Pork shoulder steaks are my favourites: the usually overlooked cut, lovely lean meat in the shape of the little eyelets of meat peaking amongst clean white pork fat. Grill it to perfection!
What cut of pork for steaks?
There is no end of trouble with pork steaks. What does it even mean: 'pork steaks'? What about chops? Or cutlets? Very confusing; cows are far less problematic: a steak is a steak, sirloin, fillet or rib eye and all the rest is braising or mince.
Once we agree there ARE pork steaks, it's the issue of what cut is the best for them. The loin cuts that are the most common, and commonly thought to be the best, are unbelievably dry in my modest opinion.
The tenderloin is not really a steaking cut; tiny and puny unlike its equivalent on the the beef. The ham is the ham and although I have tried it steaked, chopped, cutletted and so on, it isn’t the best suited for that exercise mainly due to its shape – it is massively unwieldy.
Shoulder cut steaks
Pork shoulder is probably my favourite bit of pig. It needs to be marbled with nice, white, clean fat shaping eyelets of pink meat without any nasty veining around. One end of the shoulder cut is the loin end which is better for lean roasts, perhaps sous-vide or at low temperature.
The neck end of the shoulder (also known as collar) is what the Italians make into coppa (called capocollo in central and southern Italy), and in my view it is the most delicious cold cut of meat on the Italian charcuterie platter.
How to cook pork shoulder?
Pork shoulder can be cooked slow and forever or flash-grilled, similarly to cheaper cuts of lamb. There is no medium or well-done option: if you cook it longer than a flash, it will go tough unless you stick it into the oven for hours.
One of the best uses of the shoulder is in Italian (again!) pork roast with herbs, porchetta. On a large scale in the traditional edition of the dish it is a whole piglet roast. I like to prepare it with pork shoulder/neck/collar. It is reasonably easy to cut open (butterfly) and smear with herbs, roll up again and roast to perfection.
Pork shoulder on the grill
For flash cooking or barbecue, shoulder steaks are as suitable. I usually ask the butcher to cut a couple of thick slices off a roasting shoulder joint. The only issue is handling them before and on the grill or griddle.
The slices tend to fall apart a bit where the bones have been cut out and – as pork is wont to do – twist and writhe on the grill, insisting on turning into cups rather than lie flat. But if you use a couple of bamboo skewers to spatchcock each steak and persuade it to lie flat, they should behave and keep straight.
Flavoured butters instead of marinade
My steaks are cooked plain, with just the seasoning of salt and pepper. Only after they've been cooked, hot and resting, I place a dollop of previously prepared flavoured butter, to ooze the flavour all over the meat.
The advantage of this approach over flavoured marinade for the meat to soak in is simple: marinade will burn on the griddle, smoke out the kitchen and make the pan impossible to wash up.
But those considerations aside, it actually makes the meat tastier when it's flavoured, seasoned and spiced while resting and absorbing the cooking juices. My belief is, all very well with marinade on the barbecue - not so much in the kitchen.