Finger Steaks: Idaho's Staple Bar Food

If there's one thing all U.S. states have in common, it's a love of fried food. From French fries to onion rings to "frickles" (fried pickles, of course), fried food unites us. But, like anything else, each state has its preferences and regional delicacies. For Colorado, the bizarre Rocky Mountain oyster, or fried bull testicles, is a favorite bar snack, while Wisconsin enjoys gooey fried cheese curds. Southern states often enjoy fried chicken, but the Northwest prefers something else.

When you think of Idaho, you may think of potatoes, but there are actually more cattle than people in the state (via U.S. News). So, with beef being such a large export, it would make sense their favorite fried food would consist of glorious, tender beef rather than chicken. Finger steaks are an Idahoan bar food invention of perfectly battered, crispy steak strips that have gained popularity since the 50s — served, of course, with fry sauce.

History of finger steaks

According to the Idaho Beef Council, two Idahoan restaurants started making the indulgent dish at around the same time. First, Mylo Bybee was a U.S. Forest Service meat cutter when he began making the dish. It was initially a way to use the leftover trimmings from steaks. He continued to make the dish when he opened his own restaurant in the 50s, Mylo's Torch Lounge in Boise. The lounge was famous for its finger steaks, and people began attempts to make them at home. But, Bybee was very proud of his recipe, and whenever people asked for it, he always left out one secret ingredient, which is still a mystery (via Idaho Beef Council). Years after getting Idahoans hooked on the dish, the spot dropped finger steaks from the menu in the 90s after becoming a gentleman's club (via Wow Country).

Similarly, Red Steer, a popular chain restaurant in the 50s, sold the same dish under the name "crinkle steaks dinner." The owner soon realized that making finger steaks from scratch was too much work and saw a way to make the process easier for other restaurants. In the 70s, he started B and D Foods, where they have been making finger steaks for food service since (via Idaho Beef Council).

So, what actually are finger steaks?

Finger steaks are what happens when country-fried steak and chicken fingers combine into one glorious finger food. They can be breaded or battered, and they get their name from being finger length, according to Olivia's Cuisine. They are also very seasoned simply with garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper. If not homemade, they can be commonly found in restaurants and bars across southern Idaho. The dish's popularity has spread to some surrounding states, but not outside the region. Olivia's Cuisine says, "[Idahoans] like to say they are the Northwest's answer to Southern fried chicken."

While they can be served alongside any dipping sauce you prefer, they are commonly served with fry sauce or cocktail sauce in Idaho (via Idaho Beef Council). For those who don't know, fry sauce is a pinky-orange condiment typically found in Western America. It is equal parts mayonnaise and ketchup with few and varying seasonings, and the original blend has a "cult-like" following (via Eater).

How are finger steaks made

It is easy to recreate finger steaks at home. Food Network says the first step is to cut your steak into strips about 2 to 3 inches long. Make sure to remove the fat and skin. Separately, whisk together your batter. Seasonings can vary, but their recipe uses buttermilk, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dry mustard, and paprika. Mix in a large bowl, and then coat the steak strips with the mixture. Then refrigerate the strips for a couple of hours. Allrecipes also recommends freezing them overnight. After that, coat the strips with seasoned flour and buttermilk, and repeat both until well covered. Once coated, it's time to deep fry to crispy perfection.

The Idaho Beef Council agrees that classic finger steaks are delicious, but introduces many creative ways you can experiment with them in your kitchen, such as tossing them with buffalo sauce or topping them with coleslaw in a taco shell. Serving with bottled cocktail sauce is easy, but fry sauce may be harder to come by, depending on where you live. But whipping some up in your kitchen is relatively easy.

Try to recreate this Idahoan fare at home for an indulgent dinner or snack, and it just might beat out your classic chicken strips.