When we opened Whittaker Beef, we decided to call our Strip Steak, the Lawrence County Strip. We thought it was somewhere between funny and catchy as a name but it does provoke the occasional bout of confusion.
Customer: “Why do you call your steak the Lawrence County Strip?”
Me: “We raise the beef right here and it goes to a butcher here so we aren’t giving New York the credit for our steak.”
Customer: “ Isn’t it a New York Strip? What’s that other place?”
Customer: “What’s the difference?”
The short answer is that not a whole lot. Both cuts come from the same group of muscles, the loin primal (longissimus) that due to the position on the animal, are quite tender. According to some sources, the New York Strip is a larger cut. A strip steak with the bone still attached is often referred to as a shell steak. Some people distinguish the two cuts by the amount of fat tip left on the end of the steak. The real distinction can be boiled down to this: one was cut by a butcher, Kansas City and one was cut by a chef, New York.
In the early 1800’s Kansas City was home to the largest stockyards in the country largely owing to the open range and surge in cattle barons of the west. Wars raged over barbed wire, sheep and water but in the end, the product had to get to market. Cattle drives cut through the rugged landscape toward the towns booming around railroad depots. Along with less savory occupations, butchers soon flocked to the city.
While Kansas City was home to the western, cowboy steak culture, New York City gave birth to the restaurant. Delmonico’s introduced luxury dining and adopted the French term, restaurant. Western beef cattle were shipped all over the country. During this age that gave birth to American capitalism, competition was rampant. Branding as we call it today played a large role in success in an age where communication and advertising were reaching far away regions. Delmonico’s chefs were quick to establish their expertise on luxury and beef. They refined the steak cut and called it their own.
When word traveled back to Kansas City, the western stockyard butchers were quick to do some branding of their own and the Kansas City Strip was born. The Kansas City Strip came to represent the rugged, wholesome and authentic taste of a steak prepared by a genuine cowboy. Thanks to Delmonico’s savvy marketing, the New York Strip became synonymous with the best steak, selected by the best chef for both its quality and cut.
Next Time: A Murder, a Millionaire and Delmonico's in the Slammer.