If you’ve lived in Boise for any amount of time, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the city’s famous finger steaks. Mention them to anyone from outside the state of Idaho, though, and you’ll probably be greeted with a blank stare.
Unless they’ve seen the recent video from popular TikToker Chef Merrick.
TikTok is a video-focused social media network site that allows users to post and share videos as well as follow other users and comment on their videos.
Chef Merrick, whose real name is Jonathon Merrick when he’s not creating mouthwatering videos, is a Boise resident with over 100,000 followers on his TikTok account.
Merrick started using TikTok in 2019, teaching people how to cook a wide variety of food, from maple honey-roasted peanuts to au gratin potatoes. When not making TikTok videos, Merrick is a specialty products expert and artisanal provisions specialist at Shamrock Foods, a Boise-based food supplier and delivery service.
On March 28, Merrick posted a video showing people how to make finger steaks with a side of mashed potatoes and cocktail sauce. The video had over 313,000 views by Wednesday afternoon.
“It was just a fun recipe, it was a no-brainer,” Merrick told the Idaho Statesman. “I just thought it’d be really cool to represent the tradition, represent the recipe, but also represent Idaho as a state and give some exposure to a recipe that a lot of people didn’t know.”
Merrick’s recipe includes local Wagyu beef from Snake River Farms in Boise, and a variety of spices including mushroom powder, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika.
Merrick moved to Boise from Pennsylvania two years ago and called a friend and lifelong Idahoan during the video to ask what sauce should be served on the side. His friend’s answer was cocktail sauce.
Plenty of Idahoans were quick to comment on Merrick’s video, both praising his handiwork as well as offering alternatives to his recipe.
“SERVE IT WITH FRY SAUCE!!! Mayo, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke. It’s killer, I promise,” a user called alex_bosshardt commented. “I’m from Idaho, this is our jam up north.”
“I’m from Idaho and I’ve been eating Westside Drive In finger steaks my whole life and you’re supposed to use fry sauce I thought,” another user, Emmanuelle Tapia, said.
Whether the correct answer is fry sauce or cocktail sauce, Merrick has simply enjoyed the discussion it has created on his post.
“This is a good debate here, you know, back and forth,” Merrick said. “So it sounds to me like a lot of people do cocktail (sauce), but a lot of people do fry sauce.”
The video is also garnering attention from outside the Gem State. One user, simply called Erin, said they’d recently visited Idaho and hadn’t heard of finger steaks and they now want to come back to try them, while another user said they were from Scotland and loved learning about Merrick’s recipe.
Idaho fingers steaks aren’t just a niche food item that Merrick has highlighted, either.
Idaho has a deep history with finger steaks. The state’s infatuation with the deep-fried slice of meat can perhaps be traced back to The Torch Lounge when a chef called Mylo Bybee reportedly invented the steak fingers before joining the Torch’s kitchen staff in the late 1940s.
The Idaho Statesman went as far as to crown finger steaks as one of “150 Boise Icons” in a special book in 2013 celebrating 150 years of Boise.
“One thing that has always been important to me was regionality. For example, if we take a trip to New England, the first thing people think of is clam chowder,” Merrick said. “If you go to Louisiana they might think of jambalaya or maybe some other recipes.
“I guess what inspired me was the fact that this is unique. It’s unique to this area. A lot of people haven’t heard of it,” he continued. “So this is something different. I think doing a twist on it was a way to connect with the locals.”
A winning recipe
In 2008, the Statesman held the Great Idaho Finger Steak Cook-off to recreate the original recipe — or something close to it. Although, Mylo Bybee, it was said at the time, always kept his secret ingredient secret. Here is the recipe that the judges chose to be the closest to the original:
Finger Steak Cook-off Winner
1 pound sirloin steak
1-1/2 cups flour
1 to 2 tablespoons Lowry’s Salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
Enough milk to form a pancake batter-like consistency (about a cup)
1/2 teaspoon pepper to taste
Mix together all ingredients except the meat in a large bowl to make the batter. Cut steak into cubes or strips, as desired, and dip in batter. If the batter is too thin to adhere to the meat, give it a few minutes to thicken.
Deep-fry at 375 degrees until dark golden brown.