Thursday, May 26, 2011

The National Barbecue of St. Louis

Let's be honest.  St. Louis is not known as a great barbecue town.  Now there are some decent places, but not nearly as many as Kansas City, Austin, Birmingham, or Memphis. 
But St. Louis does have one unique barbecue style that's not common elsewhere.  And that is the pork steak.
Pork steak?  What the heck is a pork steak?
Well, it's not really a steak as we know it.  Pork steaks are cut from the pork shoulder.  The butcher uses a band saw and slices the shoulder across the grain, about 1/2 inch thick.  There is bone in the steak and it's a fairly fatty cut of meat.
The locals cook the pork steaks by firing up a hot charcoal grill.  They liberally season the steaks with salt and pepper and toss them on to the hot fire.  It doesn't take long before the fat starts to melt and drip onto the hot coals and flame up.  Pretty soon the grill is awash in smoke and flames.  Since the steak is thin, it doesn't take long to cook.  When it's nearly done, the steak is slathered with barbecue sauce and the sauce is allowed to caramelize on the steak.  Only one sauce is acceptable, the national barbecue sauce of St. Louis:  Maull's.  This is a tangy, tomato-based sauce.  It does work well with the pork steaks, although it is not as sweet as some of the sauces that I like with pork.
Now these are tasty steaks, but they are a bit chewy.  Note that these are cooked fast off of a very tough cut of meat.  The only saving grace, as far as tenderness goes, is that the shoulder is sliced thin across the grain, resulting in a very short fiber that makes the meat seem less tough.
However, I have an improvement!
I take the pork steaks and one by one, layer them in a large pan suitable for placing in the oven.  As I layer the steaks, I liberally season them with a barbecue rub.  I then seal up the pan tightly with aluminum foil and place the pan into a 225 degree oven.  I'll leave them in the oven for 4-6 hours.  This time spent at low heat in a moist cooking environment allows some of the connective tissue to convert to gelatin, making the steak much more tender.  After the time in the oven, I toss these on the grill and finish off with a hearty dose of smoke and barbecue sauce.
Cook up a batch this weekend.


  1. This makes me think of my dad, who always barbecued with Maull's. Nothing says summer like barbecued pork steaks and corn on the cob.

  2. Sounds like a good way to cook pork steaks. Now I'm hungry!