Easy Midwest BBQ Pork Steaks

Most people don’t think of St. Louis has a unique culinary destination but the Lou stakes it’s claim to a lot of mid-western and American food.  We claim dozens of American classic foods invented at the 1904 worlds fair along with our local favorites like gooey butter cake, toasted ravioli, St. Louis style pizza, frozen custard, and of course the BBQ pork steak featured in this post.  Local grocery store owners Don and Ed Schnuck first sold the pork steak in the 50’s as a cheaper alternative and it has been barbecue staple in St. Louis ever sense.  A true St. Louis style BBQ pork steak combines dry rubs and sauces along with periods of high searing heat, long slow cooking, and often hardwood smoking to create a fork-tender flavorful cut of pork.

If you’re not from St. Louis and would like to know more about local cuisine, check out this article from explorestlouis.com.    

finished pork steak

St. Louis BBQ Pork Steaks

There are several acceptable ways to barbecue a pork steak but to be St. Louis style it needs to have at least 3 things, although not always in this particular order.  I’m sure some people will disagree with me, but this is my opinion.

  1. A short period of cooking with high heat to create a maillard reaction (grill marks).  This caramelization will greatly improve the flavor.
  2. A long period of cooking at lower temperatures to break down connective tissues and dissolve fats.  This is what makes it fork-tender.
  3. A combination of a dry-rub and liberal application of barbecue sauce.

While I prefer also infusing the meat with smoke I consider that to be optional.

The two most common ways this is done is with the crock-pot to grill method and the indirect/direct grilling method.  A third option would be smoker to grill.

In crock-pot to grill method you season your meat with a rub and then cook in a crock-pot, with additional barbecue sauce until tender.  Then you move to a grill with medium to high heat to sear in the flavor and bake the bbq sauce on.  The benefit of this method is that the sauce has a lot of time to penetrate the meat.  The downside is you’re using a crock-pot.  Don’t get me wrong, I like crock-pots, but no grilling recipe should start with putting the meat in a crock-pot.

With indirect/direct grilling you do all of the cooking on a grill but only use heat on one side to alternate between indirect and direct heat.  This is often accompanied by adding smoking woods during the indirect stage.  It can be started with indirect heat and finished over direct heat similar to the crock-pot method or seared first and then finished with indirect cooking.  Keeping the meat on the grill will give you much more flavor than a crock-pot especially if you add smoking chips.  The only think missing is the long time soaking in BBQ sauce that the crock-pot gives you.  That’s why I put together an easy way to give you the best of both worlds.

Easy BBQ Pork Steaks

This method combines grilling with a long slow cook in barbecue sauce with indirect heat on the grill.  It will give you a fork-tender pork steak that is moist, saucy, and full of flavor.  You will love how easy and hands-off it is.

Start with good thick pork steaks.  If you aren’t from an area that sells pork steaks then ask your butcher to cut a bone-in pork shoulder roast into 1 inch steaks.  Most butchers should be able to accommodate you.

Apply a dry rub at least 1 hour in advance or up to 48 hours.  The longer the rub is on the more it will penetrate the meat with flavor and the salt will help improve tenderness.  Don’t sweat it if you can’t apply it more than an hour in advance.  As long as it’s at least 1 hour in advance you’ll still have great pork steaks.  Since this is directions for the easy way I went with a store-bought dry rub.  McCormick and Weber both make good BBQ rubs that I’d recommend.

Preheat your grill to it’s maximum temperature.  If you are using charcoal keep the fire to one side.  A gas grill is useful because you can turn burners on and off to regulate temperature.  Add some smoking chips if you would like.

Pork steaks first placed on grill

Place pork steaks over direct heat and cook 4-5 minutes.  Turn 45-90 degrees and continue cooking 4- 5 more minutes.  This will give you a nice grill mark pattern and increase the amount of maillard reaction that occurs.

Pork steaks with good sear

Flip the pork steaks and repeat the process.  You want to ensure you have good grill marks with plenty of charring.  The steak on the right above is perfect!

pork steaks with bbq sauce

During the last rotation apply a liberal coat of barbecue sauce to each pork steak.  After cooking for 4-5 minutes flip the pork steaks and apply sauce to the other side.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes.  I used Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce.

At this point the steaks should be nearly cooked but they aren’t tender yet.  Stack the steaks up and wrap in foil.  If you are using gas turn off all but one burner.  Place the wrapped pork steaks on the cool side of the grill.  You will want to leave them here for at least 5 – 6 hours (or longer) with the grill temperature as close to 225 degrees Fahrenheit as possible.  If you are using a charcoal grill you will have to add charcoal during this time.  This gives you the soaked in sauce flavor without drying out the meat and the long slow cooking continues to tenderize the meat.

pork steaks wrapped in foil

About 20 minutes before you are ready to eat remove the pork steaks from the foil and return to direct heat for about 5 minutes on each side.  Apply additional barbecue sauce if needed.  Let the meat rest and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

BBQ pork steak on a plate

I hope you enjoy this St. Louis tradition as much as me.  Please leave me a comment if you have any questions or letting me know how you liked them.

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