Now we move on to part 3:
Got that cold frosty beer in your hand? Good. Plate of pork steaks? Perfect. We're ready to get cookin'!
The fire is your friend - and your enemy. Too much or too little of it and all that work, not to mention money (have you seen the price of pork lately?) is down the tubes. The secret to really good St. Louis pork steaks is finding the balance. Again, that's why a large cooking surface is really important.
In the picture above the pork steaks have just been put in the pit. On the left side you can see the charcoal and wood. Now, the charcoal you see in the picture is new. I just put it on top of the pile that came out of the starter. In other words, while it may not look real hot, it is. Also, notice where the one piece of hickory is. I'm using it to block the heat from the fire and prevent flare ups. You never want flare ups. Those pork steaks have got a lot of brown sugar on 'em and it'll burn in a heart beat. Keeping the lid closed and the dampers closed down will pretty well control the fire.
I've got the pork steaks arranged so that they are exposed to varying degrees of heat. The ones on the right, they're not getting much at all. And this is the secret to doin' pork steaks right. I want to rotate them in and out of the heat. I move them around about every 15 minutes or so for the first couple of hours, flippin' them over and changing their positions on the grill to cook 'em and give 'em a rest. Get 'em hot and cool 'em down.
But why go to all that trouble?
To get them to look like the steaks in the picture above. These have been in the pit for roughly two hours. Notice how the fat is changing. It's melting and getting crisp. The meat is beginning to pull away from the bone and the brown sugar is starting to caramelize. THAT'S how pork steaks should look.
There's one thing that every good pork steak guy knows - we're cooking fat, not meat. I don't know if all of us know it consciously or intuitively but that's what we're doing. And it's the fat and the way it reacts to the cooking the separates BBQ'd pork steaks from smoked. We're trying to slowly melt it and let it incorporate with the meat. Smokers will get pork steaks fall apart tender but they do it with the fat mostly intact - and greasy. BBQing dries the meat. And that's important because there's so much fat to begin with. We're trying to strike a balance. Too dry and the meat is tough. Too wet and it's greasy.
Keep your eye on the fat. It'll tell you when the meat is done
At this point it's time to get the meat away from the heat because it'll dry out way too much. And once again a big cooking area is your friend. I generally pile the meat up as far from the heat as I can. The reason I pile it up is because by this time the fat has cooked down pretty well and the meat could easily dry out. By piling it up I can let the fat that's still in the steaks wash down the pile helping to keep the moisture at a decent level for the rest of the cooking time. I rearrange the pile ever so often to make sure that all the steaks get an even amount of moisture.
Grab a cold beer out of the box and let's head into the house. It's time to make some sauce.
If you're from St. Louis you know that there's only one sauce, the mother sauce, Maull's. It's a hard sauce to describe. It's not really sweet, like Kansas City Sauce but it's not really vinegar based, either. It's somewhere in the middle. But here's the deal. In St. Louis, nobody ever uses it right out of that bottle. We all doctor it up, adding the things we like to it. I've never seen any other commercial sauce that'll let you do this so well. In that regard it truly is a mother sauce, just like the classic ones we all know.
One of the things that makes Maull's so good for pork steaks is that it's a relatively thin sauce. And that's really important. Cooking the way we do makes those steaks like sponges. They're just looking for a little moisture to suck up. So I thin it out even more.
As I said, we all have our own recipes for sauce and most of them are fairly loose and casual. Mine isn't any different. This drives my poor, sainted wife crazy because I never quantify anything I cook. And sorry to say I really don't know exact quantities with this, either. But I'll give it a shot.
And yes, I know that fresh garlic is better than the stuff in a jar but I forgot to get some and this is always there as a back up.
I use an 18 ounce bottle of Maull's. I pour it in a pot that's sitting on a really low flame. Add about a half can of beer. And drink the other half. Put in some cider vinegar, maybe an ounce or two, but that's just a guess. A handful of brown sugar, maybe a tablespoon of dried onions and a clove of garlic. Then taste it. No too tart, not too sweet. That's what I'm striving for. Let it simmer maybe 15 minutes or so. Go sit out on the porch and enjoy a cold refreshment as your reward while it cooks.
The sauce is going to be real thin, about like tomato soup but just a little thinner still. That's the way we want it.
And if you don't like that recipe make up one of your own. Who am I to judge?
At this point we're maybe 4 - 5 hours into the cooking and we're just about done. The fire has burned down to embers so there really isn't a lot of heat left. Just enough to caramelize the sauce. The pork steaks should be well cooked with the meat pulling away from the bones and the fat nice and crispy. You'll notice that the meat has become so tender that it tears when you move it. There'll still be a bit of moisture from the fat but it will be mostly absorbed or cooked away by now.
Using a mop, slather the sauce all over the meat. Close the lid. In about five minutes open the lid and you'll see most of the sauce has been absorbed and is beginning to caramelize. Flip the steaks and sauce up the other side. In about another five minutes flip 'em over again and put on more sauce. Just keep on going 'til you run out of sauce. Let 'em sit in there for about another beer and then you're done.
At this point you should be able to cut 'em with a fork. The sauce will be sticky but thin, kind'a like a glaze on ham. The meat, if you used cure, will have a definite hammy pinkness to it. There'll usually be a slight smoke ring, but not much because we really didn't smoke them heavily.
The brown sugar should be well caramelized but not burnt. The fat will be crispy and there should be no grease anywhere, unlike smoked pork steaks. The meat will be moist but not overly so and should melt in your mouth. You'll notice a certain creaminess that comes from the fat being absorbed into the meat.
So grab a beer, a plate full of pork, tuck in and eat!
Well guys, that's pork steak, St. Louis style. I've never written this down before and I sure enjoyed doing it. Most everyone I know in St. Louis learned by doing so I hope this works for you.
One other thing. The great thing about pork steaks here in my hometown is that we all have opinions about them. And we all think our way is the best way. I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly over the years but you know what? Regardless of how they're cooked and regardless of how they taste, pork steaks are a tradition, one that's passed down from parent to kid. The afternoons spent at the pit listening to the Cards and drinking beers, watching the kids play, arguing about the right way to do pork steaks and laughing about everything else can never be replaced.
It's a St. Louis thing.