Texans know that our barbecue culture is made up of more than just beef. Pork ribs are on nearly every barbecue menu in the state, and pulled pork has become increasingly popular over the past decade. But there’s a regrettably underused cut of pork that’s a perfect fit in the Texas barbecue lexicon: the pork steak.
The pork steak isn’t a steak like a ribeye’s a steak. It’s not tender enough for quick grilling. The beef equivalent would be a chuck steak. The name also isn’t very helpful if you’re looking to locate it on the animal—it’s from the pork butt, a.k.a. the pork shoulder. Because butt chop would be a challenging moniker on many levels, maybe it should more appropriately be called a shoulder steak to avoid confusion.
The cut is simply made by slicing a whole, bone-in Boston butt into steaks. Since the cuts go through the shoulder blade, it’s not easy to fabricate them at home, and most prepackaged pork steaks sold at grocery stores are far too thin for barbecue. You’ll need to find a grocery store with a bandsaw or a good butcher shop. A standard sized Boston butt will yield three to four thick pork steaks. They can be smoked until tender, or cooked slowly over direct heat, but it’s less work if you snag one at a nearby barbecue joint.
Given my personal experience, there’s a better chance of a pork steak being exceptional at a Texas barbecue joint than brisket. If it’s listed on the menu, there’s little doubt I’ll order it. The full list of joints that offer it in Texas isn’t a long one, but here are my favorites.
Bodacious Bar-B-Q in Hallsville — Only available on Thursday, this boneless pork steak is slow-smoked with oak wood. It’s of a medium thickness with a pleasant chew and a peppery sweet rub. This is one of the few East Texas joints cooking this cut.
Castell General Store in Castell — Saturday is barbecue day in Castell. The direct-heat pits are fired up outside this secluded store and loaded with chicken, ribs, and thick pork steaks. They’re highly seasoned from a rub and a mop sauce. If the slices are a little dry, dip them in the housemade barbecue sauce.
Double G Pit Stop in San Saba — Choose your own thick-cut pork steak from the pits out on the front porch. They’re cooked over mesquite coals and take on a hammy flavor from a salt rub applied the day before cooking.
Jake’s Bar-B-Que in Dime Box — This joint is open only Sunday mornings. Come at noon, and you’ll likely be too late for the thick, bone-in pork steaks. The dappled bark is salty and sweet, and the fatty edges are just the right amount of crisp.
Kolacny Bar-B-Q in Hallettsville* — It’s best to call ahead before a trip to Kolacny. They’re open only on Saturday and Sunday, and sell out rather quickly after their 10 a.m. opening time. The thick pork steaks cooked over hardwood coals are a big reason their barbecue is so popular with the locals. It’s pleasantly salty and perfectly tender pork.
Matus Pit Bar-Q in Caldwell — They call it pork butt on the menu, but these bone-in pork steaks are some of the best in the state. They open before sunrise on Saturday and Sunday, and the barbecue is gone before 11 a.m. You might as well get two pork steaks because they’re about half the price of anywhere else.
Ronnie’s BBQ in Johnson City — These are the thinnest of the bunch and can get a little dry as they sit in the warming tray. Come on the early side of the lunch hour and enjoy the mesquite-cooked steaks with edges that taste like bacon.
Snow’s BBQ in Lexington — Tootsie Tomanetz’s pork steak is the gold standard of the genre, and one of my favorite bites in Texas barbecue. It takes on the flavor of the fat dripping onto oak coals, along with the mustardy notes from the mop sauce. This version is also the most tender and succulently fatty of the thick-cut pork steaks.
Southside Market & Barbeque in Elgin — These medium-thick steaks are slow-smoked. I think they’re improved by a dash of the house hot sauce. These pork steaks are juicy but still a bit stout. They make you want to pick them up with your hands and take a bite.
* In one of my most egregious omissions, Kolacny Bar-B-Q was missing from the original listing.
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