My Mother’s “Pittsburgh Rare” SteakSteven Raichlen
Fearless. Impetuous. Passionate. Impatient. Extreme. These may be odd words to describe a steak. But they certainly described my mother. Whatever she did, she did boldly, even recklessly. Whether executing a complicated ballet routine or the simple task of grilling of a steak, she did so with grand gestures and a blithe disregard for convention. No politically correct chimney starters for my mother, no. She doused the charcoal with gasoline and lit it with a Vesuvian vwoomp! (Do not try this at home.) No handsome crosshatch of grill marks. No carefully monitored cooking times or instant read meat thermometers. She’d throw the meat on the grill, char it until the outside was just a little paler than the color of coal and the inside was just shy of still mooing, and slap it onto a plate. The name for this style of steak in the 1950s was “Pittsburgh rare”—the black evoking the smoke or perhaps coal from the Pittsburgh steel mills. And if you love the sanguine flavor of beef, there was no better way to grill it—carcinogens be damned. Of course, Mom used nothing more than salt and pepper for seasoning, but I think she would have approved of the brash Roquefort butter below.
My Mother’s “Pittsburgh Rare” Steak
- Yield: Makes 2 servings
For the Roquefort butter:
- 1 ounce Roquefort cheese
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 T-bone steaks, each 12 to 14 ounces
- Coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper
Step 1: Place the cheese in a bowl and mash to a paste with the back of a fork. Add the butter and stir to mix. Set this mixture aside.
Step 2: Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Ideally, you’ll be using a charcoal grill and you’ll bank the coals thickly on one side. (A sort of extreme three zone fire.) Brush and oil the grill grate, although Mom would never have done it.
Step 3: Very generously season the steaks on both sides with salt and pepper. Arrange the steaks on the grate over the hottest part of the fire and grill until darkly browned, even charred black on the outside, but still very rare in the center. You’ll want to cook a 1-inch thick steak about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Step 4: Transfer the steak to plates or a platter and let rest for 2 minutes. Place a dollop of Roquefort butter in the center of each and serve at once.