Savoring St Louis’s Summer Specialty
St. Louis takes its barbeque serious. So serious, that we proudly lay claim to our own barbecue specialty – the pork steak. Just as iconic as brisket is to Texas and pulled pork is to Memphis, pork steaks are a St. Louis tradition. The traditional summer barbecue cut may not be familiar with you if you’re not a native St. Louisan.
According to barbecue aficionados, pork steaks began to surface back in the 1950s when local meat cutters sliced the first pork steaks from the pork shoulder (aka, the pork butt). It’s an inexpensive cut that became an instant hit with backyard grillers, which compared to spare ribs or St Louis’s other nationally know St Louis-style ribs cost a fraction.
“Pork steaks are a favorite no doubt about it. But few people know about them outside the area,” said Frank Schmer, president of the St. Louis BBQ Society. “Visitors often ask me what’s the big deal about pork steaks and I tell them it’s simple. They’re good, cheap and easy to grill.”
Pork steaks are considered an ancillary category in the professional barbecue world. Instead of cutting the pork shoulders/butts into steaks they are left whole, spice rubbed and slow smoked. The method pit masters use in competition is traditionally turned into judges sliced, pulled or chopped. It’s what this foodie and Certified St Louis Society BBQ judge calls a deconstructed pork steak.
“You rarely see pork steaks cooked in barbecue competitions outside of St Louis,” said Schmer. “However, pork steaks are a category included at the Wildwood BBQ Blast held each September.”
Cooking techniques for the venerable pork steak does vary. Amateur and professional competition pit masters will almost always season and slow smoke while the average backyard barbecue cook will fast grill then place them in a pan swimming in sauce to simmer. Yes, swim, which is the reason St. Louis uses 2 1/2 times more barbecue sauce than any other city in the country.
This summer pork steaks will appear at almost everywhere, especially at local barbecue fundraisers hosted by community groups at local churches, contests and festivals. However, pork steaks are a little harder to find on the menu. Here’s a short list on where to savor St Louis’s summer specialty along with the four-pound Pork Steak Challenge.
The Pork Steak Challenge: The Beerhouse at River City Casino and Hotel
Attention competition eaters: Are you up for the challenge? The four-pound pork steak challenge is where River City Casino and Hotel Executive Chef John Johnson invites the hungry to step up to the plate for the River City Pork Steak Challenge at The Beerhouse. Eat the four-pound sauced pork steak along with a pound of potato salad, a pound of fried onion rings and you get the meal free along with a Beerhouse tee-shirt, a giant cupcake and of course, bragging rights for the rest of your life. If the four-pounder is too much to try, no worries, The Beerhouse offers a 16-ounce pork steak on the menu.
Caleco’s Bar & Grill (101 N. Broadway in Downtown)
Pork steaks served simmered, stewed or grilled in delicious barbecue sauce
Fitz’s Bottling Company (6605 Delmar in The Loop)
The Kingsland Pork Steak: An apple smoked center-cut, custom spiced rubbed pork steak that’s topped with Fitz’s Root Beer BBQ Sauce.
Hammerstone’s (9th& Russell in Soulard)
One-pound BBQ Pork Steak topped either the jalapeno or KC style BBQ sauce by Maull’s,St Louis’s original hometown barbecue sauce.
Highway 61 Roadhouse & Kitchen (34 South Old Orchard, Webster Groves)
Pork steaks cooked slow and smoked before getting slathered in barbecue sauce, St Louis style.
Guest Blogger Suzanne Corbett a freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri contributed to this blog.