St. Louis Pork Steaks: Traditional Food + Contemporary Technique

The Recipe: The best of two worlds, traditional St. Louis Pork Steaks + contemporary technique. How to cook pork steaks with smoke on the grill, they turn out tender and juicy.

The Conversation: What are the traditional foods that St. Louis is famous for? Who's heard of gooey butter cake?!

St. Louis Pork Steaks, tender and juicy cooked with smoke on the grill ♥

My adopted hometown of St. Louis is famous for a few old-time traditional St. Louis foods only found here.

To be sure, St. Louis isn't only about the old-style dishes. We have a thriving, collaborative contemporary food scene. This year, local chef and restaurateur Gerard Craft earned a James Beard "best chef" award! And BBQ? Yeah, man, St. Louis has a budding BBQ scene too! Look out Memphis and Kansas City!

But I digress! Back to those old-time traditional St. Louis food icons!

GOOEY BUTTER CAKE St. Louis' famous gooey butter cake – for short, that's just "gooey butter" to locals – has kinda-sorta spread cross-country but really, it's only here in St. Louis that you'll find it at nearly every family party and not one but two bakery businesses built around just one thing, gooey butter.

TOASTED RAVIOLI Then there's "toasted ravioli" – which isn't actually toasted but breaded and deep-fried – and is usually served with marinara sauce.

PROVEL CHEESE St. Louis even has its own style pizza. It's a thin-crust pizza and is cut in small easy-to-handle squares not tippy wedges. It's topped with a cheese called "provel". Never heard of provel? No surprise, it's a St. Louis thing, a blend of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses. It's got a low melting point, great for pizza.

Should I mention again that St. Louis is my "adopted" hometown? I love my life here in eastern Missouri at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers but you know how they say that some foods are an "acquired taste"? Well, I'm still waiting to acquire the taste for gooey butter cake (soooo so sweet) and toasted ravioli (just not that interesting) and provel cheese (so processed). Honestly? The pizza itself is growing on me!

PORK STEAKS Until we found this recipe in a local food magazine, pork steaks eluded my taste as well. Usually St. Louis pork steaks swim in a sea of barbecue sauce, soft bites of fatty meat.

In fact, my friend Karen Tedesco of Family Style Food once catered a weekend gathering of mothers and daughters from across the US and Canada in my home. I wanted an "all St. Louis" menu one night and Karen, who's as creative and capable a cook as anyone I know, declined – yes, declined! – to make pork steaks, the logical protein course. I understood, since I didn't really like pork steaks either, at least how they're usually cooked.

Enter this recipe from Grillin' Fools, a St. Louis food blog. Here the pork steaks are cooked over smoke (flavor!) and then imbues smoke into the sauce (still more flavor)!

These St. Louis Pork Steaks? When done right (that means without overcooking the steaks), they turn out tender and juicy and smoky.

These St. Louis Pork Steaks? It was easy to "acquire the taste" with the very first bite! I like to think they're the best of both worlds: traditional St. Louis + contemporary technique.

Now about that gooey butter ...

Step-by-Step Photos of this recipe from St. Louis food blogger Scott Thomas at Grillin' Fools
Grilled & Braised Pork Steaks from St. Louis food blogger John Griffin from Kitchen Riffs
St. Louis Pork Steaks from America's Test Kitchen
St. Louis Pork Steaks from the Barbecue Bible and Steve Raichlen
Copycat Maull's BBQ Sauce from the Barbecue Bible and Steve Raichlen
Quick Grilled Pork Steaks from St. Louis food blogger Kevin Haberberger
How to Cut Pork Steaks from a Boston Butt (Pork Shoulder) from FeastTV, starts at about 16min mark


Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Time to table: 2 hours
  • 18 ounces favorite BBQ sauce
  • 1 ham hock
  • Pork steaks, preferably 1-inch thick or more
  • Favorite BBQ rub
  • Salt & pepper
  • Wood for smoke, preferably cherry, apple, peach, hickory, etc.

DOCTOR IT A few hours (or a day or so) before cooking the pork steaks, simmer the BBQ sauce and ham hocks in a small slow cooker for a few hours, it'll smell great!

SEASON 'EM If you like, cut each steak into two or three smaller steaks, following the natural lines of the meat. While you're in there, cut off the fat along the outer edges, the most obvious stuff. Rub the meat with a good coating of a good rub, salt and pepper.

SMOKE 'EM Set up indirect grilling in a grill, coals and some wood for smoking on one side (the direct-cooking "hot" side), nothing on the other (the indirect-cooking "cold" side). When the coals are hot and the wood is smoking, put the steaks on the cold side and cook at 250F/120C until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160F/70C, about one hour.

CHAR 'EM Move the steaks to the hot side to sear both sides, just a quick outer crust.

COAT 'EM Place about half the warm BBQ sauce in a bowl. Move the steaks back to the cold side and brush generously with sauce.

GRILL 'EM If needed, add wood to the hot side for lots of smoke. Close the lid and grill for 5 minutes. Brush more sauce onto the steaks (no skipping the second application!) and grill for another 5 minutes.

SERVE 'EM Serve these hot from the grill with the remaining warm doctored BBQ sauce on the side.

ALANNA's TIPS What in heck is a pork steak, you ask? It's a pork shoulder (also called a Boston butt for reasons that elude me entirely ...) cut into steaks. Here in St. Louis, the typical cut is 3/4-inch thick, that's what you'll find in the local grocery stores and even Whole Foods. But for this recipe, you'll want to go out of your way to have thicker steaks cut, at least an inch thick, up to an inch and a half. The irony, of course, is that people outside of St. Louis, who'll need a butcher to cut the pork steaks from a pork shoulder/Boston butt, may have an easier time getting the thicker-cut steaks! We allow about six ounces per steak, some of that's fat and bone. If you do use the thinner cut, please know they are easy to overcook and dry out. Yes, we learned this the hard way, the last time we made them. To avoid overcooking the steaks, I'd recommend cooking the steaks only to 140F/60C in the "Smoke 'Em" stage, then let them finish cooking on the grill. We love "doctoring" a good BBQ sauce with a ham hock! A typical bottle of BBQ sauce fits perfectly into a small slow cooker like this one, any bigger, the ham hock won't be submerged. We've used the traditional St. Louis loca BBQ from Maull's, also whatever is in the pantry. To make St. Louis Pork Steaks ahead of time for a party, say, go through the "Smoke 'Em" step and then refrigerate for up to a couple of hours. Just before serving, gently rewarm the steaks on the grill in the "Sear 'Em" step and make sure to use really hot BBQ sauce.
NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Steak, assumes six-ounce bone-in pork steaks with visible fat removed, assumes use of half the BBQ sauce: 293 Calories; 18g Tot Fat; 7g Sat Fat; 80mg Cholesterol; 263mg Sodium; 6g Carb; 0g Fiber; 4g Sugar; 19g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 7 & WW Points Plus 7.
Adapted from Feast Magazine.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!

Pork Steaks, a St. Louis Food Tradition

Pork shoulder aka Boston Butt cut into St. Louis Pork Steaks

Yeah, so pork steaks are cheap, here just $2.18 per pound. No wonder they're popular for parties! You can also pay more, our last batch came from Whole Foods for $4.99 a pound. Was there a difference? Not that I could tell.

Tender juicy bites of St. Louis Pork Steaks cooked with smoke on the grill ♥

Use this recipe to produce is tender, juicy bites of good pork meat with just the right (small) amount of good barbecue sauce. It's the best of two worlds: traditional St. Louis food + contemporary technique.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Butts were the barrels they were shipped in from Boston.

  2. Mary ~ I had no idea! You’re as good as Wikipedia! : - ) It adds this: In pre-revolutionary New England and into the American Revolutionary War, some pork cuts (not those highly valued, or "high on the hog," like loin and ham) were packed into casks or barrels (also known as "butts") for storage and shipment. The way the hog shoulder was cut in the Boston area became known in other regions as "Boston butt".


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna