Tootsie Tomanetz has been cooking barbecue for fifty years, an art she didn’t start practicing professionally until she was in her thirties. When she began her career in Giddings, offset smokers weren’t nearly as popular as they are today. Then, barbecue was cooked directly over wood coals, and that’s the way she’s always done it.
When she and Kerry Bexley opened Snow’s BBQ together in 2003, Tomanetz insisted on direct-heat pits. Bexley set to building them to her specifications, with the cooking grates 30″ off the ground. He has also built a couple of enormous offset smokers to meet their ever-growing brisket demands, and every Saturday he throws a few racks of pork ribs on there.
Customers began trickling 30 minutes before the 8 a.m. opening on a recent Saturday. Tomanetz had arrived hours earlier, and spent the morning shoveling coals and mopping pork ribs, half chickens, and pork steaks cut as thick as a big city ribeye. I ordered it all, but it’s the humble pork steak—a whole Boston butt cut into four or five thick slices—that grabs my attention every time. I’ll never be able to explain how she does it, but these are the ingredients Tootsie brings together to make one of my favorite bites of barbecue in Texas:
Snow’s BBQ Pork Steaks
1 whole, bone-in pork shoulder cut into two-inch thick slices (yields 4 or 5 steaks)
60/40 mix of table salt and 16 mesh ground black pepper
For the meat you’ll have to find a butcher or a helpful grocery store meat market. I purchased a Boston butt at Whole Foods in Dallas at $3.99 per pound recently, and they cut it on the bandsaw for me at no charge.
Season the meat liberally, but don’t rub it in. At Snow’s, they season their meat the day before putting it on the pit, but when I tried it at home I added the salt-and-pepper mix just before putting it on. Plan to cook it over a bed of wood coals (or charcoal) for about 5 or 6 hours. (Tootsie doesn’t use a thermometer, but shoot for 250-275 degrees at the cooking grate. The flavor from fat dripping into the coals is impossible to replicate in an offset smoker, but these steaks are still good when cooked low-and-slow in one. If you choose to go that route, consider firing up a charcoal grill to finish them up over direct heat. (On the other end of the spectrum, maybe what your backyard needs is a cinder block pit.)
Tootsie likes to cook her pork steaks most of the way through on one side before flipping them, and she flips them only once. She also mops the meat thoroughly during the cook with her mop sauce.
Tootsie’s Mop Sauce
1 gallon water
2 medium white onions, peeled and quartered
1 stick butter
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire
2 tablespoons dry mustard
Boil water and add quartered onions. Continue to boil for at least ten minutes. Add butter and stir until melted. Take water off heat and add all other ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Keep on stovetop at a low simmer or move it to the pit to keep it warm.
Mop the pork steaks liberally four or five times during the cook. Once the meat becomes tender and the fat begins to crisp on the edges, take it off the pit. This cut doesn’t have to be falling apart to be done. Let it rest for 30 minutes, then slice against the grain and serve.