COLUMN: ‘Steak Fry’ is rare outside of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle

By Candace Nelson - 1:07 PM


Here's my latest column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

Dinner is served: a raw ribeye on a paper plate.

Hope you brought your own eating utensils. And tongs. And seasonings. And a plate.

If you’re from the Wheeling area, you know the drill of a steak fry. If you’re not, you may struggle to eat your dinner.

A steak fry is a common fundraiser in the Ohio Valley, where everyone from veterans groups and Lions Clubs to scholarship funds and high school sports teams host them to raise money for a cause.

Here’s how it works: The host provides the raw steaks, usually a small salad and a selection of homemade desserts. Plus a large, rip-roaring grill.

Once you receive your steak, you head to the grill to map out your game plan. Do you place your beef directly on the flames and char the outside? Do you find a spot to perfect the grill marks? Do you find a lower flame and cook it low and slow?

You bring everything to cook the steak to your preference, starting with a plate, tongs to flip your steak, cutlery, seasoning and steak sauce. Optional additions could include chips or pretzels to snack on, cheese or melon as sides, napkins, Tupperware to take home leftovers and a bag to carry all of this.

The name, steak fry, is a misnomer of sorts. You’re not cooking the steak in hot oil or fat, but rather the steaks are grilled. And the event is not to be confused with thick-cut French fries known as “steak fries” often served alongside steak or other hearty meals.

But there are pockets across the United States that, too, host steak frys. Iowa, for example, is known for its political campaign fundraiser steak fry in which presidential hopefuls have participated in for more than 40 years.

These pockets are few and far between, though. And often, go just a few miles in either direction, and the concept will be foreign to those communities.

That is in part what makes the steak fry special to me. It’s unique to the region and combines both food and philanthropy. There’s a connection to the community and people through traditions like this. Even to those who prefer their steak well-done.

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