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The beefsteak tomato is one of the largest tomato cultivars, with some varieties weighing in at over 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) per tomato. This meaty tomato is grown in a rainbow of colors, from vibrant red to pale yellow to purple-black. Rather than maintaining a perfectly spherical shape as it develops, it takes on a decided kidney-bean shape, spreading out to the sides.
There are many compact seed cavities dispersed throughout the beefsteak tomato, and the core is practically nonexistent. Because of this internal structure, it holds together well when cut, and so is particularly well suited for slicing and eating raw. It is considered by many to be the ideal sandwich tomato.
Being an indeterminate variety, the vine will keep growing and producing fruit for the entire summer season. It is one of the slowest-maturing tomatoes, with the largest beefsteak cultivars taking up to 90 days to produce ripe fruit. Typically, the vine will continue to produce and set fruit until the first frost.
The beefsteak tomato can, if necessary, be picked from the vine while it is still green and then ripened on the counter, but for maximum flavor and texture, it should be allowed to ripen completely on the vine. A perfectly ripe tomato will be richly colored (the shade will variety according to the cultivar) and will give to gentle pressure. Under no circumstances should a fresh one be refrigerated — the perfect temperature for a tomato is room temperature, between 55° and 70°F (13° and 21°C).
The Big Beef is one of the most popular varieties, and it's prolific, flavorful, and consistent. The Brandywine originated in the American Amish community and has been in existence for over a century. It does not do well in areas of high humidity, however, and is somewhat soft, but the flavor is exceptional. This variety also comes in a yellow version. The Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, and Black Seaman bear striking purplish black fruit. The Basinga and Hazel Mae are yellow beefsteaks that are low in acid and mildly flavored. Some varieties, like Box Car Willie and Goliath, are resistant to disease. Others, like the Mortgage Lifter, are adapted to areas that do not receive a great deal of rainfall.
The best-quality beefsteak tomatoes are typically not available at major supermarkets. Shoppers should instead seek them out at farmers markets or grow them in the garden or in patio containers. In selecting one for purchase, consumers should choose one that is firm, unblemished, and that has unbroken skin. An underripe tomato is perfectly acceptable, however, and it can be left on the counter at room temperature to ripen.
Beefsteak tomatoes are good to use on sandwiches and hamburgers, in salads, diced in salsa, broiled or grilled, or stuffed. Perhaps the most classic way to sample the fruit is simply to serve juicy slices between two pieces of bread slathered with mayonnaise. Diners can sprinkle them with salt and pepper and enjoy. Cooks can also arrange alternating slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella on a chilled serving platter, drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil, top the dish with a few shredded fresh basil leaves, and sprinkle it with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste.