Porterhouse Steak History

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porterhouse steak medium rare

Porterhouse Steak is named by some as the “King of the T-Bones”. Why? Yes, it’s because it is essentially a T-bone steak, only super-sized. Both steaks are cut from the same part of beef – short loin (known also as a “sirloin” across the Commonwealth nations), but Porter House includes more from the tenderloin part.


Both chops contain a T-shaped bone, with cuts of meat on each side. The main and fundamental difference is the sheer size of the Porter House Steak. This one is only for the serious meat lovers! I mean, you have to show some dedication to finish this kind of cutlet. Let me just give you the U.S. Department of Agriculture instructions: the filet has to be at least 1.25” thick in the widest section to be certified as a Porterhouse Steak. In comparison, T-bone has to be only 0.25” thick. Now that’s a major difference. No wonder this cut is often ordered to share between two diners.



Thick Raw T-Bone Porterhouse Steak


But isn’t that a peculiar name for a steak?


Actually, yes it is. It’s the only cut of beef that is named after a place – or was it named after a drink? Well, there are few stories on that subject worth exploring…


The term ‘Porterhouse’ is somewhat controversial and several establishments and cities fight to claim the origin of it. After all, it is the largest steak in the world. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was Martin Morrison, the owner of the Manhattan inn “Porter House” on Pearl Street, who is cited in 1814 to be the first to serve an extra-large T-bone steak for his diners. Many sources however dismiss this claim to fame as phony and lacking any firm evidence.


Some sources on the other hand like to quote a different concept, notably linking the name of the steak to a pub where a certain type of beer – a porter – would have been served along the beef chops. This version places the origin of the name even earlier – at around 1754. It is unconfirmed which version is true, but there are many more theories usurping the right to originate the brand.


One of them takes us back to the 19th century and tells a story of Zachariah B. Porter, owner of a hotel located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The mentioned landlord loved challenging his guests by serving steaks of magnitude size. Some diners were ready to face the challenge, yet many failed. The word quickly spread bringing more and more hungry enthusiasts preparing for the hefty meal. People were intrigued and entertained, as both the diners as well as the spectators were enjoying the feast. As the fame was growing, the owner decided to brand his steak after his own name, in a bid to promote this establishment even further. Therefore, since the 19th century, super-size T-bone steak has been labeled Porterhouse.


Grilled BBQ T-Bone Porterhouse Steak


But, a legend wouldn’t be a legend without a bit of controversy.


Several sources insist on linking the Porterhouse steak to the alcoholic drink of the same name. Porter beer, a dark type of ale brewed in London in the early 1700s. Porter beer was developed from other well-hopped beers made from the brown – charred – malt. The name was established as a result of the drink’s popularity amongst the street and river porters. The distinctive taste and relatively cheap production process have been a reason behind getting new enthusiasts. Where the paths of the beverage and the steak cross is unclear in this particular story, but there is yet another version shedding a bit more light on that matter.


The 1800s bring us more information. Back then the exhausted travelers who were moving across the United States were often catching up on sleep and food in resting points that were called a ‘porterhouse’. This kind of establishment, often located nearby a railroad or coach stop, offered a bed to lie in, a simple meal consisting of a steak and ale. The ale, to be precise, was confirmed to be a dark porter beer. Both meat and a drink were the most practical to be served to hungry and weary travelers. The size of the beef cutlet satisfied the eyes and the stomach while the ale was very easy on the pocket. Porterhouse therefore quickly became associated with the extra-large steak being served on its premises.


t-bone on dish-costata


But wait, there’s more!


Moving swiftly to the 19th century, the 1840s to be precise, we are supplied with yet another theory. This one, while believable, is sadly not supported by any of the documented facts. So it is just a theory, but let’s record it anyway. We need to move to New York City, where more and more taverns were serving extra-large beef steaks on their premises around that time. These chops were quickly branded as “Porterhouse steak” due to the river porters loving the meaty cut.


A slightly better documented story is told by Cornelius Matthews in his book “The Career of Puffer Hopkins” published in 1842. One of his characters, when ordering food in the hotel, famously settles on the beef cutlet saying, “I guess I’ll take a small porter-house steak, without the bone, for this time only”. Curiously he wants a ‘small’ chop without a bone, which is the opposite to the qualities for which a real Porterhouse steak is currently famous for. Whether this story is anything to go by would be difficult to confirm.


Another version takes us all the way to Ohio. A certain Porter house in Sandusky is serving enormous size steaks to the enjoyment of diners. This fact would have been unnoticed if not for Charles Dickens, a world-renowned English writer, who happened to be dining in Sandusky in 1842. He got to taste the Porterhouse steak and it left him in awe. After departing from the town, the novelist traveled to Buffalo, New York. In one of the hotels he was heard asking the owner for the “steak like you get at the Porter house in Sandusky”. The imaginative landlord, according to the Cambridge Chronicle, went on to make a small fortune by advertising his super-size steaks as the ones that Charles Dickens adores. Would that be the genuine link to the final Porterhouse name? It certainly is the best documented option.


So there we go, we managed to serve you a number of little known facts relished with a few juicy tales formed in a digestible, succulent piece. We now have a better idea of the circumstances in which the original name was conceived. But which of the above theories happens to be true? I guess we will never know. Maybe it’s all part of a legend – it’s mysterious, unexplained and playfully mischievous…


Now, before we decide to serve somebody a plateful of our finest Porterhouse steak, we should first learn how to prepare such an enormous piece of meat. After all, we don’t want anybody chocking on raw bits.


There are a few secrets to cooking such a thick cutlet. First of all, this kind of steak is best suited for a fast cooking technique, such as:

  • Frying
  • Grilling
  • Broiling


We also need to remember that Porterhouse steak, being cut from short loin and tenderloin, is low in collagen, when compared to other parts of beef. Therefore, a long cooking time is not necessary. The meat becomes tender fairly quickly.


Make sure the pan is seriously hot, on the verge of the fat starting to burn. Pick an extra-large pan to accommodate the whole cutlet on the flat surface. The super-size square grilling pans are perfect for this job. Sizzle the steak to the point where the edges become slightly burnt, then quickly flip them over to the other side. Fancy those showy diamond patterns as you get in upscale restaurants?


There’s a method to that too.


Carefully rotate the steak 45 degrees before flipping it over. This will give you crossed pattern from the grill. Repeat the same thing on the other side!


When the steak is nicely browned, place it under the grill and continue cooking– it is indeed quite a thick cut and needs further heat penetration. Add a knob of butter just before removing it from the grill. That little trick is widely used by restaurant chefs to add flavor to the piece.


Now, there are a few facts worth remembering when cooking Porterhouse steak. The presence of bone across the middle part adds to the even heat distribution throughout the meat. This also reduces the risk of the meat drying out or shrinking while being cooked.


Another point worth mentioning is that a meat by the bone will cook slower than the rest of the steak. Tenderloin side will additionally be ready quicker than short loin due to the difference in the structure. Use little seasoning, to your preference, and opt for a medium-rare finish.


Porterhouse steak on a barbecue, shallow depth of field.


A Few Meaty facts:

  • 2010 and 2012 record respectively over 34 and 32 million cattle getting processed across the United States. Additionally in both years the total amount of beef production across the whole country exceeded 26 billion pounds. According to the industry reports, the three states topping up the charts of slaughtering the cattle were Kansas, Nebraska and Texas.
  • National Public Radio (NPR) reportedly broadcasted little known facts about hamburger production. According to their sources, each quarter-pounder takes on an average of 6.7 pounds of forage and grain, over 52 gallons of pure water (now that’s a heck of a lot!), along with 1000 BTUs of fossil fuel. And in case you are not familiar with the last term, let me quote the Science Daily: “Fossil fuel is a general term for buried combustible geologic deposits of organic materials, formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over hundreds of millions of years.”
  • On average, people across the United States in 2012 consumed 52 billion pounds of beef during the whole year. By comparison, this total scarcely reached 9.8 billion pounds back in 1909. That is truly an astounding difference. Each and every person in America typically eats 270.7 pounds of meat every year. It is worth it to mention that beef accounts for more or less than 50 pounds in this calculation. USA achieved a prominent second place on the scale of World’s greatest meat eaters (losing only to Luxembourg)with its recorded 301.4 pounds of meat consumed by each person throughout the year. 2010 archives show that the total spending per capita on beef products in United States falls short of $240.
  • Antibiotics are undoubtedly a hot subject across the nation. Did you know that 80% of all antibiotics purchased in America is selected to be used on poultry and livestock alone? Yes, that much! Predominantly the conditions on the farms are the main cause of infection – the tight enclosures, messy feedlots and so on. You get the picture. At the same time, many farmers decide to prevent the infections from occurring – and the financial complications that would trigger – by distributing the antibiotics to the animals as preventative maintenance. Furthermore, many ranchers have continuously been told since 1950s that repeated dosing of antibiotics improves growth among the cattle. Widespread use of antibiotics is commonly believed to have contributed to the boost in the cattle size over the past few decades.
  • But, as we all know antibiotics have their negative sides too. Our bodies, as well as the cattle and poultry, are perfectly capable of developing anti-bodies that are resistant to antibiotics. There has been consequently a widespread increase in mutant bacteria hardened enough to become resilient to any antibiotics. Curiously, there are a growing number of people who become infected with this new kind of bacteria completely resistant to antibiotics. The latest records mention as many as 2 million cases across America. It certainly is the reason to be dubious on the subject of effectiveness in antibiotics…