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A Pittsburgh rare steak (or as the locals call it, "Pittsburgh black") is one that has been heated to a very high temperature very quickly, so it is charred on the outside but still rare or raw on the inside. The degree of rareness and the amount of charring on the outside may vary according to taste. The term "Pittsburgh rare" is used in some parts of the American midwest and eastern seaboard, but similar methods of sear cooking are known by different terms elsewhere, including Chicago-style rare and, in Pittsburgh itself, black and blue.
A Pittsburgh rare steak may be prepared using a very hot grill, griddle, frying pan, or oven. The high temperature allows the steak to char in a short enough time that the inside remains uncooked. Placing the thick cut of meat in a plate of melted butter will help it sear more quickly when one places it on the cooking surface. Once placed on the cooking surface, the very hot cooking surface will ignite the butter, causing flaming, and an exterior burning of the meat and its juices. Let it burn that way for about a minute for steaks over 1 inch thick, then pull the steak setting it down back on the burned surface on the plate of melted butter for about 20 seconds. Quickly flip it over, once again soaking up the butter, on the unburned top surface, for about 10 seconds, then return to very hot grill. Let it burn with flame eruption and definite searing for about 90 seconds or less, and serve.
Origin of the term
The term started in the various steel mills in and around Pittsburgh. The mill workers needed high calorie food for the heavy work and had only 30 minutes for lunch. The blast furnaces were heated to over 2000F degrees. They would throw a steak on the side of the blast furnace which was sterile due to the high heat leave it for a few moments and then turn it. The steak was seared but raw inside. I was told this story and did it myself while working the Labor Gang for summer work at the National Tube Plant, United States Steel Corp., McKeesport, PA. in the 1960's.
One story relates that the method originated as an explanation for an accidental charring of a steak at a Pittsburgh restaurant, with the cook explaining that this was "Pittsburgh style".
It has been said that the "original" method of preparation was by searing the meat with a welding torch. Whether this is true is unknown; in any case, it is difficult to attain high enough heat with a common blowtorch. Another method, related by a staff member at a Pittsburgh branch of Ruth's Chris Steak House, originates from the region's steel mills and the practice of workers cooking a steak on a cooling piece of steel. The temperature of the steel would be such that it would be impossible to do more than char the outside of the steak while keeping anything worth eating. One popular version of this myth is that steel workers would bring raw steaks to work and on their lunch break throw them against the huge searing-hot molten steel "tubs". The steak would burn almost immediately then fall off, then they'd throw it up against the other side of the steak. Whether any of these origins is genuine or just a play on Pittsburgh's industrial image is debatable.
- Powell, Albrecht. "Pittsburgh Rare Steak - Black & Blue". about.com.
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