What are Boston steak tips, why are they delicious, and why are they different from the steak tips served in the rest of the country? This spring, we’re going to attempt to answer these questions with a series of road (and T) trips throughout Greater Boston.
WHAT’S A STEAK TIP?
Meat plus fire is a simple formula, but every culture has its own way of adding one to the other. From the hickory-smoked, whole hog barbecue of North Carolina to the charcoal-grilled, offal-stuffed lamb intestines sold as drunk food in Istanbul, the methods and the menus reflect the history of the people who invented them. Though little known to the rest of the country, steak tips stand out as the Boston area’s unique contribution to the world of grilling meat.
We all know that New England definitely doesn’t have outdoor cooking weather year round. This problem might have helped inspire the invention of the steak tip: our forebears desired the fire-seared flavor of cooking over wood or charcoal, but were forced to cook inside. Their frugal nature also dictated that they had to make the most of as many beef cuts as possible. As a result, the steak tip cooking process they came up with rendered an otherwise under-desired cut of meat succulent and delicious. Slow-smoked American barbecue works similar wonders for other cuts of meat. But, with steak tips, you don’t have to spend a day in the elements cooking.
The mind-boggling tips at Casey’s in East Somerville are so good that they inspired a quest to unearth the history of the dish. At The Manic American, we’ve spent years exploring the people and processes behind American Barbecue, and now we intend to do the same for the steak tip. You could say we’ll be applying the lessons we’ve learned on the road to our proverbial backyard.
In this case, the backyard is not very big. It turns out that steak tips are not well-known outside of New England, or even outside of Boston. I mentioned them on a business trip to LA, and my coworker responded with a “What are you talking about?” I asked a Southern friend if they were served in his state — “Oh yeah, usually smothered in gravy, like a steak and gravy sort of thing.” Sorry, buddy, but that’s not what we’re talking about.
We’re talking about delicious hunks of marinated, “fibrous and chewy” flap steak, though some places use tenderloin. The ideal steak tip is char-seared on every side, creating a one-two-three punch of maillard-reaction-fueled, caramelized flavor, plus the sweet infusion of most marinades, plus the carnivorous pleasure of a medium rare center — if you ordered correctly. That last bit leaves no doubt that you are, quite literally, having a cow.
THE MISSION AND THE MAP
Now that we’ve defined the Boston-style steak tip, let’s define our mission. This isn’t a competition; it’s a story. We’re not going to determine who has the Best Steak Tips, though we’ll certainly find that some tips are better than others. Instead, we’re going to tell the story of our quest to understand the steak tip. Along the way, we’ll hit about a dozen bars and restaurants that serve tips, and meet the people who cook and eat ‘em. We’re going to shoot a lot of photos and report back. We’re also going to eat a lot of beef.
If any of this sounds good to you, you’re invited.
If you think we missed something, write in your suggestions in the comment section below. The only requirement is that the joint serve an entree of cooked steak tips — no raw meat or sandwiches, please!
BOSTON STEAK TIPS TOUR 2015 “BRACKETS”
Remember, it’s not a competition! These pairings are just helpful ways to organize our travels around the area. They’ll also lower the risk of a weekend heart attack.
The Boston Old Guard
Tip Tap Room, Beacon Hill
J.J. Foley’s, South End
The Old Standard vs. The New Standard
NewBridge Cafe, Chelsea
Silvertone, Downtown Crossing
The Pub (formerly Powderhouse Pub)
East Side Bar & Grille
The North Shore
Lazy Dog, Lynn
The South Shore
Cronin’s Public House, Quincy
Southside Tavern, Braintree
White Horse Cafe, Allston
We’ll update this category, once we have a few comments.
You may have noticed that almost all of these places are bars. We think these trips will allow us to combine two of our favorite things: alcotourism and barbecue. Or the closest thing to barbecue found in Boston’s original food culture.
— Rob Bellinger
Published March 22, 2015