Pork steaks are a curiously named, yet delicious cut of meat that even seasoned cooks can find confusing. Often assumed to be some variant of the ever-popular pork chop, pork steaks are actually their own unique cut taken from the shoulder of the pig rather than the loin. In this guide, we will clear up exactly what pork steaks are, how to select them, and tips for cooking pork steaks to beautifully tender, succulent perfection in your own kitchen.
An Introduction to the Pork Shoulder Steak
Known by a confusing array of names, from blade chops, blade steak, blade roast to pork shoulder steaks, these cuts are boldly flavored from the hard-working muscles found in the front leg and shoulder of the pig. While they may be called steaks, unlike steak cuts taken from the hindquarters of cattle, the moderate fat content and rich connective tissues of pork shoulder require special care to reach peak tenderness.
Simple but flavorful, pork steaks take well to a variety of marinades and spice rubs. Served with grilled vegetables, topped with a pan sauce, or tucked into a sandwich, pork steaks are perfect for easy summer grilling or one-pot meals all year round. Their affordable price point makes putting these cuts on regular rotation an easy decision for home cooks. Let’s start from the beginning and gain a full understanding of where pork steaks are cut from, their characteristics, and best practices for cooking resulting in delightful pork perfection.
Defining What a Pork Steak Is
A pork steak is simply a thick cross-section slice of pork shoulder, a well-used area on the pig supporting the front legs and head. Far less tender than pork chops taken from the loin area along the back, the shoulder muscles get more of a workout and consequently develop heavier connective tissues.
These steaks have an appearance very similar to beef shoulder steaks, typically measuring 3⁄4 to 1 1⁄2 inches thick and 4-6 inches across. The moderate marbling results in moist, flavorful meat when cooked properly but requires more time, slower cooking, and less direct heat compared to leaner chops or loin cuts.
The Names and Details of Pork Shoulder Steak Cuts
Pork steaks go by a variety of alternate names depending on region and butcher preference, with shoulder blade steak, Boston butt steak, pork shoulder arm steak, and pork blade steak used interchangeably. Pork shoulder consists of two major muscles – the Boston butt and the picnic. Blade steaks and arm steaks come specifically from the pork butt or upper portion and contain a large center bone. Pork shoulder steaks may also be bone-in or have the bone removed.
These cuts have a slightly higher fat content more akin to beef chuck or brisket. When trimmed well, expect pork steaks to have a 70/30 ratio of meat to fat marbling, allowing it to remain juicy as it cooks while also requiring time to break down the abundant connective tissues into luscious gelatin.
Color may be slightly darker with some visible marbling lines compared to a pork chop, with darker outer areas that caramelize well during cooking. Look for good marbling as it bastes the meat from within and keeps it from drying out. Select flexible steaks over extremely stiff cuts indicating higher collagen levels needing extra time to dissolve.
Plan on about 3⁄4 pound of boneless pork shoulder steak per average serving to allow for trim loss and shrinkage during cooking. These cuts work well for portioning out single servings but can easily feed larger groups when cooked whole or in multiples.
Cooking Methods for Tender, Juicy Pork Steaks
Due to higher fat and collagen levels, pork shoulder steaks do not respond well to quick, high heat cooking. While a lean pork chop may cook through nicely on the grill or under the broiler, subjecting a pork steak to similar direct top-down heat will likely result in a tough, dry exterior surrounding undercooked meat.
For best results, cooking over gentle indirect heat utilizing moist methods allow connective tissues to slowly transform while keeping meat cushioned in steam. Braising, simmering in liquid, stewing, and gentle oven roasting are all excellent options. Smoking and sous vide methods also enable collagen melting without aggressive heat penetration.
If using the grill or broiler, maintain a cooler temperature below 400F indirect with the lid down. Resist the urge to flip constantly, instead allowing at least 4-5 minutes per side with the lid closed. Baste with sauce for extra moisture and pull 5 degrees before final doneness allowing carryover cooking to complete without overdrying.
Cook pork steaks to an internal temperature of at least 195-200F to sufficiently dissolve connective tissues for a tender finish. Expect cooking times ranging from 45 minutes to 1 1⁄2 hours depending on thickness, bone-in vs boneless, and cooking method selected. The meat should shred easily when poked with a fork at completion.
Injecting with broth, marinating for 6-12 hours, or applying a salty spice rub improves moisture and flavor. Combining cooking liquids into a finishing sauce provides a perfect topping note. Apple, pear, cranberry, pineapple, BBQ sauce, mustard glazes, mole, jerk, or adobo spice blends all pair particularly well with pork shoulder.
Where on the Pig are Pork Steaks From?
Without question, pork steaks originate from the front leg/shoulder region rather than the loin. This area supports much of the body weight of walking, standing, and lying down, causing significant connective tissues to develop while also storing energy reserves as fat.
Specifically the Boston Butt working muscles within the shoulder gives rise to the cuts alternatively called pork shoulder steaks, blade steaks, or pork butt steaks. Long, slow cooking transforms these economically priced cuts into sublime shredworthy masterpieces loaded with mouthwatering flavors. Their affordability makes keeping a package on hand easy while offering a nice change of pace from typical pork chops and loin roasts.
Hopefully this guide has helped explain exactly what a pork steak is – namely a cross-section of the well-worked shoulder muscles from America’s favorite white meat. While they require more time to properly cook for tenderness compared to faster grilling chops and loin cuts, the satisfaction of serving these succulent budget-friendly cuts is well worth the wait. The next time you see pork steaks or blade roasts at the market, bring one home for a fabulous weeknight dinner or easy weekend meal packed with comforting flavors.