When it comes to steaks, Chicago has much more than the sizzle, it’s got the meat. Guests on this tour will get the sizzle, the smells and the tastes as they learn about the grand history of steaks in Chicago and go to the great steakhouses that serve them.
Chicago has a long history with steaks and their production. The city was also known as the hub for beef and pork around the world because of the Union Stockyards. The Union Stock Yards were the meat packing district of Chicago for more than a century, starting around the time of the Civil war back in 1865. Located in the near southwest side of the city that was built from a swamp, the original 320 acre site was purchased for $100,000 and called “The Union” stockyards because it brought 9 different railroads there to transport its products. Chicago became known as “hog butcher for the world” and the center of the American meatpacking industry for almost 100 years.
The stockyards have become an integral part of the popular culture of Chicago’s history. Whether it was the eye opening book, “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair depicting the savagery of the yards and its surrounding neighborhoods or TV shows like “Mind of a Married Man” and “The Season” using local steakhouses as backdrops, the production and consumption of meat is ingrained in Chicago’s culture. From the Civil War until the first half of the twentieth century more meat was processed in Chicago than in any other place in the world. The unfathomable amount of 400 million livestock were butchered there between 1865 and 1900 alone. The meat packing plants of Chicago used, “everything but the squeal” and created by-products like oleomargarine and soap so none of the animal was wasted.
When Phillip Armour caught up to Gustavus Swift in devising a way to keep meat refrigerated in transport in 1883, it allowed for the meat to be butchered in Chicago and then transported around the country and the world, this led to increased expansion of the Union Stockyards. By 1900 the stockyards were producing 82% of all packaged meat in America and by 1921 over 40,000 people worked there daily.
Chicago has been know for great meat packers like Stockyards Packing (since 1893) that supply some of the best steakhouse in the world, including Chicago Chop House, Gibson’s, Morton’s and Tavern on Rush. In addition, Allen Brothers has been serving many more of Chicago’s top restaurants for over 100 years. While the stories of these meat packers are very interesting, the stories of the Chicago Steakhouses they stock are even more alluring. You can dine and relax at Windy City hot spots that icons like Frank Sinatra, LuCille Ball and Harry Caray partied with all of their celebrity friends at.
From the sordid stories of the stockyards to the back room stories of Chicago’s premier steakhouses the only thing that tops this tour is the meat you get to eat while taking it.