Beefsteak tomato

The Beefsteak tomato is a large, red, heirloom tomato cultivar generally considered the classic slicing tomato variety. The Beefsteak tomato variety is also the namesake cultivar for an entire category of tomatoes known as beefsteak-type tomatoes. They are known for their huge size, firm texture, and old-fashioned characteristic tomato taste and aroma.

The Beefsteak tomato cultivar

The Beefsteak Tomato is an American heirloom cultivar dating back to the late 1800s (or potentially even earlier). The standard Beefsteak variety may have been introduced by Landreth’s Garden Seeds (Pennsylvania, Vermont), the oldest seed company in the USA (reference: Victory Seeds). Beefsteak Tomato seeds were also sold by H.W. Buckbee’s Rockford Seed Farms around the turn of the century.

The history of the Beefsteak Tomato cultivar is not well-known. Since the term “beefsteak” has been used for over a century to describe “meaty” firm tomatoes, there is a high probability of confusion around the variety. It is likely that there are many slightly different Beefsteak Tomato plants with differing genetics, and these slightly different tomato plants may all be labeled as the standard Beefsteak variety tomato.

“Beefsteak is one of those variety names that has escaped its singularity and is often used now to describe a type of tomato. You’ll find seeds and plants simply labelled as “Beefsteak,” but there are probably dozens of adjectival versions out there as well.”

You Bet Your Garden Guide to Growing Great Tomatoes: How to Grow Great-Tasting Tomatoes in Any Backyard, Garden, or Container, by Mike McGrath

Beefsteak Tomatoes are very large, with individual fruits reaching 1-2 pounds on a regular basis. They have a round, flattened shape with slight ribbing down the sides. The flavor of Beefsteak-cultivar tomatoes is that of a classic, old-fashioned tomato. The flesh is firm, juicy, and “meaty”, standing up well on sandwiches and other “slicing tomato” applications. The skin is thin and soft, making them easy to slice. Beefsteak Tomatoes tend to have a bright scarlet-red peel when growing conditions are good.

Beefsteak Tomatoes grow on long, indeterminate vines that continue to grow throughout the growing season. These long vines need staking to keep the tomato fruits off the ground. Beefsteak tomato vines also benefit from a heavy-duty tomato cage around the plant to help support offshoot branches.

Beefsteak tomato seeds

The Beefsteak category of tomatoes

Beefsteak is a category of tomatoes known for their large size, as well as their firm “meaty” texture. The Beefsteak tomato type is named after the Beefsteak Tomato cultivar (see above), which bears all the key traits of a great beefsteak-type tomato (including the bright red beef-steak color peel). Beefsteak tomatoes are usually served sliced when fresh, often on sandwiches or other “slicer” tomato recipes.

Beefsteak tomatoes are one of the five main types of tomatoes (along with standard globe tomatoes, plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and oxheart tomatoes). Beefsteak tomatoes are the largest of these five general tomato categories.

Beefsteak-type hybrid type brandy boy tomato

Other beefsteak-type tomatoes

Here are some different beefsteak-type tomato cultivars to try. Some are directly descended from the Beefsteak Tomato cultivar, while others have an unknown lineage. There are a variety of flavors, from sweet to acidic.

Beefsteak-type tomato called oh happy day by burpee

What do beefsteak tomatoes taste like?

The Beefsteak Tomato has a firm “meaty” texture and the classic old-fashioned fresh tomato aroma. The flesh is smooth with few seed pockets (locules). In good growing conditions, the Beefsteak Tomato tends to have a more mild flavor than some other heirlooms like Brandywine or Cherokee Purple. The tomatoes are large enough for a single slice from the middle of the tomato to cover a whole piece of sourdough bread (here’s the simple recipe for fresh heirloom tomato toast).

Many beefsteak-type cultivars have a similar flavor profile to the standard “Beefsteak Tomato” cultivar. While they do vary in flavor, most beefsteak-type varieties tend to have a dense texture and rich, old-time tomato taste and aroma. In general, yellow beefsteak-type tomatoes (such as the Pineapple Tomato) tend to be sweeter than a standard Beefsteak, while purple and brown varieties (such as Black Krim or Cherokee Purple) tend to be more acidic.

Curious about other tomato varieties known for their taste? Here’s a guide on the best tomatoes to use in all sorts of recipes! Bon Appétit!

Beefsteak tomatoes

Are beefsteak tomatoes heirloom tomatoes?

The Beefsteak Tomato cultivar is an heirloom tomato from the Northeastern region of the USA. The standard Beefsteak variety is thought to have been introduced by Landreth’s Garden Seeds, the oldest seed company in the USA. Many other beefsteak-type tomatoes are also heirloom tomatoes, including popular varieties like Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter.

Some newer beefsteak-type tomatoes are modern hybrids. Hybrid beefsteaks include the Beefmaster Hybrid Beefsteak Tomato and Burpee’s Brandy Boy (an improved version of the classic heirloom Brandywine).

“By the early 16th century, the Spanish brought what we now know as the beefsteak tomato to Europe, and from there, the plant soon spread around the world.”

Modern Farmer, Scientists Figured Out Why Beefsteak Tomatoes are So Huge, by Andrew Jenner (2015)
Beefsteak tomato seedling plants at nursery

How to grow beefsteak tomatoes

If growing from seed, purchase seeds in the winter or early spring and plant them indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your area (usually, this means sowing seeds indoors sometime in February-March).

If growing from purchased seedling plants, preorder the seedlings or look for them in stores from March to June. Whether you’re growing from seed or from purchased seedlings, don’t put them outdoors until the threat of frost has passed. Beefsteak Tomato plants are easily damaged at temperatures below 43°F (6°C).

When warm enough, plant your Beefsteak Tomato plants outdoors in nutrient-rich soil that drains water easily. These are large plants that should be spaced about 2 feet apart. They grow particularly well in raised garden beds and in large containers like wine barrel gardens.

Put the Beefsteak Tomato plants in a location where their leaves get direct sunlight for at least 6-8 hours per day. This will help stop the leaves from turning yellow. Also, ensure they are close to a water source so they will be watered consistently.

Beefsteak Tomato plants are indeterminate, meaning their vines keep growing longer and longer throughout the season. These larger vines require a significant trellis or cage structure to support them. Skip the small standard hardware store tomato cages and opt for a heavy-duty tomato cage or sturdy vertical plant stake.

Are beefsteak tomatoes hard to grow?

Beefsteak Tomatoes are not hard to grow, but they are also not the easiest plant to grow either. The standard Beefsteak Tomato is a large heirloom plant that requires quite a bit of attention and may not be a consistent producer. That said, there are a few things you can do to make growing Beefsteaks a bit easier.

The first tip is to purchase a potted baby tomato plant instead of starting your Beefsteak Tomatoes from seeds yourself. Tomato seedlings can be finicky and require supplemental lighting and occasional repotting. Let the plant nursery do that work for you and buy potted seedling plants instead.

Secondly, get your tomato planting area ready prior to planting. Plant the seedlings in a raised garden bed, large whisky barrel garden or 10-15 gallon grow bag. Use a nutrient-rich organic potting mix that allows water to drain out easily. Add a vertical stake and/or substantial trellis for the tomato plant’s vines. Beefsteak tomato plants also benefit from consistent water from a drip irrigation system.

A final tip is to look for a modern hybrid beefsteak-type tomato plant instead of the standard heirloom Beefsteak Tomato. These hybrids are often more reliable in the garden and less susceptible to diseases and pests. Heirlooms like Beefmaster Tomato, Super Steak Tomato, and Big Beef Tomato are beefsteak-type options with the same characteristics as the classic Beefsteak cultivar.

How tall do beefsteak tomato plants get?

Beefsteak Tomato plants are among the largest types of tomato plants to grow, with vines routinely reaching 6-10 feet long. A Beefsteak plant can easily exceed 10 feet tall if the main stem is staked vertically and if growing conditions permit.

Heirloom Beefsteak Tomato plants are indeterminate, meaning that their vines will continue to grow in height throughout the growing season (as opposed to reaching a terminal height like bush-type plants). Beefsteak tomato plants do well when tied gently to a vertical stake and surrounded by a large, heavy-duty tomato cage.

How long for beefsteak tomatoes to ripen?

The Beefsteak Tomato has a long time to harvest, taking about 75-95 days for fruit to start ripening after the seedling is transplanted outdoors. A Beefsteak Tomato plant can quite reasonably be out in the garden for three months before the first ripe Beefsteak Tomato is ready to be picked. If frost is threatening, underripe Beefsteak Tomatoes can be picked early and ripened indoors on the kitchen counter or some other cool, airy location.

Beefsteak tomatoes from the garden

Harvesting the beefsteak

Beefsteak Tomatoes are generally ready to harvest when the fruits are large, the peel has turned scarlet-red, the firm texture is just starting to soften, and the plants have a general tomato-ey aroma (particularly in the afternoon when the sun is shining).

Under-ripe Beefsteak Tomatoes may still show some green in the peel and will not yet have turned the characteristic bright red color. That said, tomatoes that ripen in very hot conditions may never develop a deep red color (they tend to stay pale even when past peak ripeness). Under-ripe tomatoes are typically very firm and hard and will be quite tart if eaten. Under-ripe Beefsteak Tomatoes that have been picked can be ripened indoors at room temperature in an airy, protected spot.

Over-ripe Beefsteak Tomatoes may have some wrinkling or other signs of slight decay. The flavor of Beefsteak tomatoes declines after peak ripeness is reached and is often accompanied by a rotting aroma. The texture can be mushy and unpleasant. A mealy texture can also occur when tomatoes are stored in the fridge instead of at room temperature.

Beefsteak tomatoes in basket
Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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