Category Archives: Pork Steak

Smoked Bacon Wrapped Pork Steaks

Pork steaks, the 1″ or so slices of a Boston Butt (pork shoulder), are a St. Louis institution. A “true” St. Louisan would cook the hell out of them over direct heat and then chuck them into a bath of Maull’s BBQ sauce and Budweiser to simmer for a while. When I say direct heat, I mean a generous pile of charcoal lit by lighter fluid until the grill surface exceeds 500 degrees, only to be cooled by spritzing Bud Light onto the flames. Serve with corn on the cob, vinegary slaw, and gooey butter cake.

It’s one of those tastes / mouthfeels that pulls you to a time and place in your past. Oppressive August heat and humidity, standing on a zoysia grass lawn in swim trunks while a sprinkler mists you and your siblings and neighbors. Your feet are covered in grass clippings and mud from your trip down the Slip n Slide, half of the spraying nozzles shooting in weird directions. Beer cans still had pull tabs. An ice cream truck is audible but not visible, having stopped off at some other family’s summer BBQ. Your uncle has opinions about unions and urban crime that he only shares once he’s full of light beer. An overloaded wax paper plate barely contains all that food, a swirl of sauce and slaw dressing drips on to a card table with a ripped yellow foam and plastic pleather top. Patterned too-thin napkins do a poor job of cleaning the sauce off your face. The meat is dried out and over tender, but the Mets are pond scum, and dammit it’s tasty. Sip on some orange Vess soda.This is an STL summer BBQ in the late 80s.

Just a few weeks ago at the Webster Groves carnival, I re-sampled the traditional STL pork steak. While nostalgic, it’s an experience best left in the past.

Only the finest pork steaks from Schnucks

Only the finest pork steaks from Schnucks

A couple pork steaks were well-dusted with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, given a nice sprinkling of dried sage, and conservatively added a few shakes of Slap Ya Mama, a spicy seasoning souvenir from my trip to Florida last year.

Since bacon-wrapping whole pork steaks might be tricky, given their size and shape, I elected to cut them in half before wrapping.

Halved, seasoned pork steaks

Halved, seasoned pork steaks

I experimented both with and without water-soaked bamboo skewers. It turns out that they were unnecessary.

Probably a little more skewer than necessary

Probably a little more skewer than necessary

In a Weber 22″, I set up for indirect smoking with a 1/2 chimney of Kingsford charcoal and apple wood chunks. The lid should be oriented so that the vent is open and over the meat, so the smoke and heat must be drawn past the pork as it leaves the grill. This ensures lots of smoke flavor and even cooking.

Grill set up, ready for smoke

Grill set up, ready for smoke

After about 30 minutes, I checked on the pork steaks and flipped them.

Wonderful color, great smoke texture on the bacon

Wonderful color, great smoke texture on the bacon

I love how bacon will curl and harden after smoking. The temptation to pull of those crispy curls is strong.

Close up of porky goodness

Close up of porky goodness

Once flipped, I left them alone for a little more smoke and tossed a couple more wood chunks on the coals.

The underside of the half-completed pork steaks

The underside of the half-completed pork steaks

Grill-marked smoked bacon

Grill-marked smoked bacon

After another 15-20 minutes, I pulled the meat and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. I’d hate to cut into one of these and have all the juices spill out.

Finished product

Finished product

Cross section of bacon wrapped pork steaks

Cross section of bacon wrapped pork steaks

For once I managed to get some great color on bacon-wrapped meat. It’s been a struggle in the past, but these pork steaks possessed a wonderful pink ring along the outside.

Close up bite with smoke ring detail

Close up bite with smoke ring detail

Tender, juicy… lots of pork flavors and crispy bacon texture. These are not your classic St. Louis pork steaks. No Maull’s, no beer bath, no shredding over tender dried out pork.

I repeated this on a larger scale on a UDS a week later.

Love my country house UDS

Love my country house UDS

These came out just as well as the trial versions I made at home.

Hungry family members were pleased

Hungry family members were pleased

Classic childhood food experiences have a place. In the case of bad pork steaks, that place is firmly in the past. Slow smoking pork steaks is the way to go.

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2012 Schlafly World Pork Steak Championships

One of the best days of the year for an amateur St. Louis BBQer was yesterday at the Pavilion in Chesterfield’s Central Park: the Annual Schlafly World Pork Steak Championships. I have been practicing for a few weeks on an entree and my pork steaks, and my partner, Mike, has been working on an appetizer. We’ve done this together for four years now and it’s always a blast, despite the fact that we always get too drunk and finish near last.

We got the tent set up around 8:30 or so. Say hello to everyone, Mike! Be sure to look as silly as possible.

Hi, everybody!

Easily one of the coolest CPAs I know…

Mike brought his fancy Weber 22.5″ and I brought the Big Blue smoker.

Where the magic happens

Appetizer due at 2:00pm, entree due at 2:30pm, and pork steaks due at 3:00pm.

Planned Menu:

Appetizer – Balsamic marinaded chicken kebabs, paired with a porter beer

Entree – Smoked steelhead trout BLT paninis, paired with an IPA

Pork Steaks – Smoked for about 2 hours at 200 degrees after a dredging in a mustard/beer/brown sugar paste, followed by a brief sear on each side

Competitor Meeting at 9:30am:

No foreign objects allowed, as in no kebab skewers. Also, you can garnish as much as you want, contrary to what the rules said. Also, beer sales are at 12:00 noon, and apparently you could have brought your own package beer after all. Mike was totally bent out of shape by all of this.

Appetizer: (Sorry, but I didn’t get any photos of this)

With some input from my wife, Mike changed things on the fly to lettuce wraps with the chicken and some grilled veggies. He also changed the beer pairing from a dark beer to a summer lager.

Mike toasted peanuts in a foil pouch, grilled some bok choy (Chinese cabbage) and bell peppers, and grilled his chicken as usual. It was all chopped up and tossed in some large leaf lettuce with peanut sauce and dry asian slaw.

Frankly, the appetizer was delicious. We all liked it, but apparently the judges didn’t find it top ten worthy. It was probably Mike’s best effort to date. Good work.


I generally followed the recipe from a few practice sessions ago when we first tried the smoked steelhead trout BLT paninis. Both huge filets were generously covered on the non-skin side with Lawry’s seasoned salt and coarse black pepper.

Simply seasoned fish

Due to some grill space issues, one of the cedar planks had to be put on the Weber 22″ over indirect heat and the other had to go on the smoker where the pork steaks (discussed later) were already in the midst of a hickory wood smoke.

Smoked steelhead trout, skin ready to come off

As entree assembly time approached, only the fish on the smoker grate was ready to go. The one on the Weber was underdone. This would turn out to be a critical piece of fortune.

After about 30-40 minutes of cooking, the skin peeled right off in one piece and the fish was ready for a little more cooking.

Skinned fish filet

The BLTs were assembled with the pre-cooked thick-cut maple bacon, some real mayonnaise, arugula, and vine ripened tomatoes, all on white ciabatta bread rolls.

Set up and ready for fish

After putting generous, massive pieces of fish on each sandwich, I put the assembled sandwiches on the smoker and used a paver brick wrapped in foil as a panini press.

While the sandwiches finished, we tried the remaining filet. Much to our surprise, the flavor was much richer and buttery than it had been in the past. Something about the two wood smoking and the drum smoker as opposed to the Weber improved the fish dramatically.

Then, after each side of the sandwich got a pressing, we pulled them and cut each in half. Six individual servings were required.

Paninied sandwiches

They looked good. They tasted amazing. I felt pretty good about my chances. If nothing else, I made something delicious and was getting excited to make some sandwiches for the group once the other filet finished on the Weber.

I needed to pair it with a beer. What better to go with something sweet and smoky and full of fish than an IPA? I selected the Goose Island IPA as my pairing.

BLT w/ Fish

I turned it in and was pleased… despite the pork steak fiasco. Read on.

Pork Steaks:

The plan was to replicate my prior successes at making pork steaks by dredging them through some paste/mud of mustard, beer, brown sugar, pepper, spice, paprika, etc.

Dredge paste ready to go

Each of the pork steaks, and the only gave us three this year, was liberally coated.

Pork steaks in their spicy mud bath

Rubber gloves for food safety. After all, the county health inspector is around.

Safety first. Pork hands are not good.

The witches’ brew of hickory smoke billowed from Big Blue. The time for pork steaks is at hand.

Catastrophe coming…

The pork steaks met the smoke about 2 hours before turn in time. We were busy getting the appetizer and entree prepared and they are a low-maintenance dish. Little did I realize that the temperature was climbing, rapidly and dangerously.

Big Blue usually sits at 200 degrees, barely going over 225. Today, however, it rose to 300 then 350. When I finally realized it was at 350, I knew I was screwed.

Oh crap

In the part trial runs, these things were ready for a flip and continued smoke at an hour. After two hours, they were super tender, hyper-moist, and very flavorful. My plan was to give them a brief sear to get some BBQish crispiness on the outside, at about 2 minutes per side or less, after the smoking was over. No point now.

What a nightmare. I was quite dejected, a feeling that passed later for reasons you will read. Eventually, as explained below, I figured out why this happened. Basically this was the low part of the day.

I cut six slices from the least awful pork steak and turned them in with zero expectations of success. The other two were inedible. Time for a shitload of beers and some contemplation how this freak accident happened.

Awards Ceremony:

Whilst we waited for them to announce the awards, we hit the craft beer tent pretty hard.

Beer tent. What a nice way to spend a 95 degree day.

Mike caught up on his summer reading.

Scandalous! Fabulous! OMFG S&M!

They announced the appetizer winners without mentioning us. Damned shame, but better luck next year.

As a quick aside, my expectations were low. While we were prepping our pork steaks, the guy next to us came over and let us try some of his Tri-Tip that he turned in as his entree. Holy MFing Shit, it was amazing. Juicy, flavorful, perfectly cooked. If this is what I am up against, then I’m screwed.

Much to my pleasant surprise, I was announced as the Third Place winner in the entree category!

Third Place is better than nothing!

It was my first BBQ trophy that didn’t involve something that’s apparently unethical, like parboiling pork ribs.

Obviously we were thrilled!


Oh, and I didn’t place in the pork steaks. They sucked. I knew they sucked when I made them and turned them in. I seriously messed up, as explained below. Whatever. I was happy to win something for the entree.


Not to ruin the story, but I was already dead in the water with respect to the pork steaks and I didn’t know it, before ever showing up that morning.

The night before the competition, I thoroughly cleaned out Big Blue. For weeks, I had been practicing with a lining of BBQ drippings, ash, coal, etc. all cemented to the bottom and lower walls of the smoker. It had been performing consistently and in a manner that I could control and predict. I don’t know why I cleaned it out; I just did.

During the competition, the temperature spiked uncontrollably a few times. It went up to 350 out of nowhere and stayed hot. Even after dousing the fire and closing the baffles, it jumped to 400. Two of the three pork steaks dried out and the third was a mediocre shadow of my previous practice successes. A total fiasco that left me puzzled until I had a eureka moment in the middle of the night last night. Dammit. Live and learn.

Still, a great time and a good finish.

Mike was annoyed about the change in the package liquor rules. According to the original entry form, we would be disqualified if we had outside package beer or liquor. Tons of people had outside package beer and liquor, but not us. I mentioned to Mike that every prior year we had gotten blasted and someone had burnt themselves (usually Mike) and we had turned in sub-par food. This year we stayed bright, drank tons of water, and turned in some wonderful food. He begrudgingly agreed.

Now would be a good time for a beer. This one was awesome:

Matilda by Goose Island, my celebratory beer (among many)

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Pork Steak BBQ: 2012 Practice Session #2

In pursuit of the noble aim of perfecting the pork steak, I assembled my crew and got to grilling.

For the second practice session, I am abandoning the Weber 22″ and moving on to my homemade smoker, Big Blue.

Prior to putting the pork steaks on the grill, I cleaned the grill grate with a heavy lubrication of vegetable oil on a half onion. While a 3/4 full coal chimney did it’s job, I got my full bag of water-soaked hickory wood chunks (as opposed to chips). Once assembled, with the coals in the basket, wood on the coals, and grill grate in place, it looked like this:

Lots of flavor escaping!

On to the meat. This practice session will include two different recipes, though they are not too dissimilar to things I have made in the past.

First, 4 of the pork steaks were coated liberally in a brown sugar-based rub that included paprika, dry Italian herbs, onion powder, and Lawry’s seasoned salt. This rub was put only on one side of the meat, and, when the food goes on the grill, that side will be up.

These look pretty good, but for the raw pork issue

Second, the remaining 4 pork steaks were coated in a mustard-based paste, similar to but thinner than my brisket paste, and with far less paprika and no cayenne pepper. Then they were entombed in aluminum foil for over an hour to absorb the flavors.

Though unappetizing now, these will get better

Everybody on the grill:

Hard to see with all of the smoke

I tried several times to get a better picture than the one above, but the smoke was completely enveloping the steaks. I left them alone for 45 minutes, while the smoker was a shade above 200 degrees.

Less hazy, more delicious

How wonderful these look after 45 minutes! Earlier in the post, I mentioned that the grill grate was well-lubricated with vegetable oil. What effect did that have on the pork steaks, besides providing an effective non-stick coating? Flipping the meat will give the answer:

Grill lines!

The answer is beautiful grill lines! Presentation is one of the scoring categories in the BBQ pork steak competition, so getting them to look good is an important element of the practice.

About 30-45 minutes later, the smoker is at 250 degrees and the pork steaks are done. Each is cut in half for serving.

Pork steak two ways: Delicious and delicious

Personally, I found the mustard-pasted pork steaks to be juicier, and they had a much milder yet smoky flavor, as compared to the rub-covered pork steaks. Each picked up tremendous smoke flavor, while retaining the distinct seasonings applied pre-BBQ.

Perhaps it was the technique, but these were the juiciest pork steaks I have ever made. They were not the most tender (though they were quite tender), but they were wonderful. In fact, all in attendance made it a point to tell me that these were the best pork steaks that I have ever made, which is something to say since I have been BBQing with an eye to the craft for several years.

This brings up two challenges: (1) pick one and run with it, and (2) consistently replicate this.

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Pork Steak BBQ: 2012 Practice Session #1

Although the annual World Pork Steak Championships are no longer being held at the Schlafly Bottleworks, the St. Louis BBQ Society picked up the ball and continued the tradition. Good work, fellas. That means that I am still going to be presenting my best attempt at championship pork steaks on Memorial Day Saturday this year.

In addition to the pork steak and appetizer paired with a craft beer (to be handled by my BBQ teammate), we must also now come up with an entree paired with a craft beer. I have some ideas…

Back to the task at hand. After a long day of hard gardening, I was ready to get some meat on the grill.

Lots of Roma, cherry, & grape tomatoes

Lillies, peppers, & roses

I set up my Weber 22″ for indirect cooking with a heapin’ helpin’ of water-soaked cherry wood chips.

Wow that's a lot of wood

I picked up five center cut 1″ pork steaks from Schnucks. For those of you not from St. Louis, a pork steak is a pork shoulder (a/k/a Boston Butt) cut into 1″ steaks, each steak having a Y-shaped bone in the center.

It can be a tough piece of meat, and many people will drown it in abhorrent BBQ sauce or overcook it. My aim is to excell in three areas: taste, appearance, tenderness.

I decided to try two techniques tonight. Two of the steaks will get a brisket-esque paste and the other three will get a dry rub. All will be smoked on the grill, and then the two sets will tenderize in an apple juice-filled foil boat. I’ve never done this before with pork steaks, so who knows how it will turn out.

Pork steaks w/ yummy paste

To make the paste, I used about 6 oz. brown mustard, 1/3 cup brown sugar, some paprika, onion salt, Lawry’s seasoned salt, and maybe some other dry stuff. Each side was coated liberally.

Just another Sunday at the Simpson House

The other pork steaks got a dry rub, which consisted of 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup paprika, onion powder, garlic salt, Italian seasoning, cinnamon, Lawry’s seasoned salt, cayenne pepper, etc. Each side of each pork steak was generously coated.

All five pork steaks were smoked on each side for about 10-12 minutes.

At the conclusion of the cherry wood smoke, each set of pork steaks went into a foil boat with a little bit of apple juice to prepare for a tenderizing steam over semi-direct heat.

A foil ark

Now would be a good time for a beer. May I suggest one of my favorite yardwork beers – Boddington’s Pub Ale.

Like a little bit of England in my Missouri garden

After about 5-6 minutes of steaming, the foil boats got a 180 degree turn.

The bratwurst feel naked by comparison

Finally, I pulled all the meat. The pork steaks, when the competition rolls around, will need to be cut into two servings. That meansĀ a half that is loaded with fat and meat, and a half with the Y bone surrounded by meat and some outer ribbons of fat. Each half has distinct qualities.

Pork steak carnage

In my opinion, the pork steaks with the paste had more flavor, whereas my wife preferred the dry rub. Regardless, the kids destroyed them.

I felt like the steaming diluted the flavors from the rub/paste. You could definitely pick up on the smoke, but the flavors were not as strong. Perhaps on Practice Session #2 I can pull the pork steaks from the steam and follow up with a little seasoning and grilling to finish. Maybe the short time in the foil did not permit a true tenderization, and the juice/steam took off the flavorings that I had applied pre-smoke. The technique will need improving.

All in all, it was a great meal. Even the terminally-ill dog enjoyed the fat, trimmings, leftovers.

Oh shit more BBQ trimmings?!? NOM NOM NOM!!

I still need to come up with a BBQed entree to pair with a craft beer for this competition, in addition to perfecting the pork steaks. The BBQ appetizer… that’s for my partner to figure out.

For the past few years, we have been Team Shock & Awesome. I thought it was pretty funny, while somewhat distinctive. It was suggested that we change to Team Mesquite-squite-squite and use Lil’ Jon as a mascot. Is this too much?

Ignore the potential copyright concerns, please

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