Do you want to know what a Chicago-style steak is? What sets Chicago-style steak apart from other steak types like Pittsburgh? Is it the cooking technique, seasoning, or unique flavor blend?
Join us as we delve into this iconic steak style, discovering why it’s a must-try for steak aficionados.
So grab a napkin and prepare to indulge in the succulent world of Chicago-style steak. The sizzle awaits!
What is Chicago Style Steak, and What are its Defining Characteristics?
Chicago-style steak represents the epitome of culinary excellence in the Windy City. Every aspect defines a Chicago-style steak from prime cuts of beef and generous marbling to the art of dry aging and achieving the coveted charred crust.
Chicago-style steak is grilled or broiled and then topped with a flavorful, creamy, slightly spicy brown gravy. The gravy is made with various ingredients, including beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and brown sugar. It is then thickened with flour or cornstarch and simmered until thick and flavorful.
Since not all steaks are the same, Chicago is also unique. Below are a few characteristics that make it different from others.
The Roots of Chicago-Style Steak
Chicago-style steak has deep roots in the city’s rich history, which has been a hub for meatpacking and beef production since the 19th century. The availability of prime cuts of beef and a thriving stockyard industry laid the foundation for the development of a unique steak culture in Chicago.
Prime Cuts and Marbling
At the heart of Chicago-style steak is the use of prime cuts of beef, like ribeye or New York Strip, renowned for their tenderness and flavor. These beef cuts are generously marbled with fat. This marbling enhances the taste and ensures a juicy texture, making each bite a delight for the senses.
Dry Aging for Superior Flavor
A distinguishing feature of Chicago-style steaks is the practice of dry aging. Beef is carefully stored in a controlled environment during this process, allowing it to tenderize naturally and develop a more concentrated flavor profile.
Dry aging can take several weeks, resulting in a depth of flavor that sets Chicago-style steaks apart from other preparations.
The Signature Charred Crust
One of the most prominent characteristics of Chicago-style steak is its signature charred crust. Achieving this charred exterior involves searing the steak at high temperatures.
It caramelizes the meat’s surface and creates a delightful contrast of textures. The charred crust locks in the natural juices, imparting a smoky flavor that enhances the overall taste experience. However, the meat inside isn’t raw; it’s medium-rare or medium for doneness levels.
Grilling and Broiling Techniques
Chicago-style steaks are typically cooked using grilling or broiling techniques. Grilling allows for the direct application of heat and imparts a distinct smokiness. On the other hand, broiling involves cooking the steak under intense heat from above, ensuring even searing and charring.
Chicago-style steaks cater to a variety of preferences when it comes to doneness. It ranges from medium-rare to medium as standard doneness levels.
The standard doneness level for a Chicago-style steak is medium-rare.
This means the steak is cooked through, but still has a juicy, pink center. The steak’s internal temperature should be between 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, Chicago-style steakhouses also pride themselves on accommodating individual preferences, ensuring that each guest enjoys their steak cooked to perfection.
What is Pittsburgh Style Steak and What are its Defining Characteristics?
Pittsburgh has carved out its unique niche in the culinary world with its distinctive Pittsburgh-style preparation.
Pittsburgh-style steak is a favorite among steak enthusiasts, renowned for its perfectly seared exterior and tender, juicy raw interior.
A few stand-out features of a Pittsburgh Style steak are listed below that make it unique:
Origins of Pittsburgh-Style Steak
The roots of Pittsburgh-style steak can be traced back to the bustling steel town of Pennsylvania. This cooking style emerged as a favorite among steelworkers who sought a quick and satisfying meal by throwing their steaks in the furnaces, during their demanding work shifts.
Over time, this style of fully blackened steak but inside raw steak gained popularity and became a beloved regional specialty.
The Beef Cut
Pittsburgh-style steak doesn’t require you to use a premium beef cut, but the most popular cuts are ribeye, New York strip, and filet mignon. Historically, Pittsburgh steel workers also couldn’t afford pricey beef cuts. They threw into the furnace what they could afford.
Yet today, any good beef cut specified for steaks can be used. A prime beef cut with good marbling will surely get you a relatively tender and moist steak.
High Heat Searing
The hallmark of Pittsburgh-style steak is its high-heat searing technique. The steak is cooked at an extremely high temperature as if thrown in a furnace, as steel workers used to.
Today, it’s seared either on a grill or in a hot cast-iron skillet. This intense heat aims to mimic the heat levels in furnaces to create a seared and charred exterior that seals in the meat’s natural juices while adding a unique caramelized flavor. If you want to achieve a Pittsburgh style, there’s no restriction on how to get it; you can even use a powerful butane torch to get it done.
Rare to Blue-Rare Doneness
Despite the charred exterior, Pittsburgh-style steak is cooked to a rare or blue-rare doneness of up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature (a standard doneness level). It’s because the Pittsburgh-Style steak, invented by steelworkers, cooked so quickly in the furnaces that it had a thoroughly charred surface but a rare interior.
This contrast between the seared crust and the perfectly cooked interior sets Pittsburgh-style steak apart from all other steak types.
Pittsburgh-style steak relies on the natural flavors of the meat itself. Minimal seasoning, such as salt and pepper, enhances the beef’s taste rather than overpowering it. The focus is on allowing the quality of the meat to shine through.
After the high-heat searing, Pittsburgh-style steak is typically allowed to rest for a few minutes. This resting period helps the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more evenly flavored and tender steak.
Accompaniments and Variations
Pittsburgh-style steak is often served with traditional steakhouse accompaniments, such as sautéed mushrooms, onions, or a side of fries.
The simplicity of the preparation allows for various interpretations and adaptations, giving chefs the freedom to experiment with different flavors and seasonings.
What are the Key Differences Between Chicago Style Steak and Pittsburgh?
By now it’s obvious that contrary to popular belief, Pittsburgh-style steak and Chicago-style are not the same.
Here are the key differences between Chicago Style Steak and Pittsburgh Style Steak:
- Chicago-style steak roots back to Chicago. As the name suggests, Pittsburgh-style steak originates from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- Chicago-style steak doneness ranges from medium-rare to medium. But Pittsburgh-style steak is cooked raw to blue rare.
- Chicago-style steak is brown or a bit charred, while Pittsburgh-style steak is fully charred or blackened.
- Chicago-style steak is cooked using grilling or broiling techniques. In contrast, Pittsburgh-style steak involves extremely high heat searing on a grill or hot skillet.
- Chicago-style steak showcases a balance of tenderness, rich marbling, and a smoky flavor imparted by the charred crust. Pittsburgh-style steak offers a slightly caramelized taste, complemented by a tender and juicy interior.
- Chicago-style steak is often enjoyed with a wider variety of sides, including sauce, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, or classic steak sauces. Pittsburgh-style steak is often paired with simpler accompaniments, such as a side of fries.
These differences in doneness, cooking techniques, seasoning, flavor profiles, origins, resting periods, and accompaniments contribute to the distinct culinary experiences offered by Chicago Style Steak and Pittsburgh Style Steak.
Chicago-style and Pittsburgh-style steaks represent two distinct approaches to cooking and savoring this beloved meat. Whether you’re captivated by the charred crust of Pittsburgh or enticed by the tenderness and marbling of Chicago, both styles offer a delightful steak experience.
So, go ahead and indulge your taste buds in the battle of Chicago Style versus Pittsburgh and discover your personal favorite!