I like a good steak. No… strike that. I LOVE a good steak. In my book, the only way to eat it is Pittsburgh Rare. Now that’s a term that I had not heard until I became a Pittsburgher. Since I was a little boy, I’ve always loved rare meat. It’s just juicier and more flavorful. So growing up, I learned to order my burger, or steak, or lamb rare.
One night, in my 20s… I was out with friends at a good steak restaurant in Pittsburgh, and ignoring the usual protests (you see, it’s rare you find someone who loves rare steak as much as I do) about the dangers of eating under-cooked meat, I ordered it… rare. “As rare as you’ll cook it.” was my usual tag line. “Oh… you mean Pittsburgh rare.” said my server. I was confused. “What’s the difference?” I asked. “If you like a great steak… you’ll like it Pittsburgh rare.” she said. I was all in. And she was all right.
I was served a delicious ribeye steak, charred on the outside with that crunch flavor, and soft, delicious and very rare on the inside, all juicy and perfect. Heaven. I’ve probably ordered hundreds… no… thousands of steaks at any number of places known for great steaks in Pittsburgh… and every time, I order my steak Pittsburgh rare.
What is Pittsburgh Rare?
This is the easy part. A steak that is cooked Pittsburgh rare is basically burned on the outside at a very high temperature. Char-grilled on an open flame until almost black. If the heat is high enough, it seals the outside layer of meat, containing all of the juices and flavor on the inside of the steak leaving it soft, buttery rare.
Where does Pittsburgh Rare come from?
This is the tough part. There are many local legends as to the origin of the term “Pittsburgh Rare.” The most common revolves around the region’s steel mills. It’s said that steel workers would cook steak on a piece of the cooling metal. The temperature of which was so high that it would almost instantly char the outside of the meat, and since it happened so quickly, they couldn’t leave it on for more than a minute or so, as it would actually burn. It’s said that they would bring the uncooked steaks to work and throw them on the molten steel tubs. It would burn the outside almost immediately and then drop off. To finish, they would toss the other side against the same tub. Some stories cite the short 30 minute lunch and the high heat of the steel mill blast furnaces. Another story is that they would sear the meat with a welding torch. Sounds fun. And delicious as well.
There is a local story that circulates regarding The Colony Restaurant, which opened in 1958. This legend says that a diner’s steak was burnt by accident, and the cook decided to call it “Pittsburgh Style” when confronted with the error. While the restaurant claims the story is true, the cook, the year it happened and the diner have never been revealed.
There is even another story that says a local slaughterhouse opened a steak restaurant in front during the depression. Those who could afford it, would choose their cut of meat from the live cow, and it would be immediately seared to kill any bacteria and then served, with the inside still being rare.
What Type Of Meat is Best for a Pittsburgh Rare Steak?
That’s easy. Any. Just kidding. The best type of meat for a Pittsburgh rare steak is probably Filet Mignon, due to it’s soft texture. It’s the prime cut, of course. However, I’ve had a good ribeye steak cooked Pittsburgh rare, and even a Pittsburgh rare New York strip steak at one of Pittsburgh’s best steak restaurants. Heck, you can even try to cook a good hamburger Pittsburgh rare if you want. I’ve ordered it that way and they have delivered.
How to Cook A Pittsburgh Rare Steak At Home?
First, make sure your steak is completely thawed and at room temperature. This is the only way it works right. If you’re using a grill, make sure the heat is as high as it can go, and let the grill reach a very high temperature. For a 1-inch steak, place it on the grill and sear it for about 60-90 seconds, or until you notice the outside charring. Immediately turn it over and repeat the process. That should about do it. You can season with salt and pepper at that point. Don’t let it rest too long, not more than 2-3 minutes before you serve.
If you are not using a grill or open flame, it’s very hard to do unless you have a cast-iron skillet, and even then, its difficult to get the same char on the outside, so I recommend an open flame if at all possible. And of course, remember the warnings about eating raw or under-cooked meats. Make sure you are using the freshest meat possible from a trusted source. Bon appetit!
What are the Best Steak Restaurants in Pittsburgh?
Glad you asked! We’ve written about the best places for steak in Pittsburgh, and it’s one of our more popular posts. You can read all about the best steak restaurants in Pittsburgh right here.
Do you have other posts on Great Restaurants in Pittsburgh?
Of course! We’ve put together a list of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh for every meal and every occasion.