combination thereof. 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 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 myself and Dad. 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 I will go over one of the many ways to cook pork steaks.
What is 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 or pork shoulder or pork butt, or…
***Editor’s Note ~ But why is it called a butt? It’s not from the butt of the pig, it’s a shoulder. And what does Boston have to do with it? The reason is that this cut of meat was often sent on old wooden sailing ships to feed the crew. They were packed with salt in huge barrels called butts. And those butts (which were really just barrels) were often sent to Boston as it was the primary port for our country at the time when the name took. That’s how a pork shoulder became known as a Boston butt***
This is what the whole butt (which is actually a shoulder) looks like prior to getting the band saw treatment:
And the band saw:
The Boston butt is sliced into steaks (usually ½” to 1 1/4” thickness) on the saw:
Not all butchers will slice the whole butt into pork steaks. Some save a portion of one end to sell as a small roast and sell the small end pieces as finger ribs which many think are the tastiest part. The steaks cut from the middle are known as center cut pork steaks which is what we are using for this recipe:
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 smaller end pieces are included.
Finally we have view of the pork steak from above so you get an idea of exactly what it looks like. That bone in the middle is a cross section of the scapula:
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.
***Editor’s note – now Scott takes over with the cooking of the amazing pork steak. This recipe is so good that it was featured in a cover article for Feast Magazine that Scott wrote***
Time to discuss exactly how to grill these pork delicacies. The good news is that the pork steak has a great deal of fat and collagen inside so they are very forgiving and thus they don’t dry out very quickly. And while they can be grilled many different ways, we have found this to be the best process. And that process is the reverse sear method. Other than the method, I’m going to keep this recipe incredibly simple.
Pork Steak Ingredients:
6 pork steaks, each an inch thick (do not go with anything thinner than an inch)
As we get to the meat of the matter, the pictures are going to get a little bigger. See what I did there?
Here are those beautiful pork steaks laid out on a platter:
After hitting one side with a healthy coating of salt, season with the BBQ rub:
Flip them over and repeat the process on the other side:
Now, head out to set up the grill for two zone/indirect grilling. What is that? It means charcoal on one side and nothing on the other:
Putting coals on one side, and the meat on the other, allows the meat to cook slowly, breaking down that fat and collagen making the pork steaks tender and still juicy. So place the smoke wood on the side with the coals and the meat on the other side:
For the smoke wood, we highly recommend using Bob’s Smokin’ Hardwood. I tell you it’s absolutely the best smoke wood I’ve ever used. It’s also the cleanest.
Notice, I moved the left grill grate over to on top of the one right to the right of it. This will make it easier for adding more of that Bob’s Smokin’ Hardwood and charcoal later on. Target temperature inside the grill is 300:
Take one last look at what will soon be pork perfection and then close the lid and let the smoke and heat work their magic:
We used a combo of cherry and hickory wood, but you could easily use apple, peach or pear as well. For the most complete list on the internet of smoke woods and what meats they pair well with, click this link.
At the 30 minute mark, they are bronzing up nicely:
But I’m out of smoke, so a couple chunks are added:
At the 60 minute mark, the pork steaks are sitting about 150 degrees and ready for the sear:
Notice I haven’t moved them once. I never flipped them, rotated them, nudged them, nothing:
I’ll wait if you want to scroll back up and see that first picture of them on the grill…
OK, now on to getting these bad boys seared. I add fresh charcoal to the bed of coals and wait for them to get wicked hot:
Now place the pork steaks over the hot coals and let’s get that sear:
They only need a couple minutes on each side to get that beautiful flavor char. Once both sides are charred, move back to the side with no heat and hit them with your favorite BBQ sauce:
Normally, I would only submit one picture at this point, but they all looked so good, I had to give a couple bonuses. Basically, extra BBQ sauce porn! Oh, wait, forgot one. Here are all pork steaks sauced:
Close the lid and allow the BBQ sauce to thicken and get really gooey and sticky. You can go about 10 minutes and hit them with another coating of sauce, close the lid to let the sauce thicken. Once the sauce has gotten thicker remove the pork steaks from the grill. These are over 180 degrees internal temperature and ready to eat:
180 degrees sounds too hot to some. These aren’t pork chops which are all muscle. Pork steaks are full of collagen and fat. In order to get that stuff to melt away and have a tender, glorious bite, you have to take them up to 180.
And here they are on the platter, resting for a couple minutes before being served:
The reverse sear method ensures that the meat has multiple layers of flavor. There’s the sultry smoke, the savory rub, the succulent sear of the caramelized proteins, and the satisfying sauce. Once you try this method, you will never go back.
- 6 pork steaks, each an inch thick (do not go with anything thinner than an inch)
- Coarse salt
- BBQ rub
- BBQ sauce
- Season the pork steaks with the salt and BBQ rub
- Prepare the grill for two zone or indirect grilling with coals and smoke wood on one side and nothing on the meat on the other
- Target temperature is 300 degrees
- Place the seasoned pork steaks on the side of the grill with no heat, toss on a chunk of smoke wood or wood chips and close the lid
- After sixty minutes (or the pork steaks reach 150 degrees internally - whichever comes first), stoke up the hot side and give the pork steaks a quick sear on each side
- Place the pork steaks back on the side with no heat and slather both sides with BBQ sauce and close the lid for 15 minutes
- Slather with more sauce and close the lid for another 15 minutes
- Optional: repeat the slathering and lid closing one more time
- Otherwise, remove from the grill, allow to rest for a couple minutes and serve