Steak is one of the most universally beloved foods, and for a good reason. There’s just something about a perfectly cooked piece of beef that can make any meal feel like a special occasion. Among the myriad ways to prepare steak, two styles often confuse steak lovers: “Pittsburgh Style” and “Black and Blue.”
Let’s dive into these styles’ origins, cooking methods, and distinctive characteristics.
What is a Pittsburgh Style Steak?
The term “Pittsburgh Style” originally referred to the technique of cooking steaks in steel mills around Pittsburgh during the industrial era. Due to time constraints, steelworkers would throw their steaks onto super-hot furnaces. The furnaces’ extremely high temperature of about 2000 degrees Fahrenheit would sear the steaks so quickly that the workers had to remove the steak from the furnace without waiting for it to cook inside–it would burn otherwise. Thus, your Pittsburgh-style steak was introduced.
In a modern culinary context, you haven’t got a 2000-degree Fahrenheit hot furnace. So, you have to cook a Pittsburgh-style steak either way at a very high temperature. But the result must be a charred crust and quite a rare interior.
To put it simply, a Pittsburgh-style steak has to be a unique contrast between the crunchy, caramelized exterior and the juicy, tender, and barely warm interior with 115°F-119°F (46°C-48°C) internal temperature.
While there’s no universally accepted internal temperature for these specific styles of steak, they both represent states of doneness closer to the “Blue” or “Rare” end of the spectrum.
What is a Black and Blue Steak?
A Black and Blue steak, though confused with Pittsburgh style steak, is the extreme version of rareness without compromising on the exterior charred crust, which must be black. It’s why it’s also called “Pittsburgh rare,” “Pittsburgh Char,” “Pittsburgh Blue,” or “Black and Blue Rare.”
Want to know exactly what’s a “Black and Blue” steak?
Let me ask you…
Have you seen extremely rare steak at restaurants, known as blue or “bleu?”
It’s the steak cooked at a low temperature for a very short time, which results in the steak being seared on the outside but barely cooked in the middle. The term “blue” is often used in culinary circles to describe steak that’s cooked even less than a rare steak. The inside of a blue steak remains cool and red, almost raw, hence the term “blue.” As a rule of thumb, the steak’s internal temperature has to be only “110°F or 43°C.”
After recalling the blue steak, it’s easy to understand the Black and Blue steak.
Black and Blue steak takes the contrast of the Pittsburgh-style steak to an extreme.
It gets its name from the way it’s cooked: “black” on the outside, showing a charred crust, and “blue” on the inside, denoting a nearly raw interior (it’s not rare, but nearly raw with an internal temperature of 110°F or 43°C).
Pittsburgh Style vs. Black and Blue: A Quick Overview of Key Differences
Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between Pittsburgh-style steaks and black and blue steaks:
|Feature||Pittsburgh Style Steak||Black and Blue Steak|
|Known as||Pittsburgh style steak||It’s seared on high heat, so it’s charred on the outside and rare on the inside. It’s named after the steelworkers in Pittsburgh who used to cook steaks on the hot metal of the steel mills.|
|Definition||It’s seared on high heat so it’s charred on the outside and rare on the inside. It’s named after the steelworkers in Pittsburgh who used to cook steaks on the hot metal of the steel mills.||It’s seared on an extremely hot heat source on the outside until it’s charred (black), and the inside is left very rare (blue). It’s also seared with a splash of Cognac or brandy before serving.|
|Color||Crust to inner contrasting color seems red||Crust to inner contrasting color seems blue–very raw|
|Internal temperature||115°F-119°F (46°C-48°C), barely warm but not cool||110F (43°C), almost cool|
|Flavor Profile||The high-heat searing method results in a steak with a charred, nearly crispy exterior and a juicy, flavorful interior. The contrast between the charred exterior and the interior doneness level offers a unique flavor experience.||The extreme contrast between the charred exterior and the very rare interior offers a distinctive flavor and texture experience. The outside offers a deep, charred flavor while the inside remains very tender and almost raw.|
|Best Cut to Use||Thick cuts of steak such as ribeye, strip steak, or filet mignon are typically used because they can withstand the high heat and still be cooked to various doneness levels.||Similar to Pittsburgh Style, thick cuts are preferred. Tender cuts like filet mignon are particularly favored because they can handle the high heat while maintaining their tenderness inside.|
Pittsburgh Style vs. Black and Blue: Difference in Cooking
Both Pittsburgh style and Black and Blue steaks require high heat and quick cooking times to achieve their distinctive finishes. However, they require careful attention to avoid overcooking or burning.
To cook a Pittsburgh-style steak, you need an extremely hot grill, broiler, or cast-iron skillet. This high heat is crucial for creating the charred crust. The steak is usually seasoned simply with salt and pepper, allowing the natural flavors of the beef to shine through. The steak is seared on each side for just a couple of minutes, then allowed to rest before serving.
The high heat caramelizes the steak’s surface, creating complex flavors through the Maillard reaction – a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. The charred crust gives a smoky, slightly bitter taste that contrasts beautifully with the rich, juicy, rare interior.
Black and Blue
The Black and Blue style follows a similar method but with an even more intense heat and shorter cooking time. Some restaurants use specialized broilers that reach temperatures up to 1800°F to achieve the desired char.
Others might sear the steak directly over an open high flame or use a blowtorch for precision. The goal is to create a nearly burnt exterior while barely warming the interior, resulting in a raw, cool, and tender steak.
Thus, Black and Blue Steak is all about extremes. The exterior is intensely charred, nearly burnt, providing a deeply smoky, caramelized flavor. Inside, the steak remains raw, cool, and incredibly tender, starkly contrasting the crust. This style isn’t for everyone, but it’s a must-try for those who appreciate bold flavors and textures.
Whether you prefer the bold contrast of a Black and Blue steak or the slightly more balanced Pittsburgh-style steak, both methods offer a unique way to enjoy this culinary delight.
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