History of a Dish: The Beefsteak

Long before we New Yorkers prided ourselves in a succulent strip, we took on another sort of steak specialty: The beefsteak dinner. No, it’s not a mouth-watering fillet, or a pan-crusted T-bone. No, it’s not edible, and it’s not even tangible.

Beefsteaks were a New York culinary phenomenon of the late 1800s, perhaps just as regionally iconic as Texas barbeque or a hot-rock waterside clambake. Men-only would gather in saloons, taverns, and dingy, dungeon-esque cellars to binge drink, feast, and share stories. Fare was all-you-can-hold, with endless beer and beef, doused in a mixture of beef juice, blood, Worcester sauce, and butter – all for just $5.

Neither cutlery nor napkins were permitted at these all-night events, as men were expected to eat with their hands. Aprons and butcher hats were provided for them to shield themselves from the mess, though Beefsteaks were a place for men to get messy and let free from the burdening etiquette expectations of their wives, homes, and the American society.

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Through their increase in popularity, beefsteaks evolved from small-scale pubs to larger, more polished event spaces and fraternal club halls, like Webster Hall and Odd Fellow’s Hall. Though the rules remained the same, come the turn-of-the-century they became a setting for politicians to obtain support from club members.

After the Nineteenth Amendment granted women’s suffrage, the male-exclusive festivities opened up to include women. But it wasn’t long until they changed tradition. Once female-free, meat-heavy, and frivolous, beefsteaks now included a wider menu selection, including Manhattan cocktails, salads, and fruit cups.

By the mid 1900s, beefsteaks were not only devoid of rigid rituals, but many of Manhattan’s blue-collar residents moved outside the city. They brought with them clubs and culture of the like, and with that, the beefsteak era dissipated.

Dying to experience one for yourself? This Saturday, Feb. 4, the American Bounty Restaurant at The Culinary Institute of America will throw its 4th annual CIA Beefsteak Dinner with a celebration of culinary and cultural traditions. Clad in prohibition era attire (glitzy flapper dresses for ladies, polished feathered hats and suits for men), guests will flock to the institute’s Hyde Park campus for a “hands-on” eating experience, sans cutlery or napkins. Though not to fear – your finest period wear won’t get soiled. Butcher hats and aprons will be provided in classic beefsteak custom.  

The event’s five-course menu will feature bacon wrapped lamb kidneys, miniature burgers with homemade ketchup and bread and butter pickles, and of course, a beefsteak roast, doused in succulent “blood and butter gravy” (recipe below) and topped with fresh horseradish. Aptly paired beers will be served alongside, fresh off the tap from the Brewery at the CIA.  

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Click here to purchase your tickets for the CIA Beefsteak. 

Beefsteak Roast Sirloin with Blood & Butter Gravy


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