Restaurant volume is way down all over the country, and for those who really enjoyed eating out, it’s the fine dining end of the spectrum that is the hardest to replicate, as lots of places like delis and pizzerias and burger joints are doing take out, and the food travels well – unlike the white tablecloth experience. In addition, many fine dining eateries are only open for dinner and lack outdoor space, so in many cases they have not reopened at all. The nation’s biggest high-end steakhouse cities are New York, Dallas, Chicago and Las Vegas, and of those only Dallas has a notable amount of outdoor dining. Even if restaurants have re-opened, many diners do not want to sit inside, and in some of the biggest markets like New York City, indoor dining has not returned at all.
In the fine dining world, steakhouses have been one of the fastest growing categories in the country in recent years, and lots of people love a really good steak and all the other things that come with it. Because the best steakhouses also have the best pork chops, veal and seafood, fantastic appetizers and classic beloved sides, you don’t even have to love red meat to love a great steakhouse.
The good news is that no deluxe meal is easier to replicate at home, and as specialized vendors have flooded into the mail order marketplace, there are more options for world class meats delivered right to your door than ever before. In many cases, these come from the same vendors who stock your favorite steakhouses, or the steakhouses themselves, or butchers with access to the exact same kind, quality and cuts of meat that the very best eateries are famous for.
“Most of the grand celebratory meals we enjoyed before the pandemic are hard – all but impossible – for the average person to recreate at home – experiences such as omakase dinners or elaborate French tasting menus,” said Steven Raichlen, bestselling cookbook author, formally trained chef, television host of Project Fire and Project Smoke on PBS, and founder of the multimedia Barbecue Bible and Barbecue University at the Montage Palmetto Bluff resort in South Carolina. “But a great steakhouse meal is easy – even the classic sides are simple. All you need is a grill or a cast iron skillet, and great steak, but you can’t get that at the supermarket. Look for cuts like porterhouses and beef tomahawks – or gorgeous buttery A5 wagyu from Japan from the same companies that supply great steakhouses.”
Mike Hiller, also a trained chef and longtime restaurant critic who writes for the Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times and runs Dallas’ leading culinary blog, Escape Hatch Dallas, agrees. Most top steakhouses use only USDA Prime beef, the highest domestic grade – at a minimum – and many go further by serving dry aged beef with more concentrated flavors, utilizing small artisanal ranches that are drug free and often grass fed, offering a slate of domestic and Australian wagyu or even the real thing from Japan (more common today but still quite rare).
“Some big box stores like Costco and Sam’s now offer Prime beef, but you won’t find any that are dry-aged there. For that, order from Allen Brother’s or John Tesar’s Knife Steakhouses. The best prime beef steakhouse cuts are strip, ribeye and – if you can find it – filet. Most filet and tenderloin is choice, but the marbling in a prime filet makes an incredible difference. Don’t spend your money on Snake River; for that price, you want dry aged beef.”
The vast majority of the nation’s most famous and acclaimed steakhouses sear their meats at high temperatures in pans, and this can be replicated quite easily at home. Hiller says the “Best way to cook a prime, dry aged steak is in a smoking hot cast iron pan. Go roughly 4 minutes a side to an internal temperature of 115°, then remove from pan and let them rest at least 10 minutes. That allows the juices and the proteins to gel into a kind of protein matrix that’s both tender and incredibly juicy.” As a guru of wood fired cooking and all things grilling or barbecue, Raichlen adds, “I’m partial to grilling, especially over a wood fire, but you can also sear a fabulous steak in a hot cast iron skillet.”
If you start with the right meat it is hard to go wrong. I’ve been writing on the best steakhouses and restaurants around the world for more than 20 years, and in 2020 I’ve been sampling the nation’s best mail order purveyors – many of them relatively new to the scene. After an initial wave of pandemic induced shortages, supplies are rebounding, and this is a great time to start stocking the freezer for the coming fall and winter.
Personally, one of my favorite steakhouses is Chicago’s Gibson’s, and while you can’t order their steaks (they are the only restaurant in the country with their own custom USDA Prime grade), you can use their house signature steak seasoning salt, which I have been doing over and over to keep comparisons consistent – and with wonderful results. But in general, with meat of this quality, you don’t want to camouflage it with seasoning rubs, and in lieu of Gibson’s, coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper works just fine.
Here are the best places to get a wide range of best-in-class true steakhouse products:
Allen Brothers: Both Raichlen and Hiller specifically highly recommended this venerable – since 1893 – Chicago butcher, and so do I. I got a box of Prime steakhouse cuts at the beginning of this year and not one has failed to wow me. Allen Brothers is the supplier to many of the best steakhouses nationwide, including New York’s Gallagher’s, and two of Dallas’ most heralded red meat specialists, Nick & Sam’s and Dee Lincoln Prime. They carry a wide range of both wet and dry aged meats, most famously source excellent grain fed Prime, but also offer grass fed beef, pureblood domestic wagyu, single ranch artisanal products, their AB Angus pasture raised 100% black angus signature line, and lots of hard to find celebratory cuts you will never see at the supermarket, like long bone rib eye (Tomahawk) steaks and classic thick cut porterhouse.
Because Allen Brothers supplies so many top steakhouses, they also offer the quintessential non-beef options, including very hard to find dry aged Berkshire pork chops, equally rare milk fed veal tomahawk cuts, oversized lamb shanks, dray aged lamb chops, elk tenderloins and many other steakhouse staples you are just never going to see at retail or even at the fancy farmer’s market.
Flannery Beef: Wow – if all you want is great steak, look no further than Flannery Beef. I had never heard of them until I started this research, but I have had several Flannery’s steaks over the past few months, and I’m not sure how they do it, but these have consistently been the best tasting domestic beef I have had, period, each one fantastic. The founder’s father launched legendary butcher shop Bryan’s Quality Meats in San Francisco, which ended up supplying many red meat obsessed Hollywood stars and luxury hotels such as the Biltmore. Bryan Junior launched Flannery to keep the tradition of topnotch sourcing and dry ageing beef alive, and as he puts it, “I’ve flown all over the country looking for suppliers and will continue to do so. When I find what I want, I’ll pay a premium to get it; then age it to perfection, then ship it with total confidence that I can do no better; although I’ll not give up trying.”
I can say with the utmost confidence that this approach is working, because these steaks have been unbelievably good. The California Reserve dry aged all Prime lineup includes the signature “Jorge Cut” rib steak, a bone-in rib steak cut only from the chuck end of the Prime rib, giving it a large amount of the ribeye “cap” that those in the business consider the tastiest part of the entire steer. Each steak comprises an entire beef rib, 3-inches thick and 2 to 2.5 pounds – one can serve 2-4 people. This is one of the best steaks I have ever eaten, at home or out, and they also have great steakhouse-style cuts such as hard to find bone-in strip, extra thick 20-40 ounce giant porterhouses, and much more. Just awesome.
Ted’s Butcher Shoppe: Sometimes the best steak is not beef – like when it is bison. I’ve been a big fan of bison for years, it’s delicious and better for you, naturally raised on open ranges and drug free. The champion of high-level restaurant bison has long been rancher Ted Turner, who owns more bison than anyone in the world, as well as his eponymous Ted’s Montana Grill chain, a favorite of mine. Spurred on by the pandemic, Ted’s just added the Butcher Shoppe option, and you can get bison filet mignon, bison Delmonico (ribeye) steaks, bison strips, and ground bison, as well as the beef steaks they also serve – straight from the ranch to your kitchen. You can order a la carte or in specialty beef, bison or beef and bison assorted gift boxes. I don’t know of any other major restaurant group that raises its own meat and also ships it, and it is delicious.
Holy Grail Steak Company: Want to splurge? Holy Grail Steak Company was the nation’s very first licensed mail order retailer of the world’s most famous luxury meat, real Japanese Kobe beef (there’s lots of fake Kobe online) but their claim to fame is an unrivalled selection of the most coveted regional Japanese beef in addition to Kobe, including Omi, Matsuzaka and others. They do samplers so you can compare and contrast and import excellent product. But while they are famous for Japanese beef, they also stock the elusive domestic “High Prime” or “Upper Prime” steaks – dry aged of course. While Prime is the USDA’s highest grad, it has several sub tiers, is surprisingly broad, and has grown in recent years to include some meat that is not as prime as others. The percentage of domestic beef graded Prime has roughly doubled. High Prime is taken only from the upper echelon of the grade range, the best of the best. So now you can wow guests with the finest Japanese beef or simply bowl them over with a 32-ounce Upper Prime Black Angus Tomahawk. As if this was not enough, they recently started stocking Kurobuta pork, the other white meat delicacy.
A5 Meats: This company is unique in many ways, but mostly because it’s the only actual steakhouse brand I know of that is offering a monthly subscription program. Chef Marc Zimmerman was the was former business development chef of Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco, a great high-end eatery that is also a specialist in authentic Japanese beef and one of the first and only spots in the world to import the ultra-rare Hokkaido Snow beef. There are now three Alexander’s Steakhouse locations in California, and last year Zimmerman opened the even more Japan-centric GOZU, an upscale San Francisco dining experience that showcases the versatility of the wagyu breed. Most recently, the chef and partners launched A-Five Meats to provide restaurant quality beef, with an emphasis on Japanese wagyu, to chefs and consumers, but with a mission to utilize the entire animal. While Americans have typically consumed cuts totaling only about 15% of the beef carcass, just about every other meat-eating culture also savors less well-known and often tastier cuts of meat, often called offcuts or bntchers cuts.
As Chef Zimmerman forged relationships with farms in Japan, he says many of asked him “why do you only import the prime cuts in the US?” His restaurant, ittoryu GOZU, showcases other options through tasting menus, and his mail order meat company did the same when it launched a luxury monthly subscription box called the Heritage Pack, so named because it is a curated selection of heritage breed domestic and imported beef. At $350 a month, it always includes some real Japanese wagyu, but also explores the world’s most coveted regional breeds including Scottish highland, French Limousin, Angus, Galician style beef and more. Each month, Zimmerman selects farms to highlight and the pack offers both primal (tenderloins, rib eyes, and T-bones) and butcher’s cuts (flank, skirt, hanger, flat iron). The name refers to Japan’s highest beef grade, the coveted A5, and there was not a thing in the box that was not delicious.
Vermont Wagyu: For yet another twist on the global popularity of Japanese wagyu, this is a top domestic option. Lax USDA labeling regulations allow a lot to of lower quality mixed breed meat – derisively known as “wangus” – to be sold in this country as wagyu, meaning the famous indigenous Japanese breeds. But a small number of elite farms stick to their principles and raise only full purebred wagyu cattle from 100% Japanese bloodlines, which is what this superior farm in Vermont does. Many Americans not used to real Japanese beef find it too fatty, and this is a slightly less overwhelming take on the delicious concept that is actually preferred by many palates, but what I really like about Vermont Wagyu is that it offers unusual cuts very hard find elsewhere in addition to the typical strips and such, including bavette (flap), coulotte, tri-tip, flatiron and even 100% wagyu brisket. But for recreating the steakhouse experience at home their big advantage is that they can sell meat on the bone, from rib steaks to short ribs, while the importation of any Japanese beef with bones is banned.
Meat n’ Bone: America has great steakhouses, but so does the rest of the world. However, many of the cuts and breeds that meat lovers flock to in places like Spain and Argentina and Brazil are very hard to come by here. That’s where Meat n’ Bone comes in – there is simply no mail order outlet that rivals them in terms of the comprehensive selection: if you can’t find it here, you probably won’t find it. Beyond beef they have large selections of wild game (elk, venison, wild boar, etc.), poultry, and the kinds of seafood that you find as a red meat alternative at the best steakhouses – center cut tuna steaks and whole wild caught Caribbean red snapper.
I have an excellent rotisserie grill, and earlier this summer I wanted to do a classy Brazilian picanha fest, the cut of choice for the riodizio restaurants that are the nation’s contribution to the steakhouse experience, and this is where I got mine – and it was great. Picanha is hard to find, but domestic wagyu picanha is virtually impossible, and Japanese A5 wagyu pichanha basically does not exist – except here. Denver steak, outside skirt, baseball steak, flap – if you can dream it, you can order it. But what really blew me away about Meat n’ Bone is that it is the only place I have even been able to find the cut of meat that was the centerpiece of one of the best meals I have ever had on earth, the secreto of Spanish Iberico pork. Spain has the world’s best pigs, and secreto is the butcher’s cut of all butcher’s cuts. It’s like a meatier and less fatty but equally rich and decadent take on pork belly, just phenomenal – but impossible to find. Meat n’ Bone has an extensive selection of fresh jamon iberico cuts, like imported Spanish spareribs, double cut pork chops, pork belly and more, basically the pork equivalent of Kobe beef. Located in Southern Florida they deliver same day to homes in Miami Dade, Broward and most of Palm Beach counties, have 2-day delivery anywhere else in Florida, and ship to everyone else.
DeBragga: Another legendary butcher shop, New York’s DeBragga supplies numerous great restaurants and renowned chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse, this has long been my favorite for one stop shopping. Their beef is excellent across the board, but it is a very big board: Prime, dry aged, grass fed, grain fed, truly natural, Japanese wagyu, Australian and domestic wagyu, and more. They also cover every niche of specialty meats, including rabbit, venison, duck, guinea hen, and veal. But where they go a step further is to work directly with local farmers to raise their own heritage bred animals, mainly pork and lamb on family farms in upstate New York. The thick cut pork chops from one of their Amish partner farms were the best I have ever tasted, and the lamb is also exceptional, a hybrid of Dorset and Suffolk, naturally finished on local apples. Some of the specialty meats are seasonal, but the great beef is year-round, and you cannot go wrong with either.
Pat LaFrieda: The word celebrity is terribly overused and marketing people like to attach it to any profession. I don’t really think there is such a thing as a celebrity butcher, but if there is, it is Pat LaFrieda. The namesake custom bespoke burger blends have become the not so secret weapon of legendary restaurants and fast food favorites like Shake Shack, and if there is a burger meat known for the person who ground it, that would be the four signature blends LaFrieda sells to consumers – plus more than one hundred different custom mixtures for chef clients. The burgers come in pre-formed, oversized 6-ounce patties – more than a third of a pound. Most top steakhouses have a fancy burger on the menu, and when you think of a great burger at great steakhouse, this is the kind of meat you are thinking about.
The original blend was developed by Pat’s grandfather and has remained an unchanged recipe for 90+ years, a combination of chuck, brisket, and short-rib from American Black Angus Beef. I love short ribs and the Short Rib Burger Blend is made from short rib, brisket, chuck, and shoulder clod and has a rich short rib flavor. The Brisket Blend has more heavily marbled meat and works better for those who prefer their burgers well done. The most luxurious option is the Dry-Aged Burger Blend which adds the stuff of steakhouse legend, 30-50 day dry-aged prime rib, to chuck, brisket, and short-rib. All of the burgers are excellent, and very reasonably priced – a four pack (1.5 pounds) runs between $16-$22 for a world class family sized meal.
Cameron’s Seafood Market: Why seafood in a “bring the steakhouse home” story? Because one of the most classic steakhouse appetizers is the Maryland lump crab cake, and these are so good I could not leave them out. Over the past few years, I have gotten orders several times from Cameron’s, a family-owned business that has been the largest local retailer of Maryland’s world-famous blue crabs and crab cakes since 1985. They sell over 150,000 crab cakes each year, which ship very well and cook up great at home, and starting with these will help you recreate the true fine dining steakhouse experience. If you prefer, the thick, rich, meat-packed crab bisque is also stellar and a perfect start to big celebratory dinner.