How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Beefsteak Tomatoes
Want to grow giant, delicious tomatoes? In this article, former organic farmer Logan Hailey shares the best tips and tricks for cultivating incredible ‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes that yield in abundance all summer long.
If you want the biggest, most delicious tomatoes, learn how to grow and care for beefsteak tomato varieties. Prized as one of the biggest and meatiest tomatoes you can grow, this category of tomatoes produces fruits that are regularly 6 inches in diameter and up to 2 pounds.
The plants are remarkably vigorous and productive, requiring a sturdy trellis to support their vining growth.
If you are craving a garden-fresh tomato salad, juicy burger, or flavorful BLT sandwich, here is everything you need to know about growing an abundance of beefsteak tomatoes.
Solanum lycopersicum ‘Beefsteak’ Plant Overview
Plant Type Annual Vegetable
Plant Family Solanaceae
Plant Genus Solanum
Plant Species lycopersicum
Hardiness Zone 3-12
Planting Season Spring and summer
Plant Maintenance Medium to high
Plant Height 4-6’
Fertility Needs High
Companion Plants Marigolds, white alyssum
Soil Type Loamy, well-drained
Plant Spacing 24-36”
Watering Needs High
Sun Exposure Full sun
Days to Maturity 96-100
Pests Tomato hornworms, aphids, flea beetles, and rodents
Diseases Early blight, late blight, leaf spot, Blossom end rot, and mosaic virus
What is a Beefsteak Tomato?
‘Beefsteak’ is a popular tomato cultivar known for its massive, meaty fruits weighing up to 2 pounds. These tomatoes have a delicious, dense texture, smaller seed cavities, and more juicy flesh than other types. ‘Beefsteaks’ are used for both slicing and canning tomatoes. They are popular on summer sandwiches, burgers, and Caprese salads.
The plants are notably vigorous and very easy to grow. They are popular in home gardens because of the eager, fast-growing vines and lack of availability in grocery stores. These giant tomatoes aren’t usually found in supermarkets because the plants are not suited to commercialized, mechanized farming. This makes ‘Beefsteak’ particularly special for home gardeners!
However, the term beefsteak now includes a wide category of tomatoes that are similar in how they grow and develop. Many people refer to all similar tomato varieties as beefsteak varieties, so it’s become a categorical term as well as a singular cultivar. Many varieties of beefsteak tomatoes have been bred using ‘Beefsteak’ as a parent plant.
Similar giant varieties include ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Brandywine,’ ‘Big Boy,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Bucking Bronco,’ ‘Black Krim,’ and ‘Mortgage Lifters.’
How Did Beefsteak Tomatoes Get Their Name?
The name ‘Beefsteak’ reportedly first appeared in an 1869 seed catalog that compared the thick slices of a specialty tomato to a steak. They said the fruits were as “solid and meaty as a beefsteak,” encouraging American gardeners to buy the seeds by storm.
What is Special About ‘Beefsteak’ Tomatoes?
The most notable thing about ‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes is their size, thick texture, and superior flavor. These tomatoes are not often available in stores, making them even more coveted among gardeners. This delightful slicing tomato is multi-functional in the kitchen and easy to grow. The unusual ribbed shape, few seeds, and meaty texture stand out amongst other tomatoes.
The small seed cavities also make this cultivar unique because they create an extra dense texture and rich flavor that isn’t as watery as some large heirloom types. They are perfect for slicing on sandwiches because they won’t make your bread soggy.
History and Cultivation
All tomatoes come from the wild ancestor Solanum pimpinellifolium, native to South America. It’s hard to believe that blueberry-sized wild fruits could be related to a tomato as huge as ‘Beefsteak.’ Still, centuries of breeding have refined this nightshade species into over 10,000 varieties of modern tomatoes.
As one of the earliest domesticated crops, indigenous farmers began cultivating tomatoes about 7,000 years ago. Mesoamerican people crossed plants and saved seeds to yield the fruits we know today. Genetic research reveals that we can thank meristematic tissues (clusters of stem cells) for the ability of tomato fruits to reach such massive sizes.
Scientists believe that mammoth ‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes originated in the Andes. When conquistador Hernan Cortez discovered these tomatoes in Andean gardens in the early 16th century, he promptly brought them back to Spain. The plant later spread to Italy and became a staple in regional cuisines.
Europeans were initially skeptical of tomato plants due to their close relation to deadly nightshades like Atropa belladonna. It was rumored that upper-class Europeans died from eating tomatoes. But later evidence revealed they ate from pewter dinnerware with high amounts of lead.
By the 1700s, tomatoes had reached American gardens via European colonists. Mexican and Central American growers continued to cultivate and breed the plant.
Even back then, this variety was considered a freak of nature with its 1-2 pound fruits. Plant breeders promptly began studying how to enhance productivity, disease resistance, and ability to share traits with other tomato cultivars.
Is ‘Beefsteak’ Tomato GMO?
Contrary to some garden myths, ‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes are not genetically modified (GMO). The unusually large size of ‘Beefsteaks’ can be attributed to hybridization and selection over time.
Traditional plant breeding works like this:
- A gardener discovers a plant with unusually large fruit.
- They harvest the tomatoes and save their seeds.
- They replant the seeds from the largest fruits.
- When the second generation matures, they hand-pollinate the flowers to cross the largest varieties together.
- They harvest the largest fruits and repeat the process.
As you can see, this non-GMO process is much like dog breeding. Farmers, gardeners, and breeders constantly select the traits they want (in this case, the biggest, most flavorful fruits) and continuously save seeds from those plants to perpetuate the desirable traits.
This variety is most commonly grown from seed because the seeds are affordable and widely available. You can also find seedlings at local garden stores and nurseries to transplant into your garden.
Tomato plants are best started indoors in the spring, about 5-6 weeks before your expected last frost. Don’t start seeds too early; your plants may wind up rootbound, leggy, and flowering in their pots, reducing early production. Direct sowing is not recommended because tender young plants are sensitive to cool temperatures. Avoid exposing tomato seedlings to temperatures below 45°F.
To start indoors, you only need a small propagation greenhouse, a sunny south-facing window, or grow lights. It’s very important that seeds receive a lot of light to encourage strong stem and root development. Ambient temperatures around 70°F are ideal.
First, gather your materials:
- A ‘Beefsteak’ seed packet from a reputable source
- Seed-starting pots with drainage holes (6-packs or 4” pots are great)
- Seed-starter mix (well-drained with lots of compost and perlite)
- Germination heating mat (optional)
- Bright light
To sow ‘Beefsteak’ seeds, fill your trays with the fluffy soil mix. Don’t press down the soil or compact it into the pot. The plants enjoy a loamy, aerated medium.
Make a small “dibble” in the center of the cell tray and sow seeds ¼” deep. Lightly cover them with soil or a perlite blend, and avoid burying seeds too deeply. Like all tomatoes, this cultivar germinates best in warm soils between 75 and 90°F. Placing a heating mat beneath the trays will speed up germination and create a more even stand.
Seeds germinate in 5 to 10 days and require continuous warmth throughout their lifetime. If you notice the seedlings start to stretch upward with less leaf development, they aren’t getting enough light. Consider moving to a brighter location or lowering the grow lights closer to the tray surfaces.
Keep seedlings consistently moist but never soggy. Gently irrigate with a spray-nozzle hose or watering can until water pours out of the drainage hole. Alternatively, you can bottom-water by placing the cells in a shallow water tray and allowing the young plants to suck up moisture from the roots.
If you want to save yourself the time and effort of germinating seeds, look for an established ‘Beefsteak’ plant at your local garden store or farm.
Be sure to select tomato seedlings that are:
- Bushy and thick with healthy foliage
- Vibrant green, without yellow or brown spots on the leaves
- Not yet flowering or fruiting in the pot
- Not rootbound (the roots should not be weaving around in the shape of the pot)
- Free from pests and diseases
- Not too leggy (they should not have long, spindly stems)
While it may seem tempting to purchase a large tomato start that is already flowering or fruiting, it is best to avoid these seedlings.
They are often stress-flowering due to being rootbound in a pot for too long. Plants with flowers and tomatoes have trouble transitioning into the garden and may not produce as abundantly. They are more likely to suffer from transplant shock and stunting.
The best time to plant ‘Beefsteaks’ outside is 1-3 weeks after the last spring frost. The weather should be thoroughly settled, and nighttime temperatures consistently above 45°F. In extra-cold climates, you may use a row cover or a cold frame to protect young tomato transplants from unpredictable spring weather.
Before you prepare to transplant, don’t forget to harden off your seedlings. This process slowly acclimates them to the harsher outdoor environment so they won’t experience as much shock.
About 1-2 weeks before transplanting, move tomato seedlings outdoors onto a semi-protected patio. You can bring them indoors on cold nights or cover them in row fabric to help them adjust.
If the plants have been growing under artificial lighting, it is crucial to slowly expose them to the full sunlight so they don’t get burned. Start with a bright window, a patio, and a partially protected garden area.
How to Transplant
Prepare for planting by giving the starts a nice drench. You can water with a diluted kelp solution to reduce the risk of transplant shock. Thoroughly weed your beds before planting and ensure the soil is not compacted in the lower layers.
Install your trellis system in advance so it doesn’t disturb the roots later. A tomato cage, T-post, or A-frame trellis works great, but there are many tomato trellis designs to choose from.
Gently massage the root zone of each seedling, then grasp the plant at the base to ease it out of the container. Use a hori hori knife or planting trowel to loosen the planting hole and place the tomato inside. Backfill the hole and water thoroughly.
‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes can be planted deep to encourage extra root formation along the stem. If your seedlings are robust, you can remove the lower sets of leaves and bury the plant deeper in the soil.
These large, robust plants need plenty of space to grow into full glory. Most varieties are indeterminate or vining plants, meaning they will grow indefinitely until frost kills them. Provide at least 24-36” between plants and 36” between rows. You can get away with tighter spacing (18”) if you prune regularly and trellis upward.
How to Grow
These mammoth-sized tomatoes are easy to grow and require very similar conditions to other types of tomatoes. Be sure they have a sturdy trellis to support the heavy weight of the massive fruits.
Full sun is a necessity for these South American natives. Tomatoes demand at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight.
They savor long, warm summer days and despise cold, cloudy weather. If your climate tends to get a lot of summer rain, space your tomatoes wider apart so they have plenty of light and airflow.
‘Beefsteaks’ are incredibly juicy tomatoes, requiring a lot of water throughout their lifespan, particularly during fruiting. Provide 1-2 inches of water weekly; never let the soil dry out. There is some evidence that inconsistent moisture causes blossom end rot (black, sunken-in tomato bottoms).
At the same time, you should not drench your tomatoes to the point that the roots are sitting in soggy soil. Fungi can easily colonize soggy tomato roots, leading to issues of root rot and soil-borne diseases like Phytophthora.
Never overhead irrigate tomatoes. Sprinklers and hoses that soak the leaves make the plants susceptible to disease. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses deliver water straight to the base without wetting the foliage. If you don’t have an irrigation system, water your ‘Beefsteak’ with a hose or watering can directly at the base. Stick your finger 2-3 inches into the soil to ensure it has been thoroughly moistened.
If there is any soil in your garden that you should prioritize above all else, it is your tomato beds. Loamy, rich, well-drained soil is key to an abundant tomato crop. Amend generously with compost and improve drainage with perlite, peat moss, or vermicompost. Use a broad fork to loosen lower soil layers if there is any sign of compaction.
Tomatoes are semi-acid-loving plants that prefer a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. If your soil is too alkaline (high pH), the plants may show symptoms of nutrient deficiencies because they cannot correctly uptake fertilizers at high pH levels. Amend with peat moss or elemental sulfur to reduce the pH.
Climate and Temperature
These warm-weather crops demand temperatures above 50°F, thriving in the 70-80°F zone. ‘Beefsteaks’ don’t mind extra hot weather, but they need additional irrigation in triple-digit weather. You may even want to provide some afternoon shade in southern climates to prevent leaf scorch or wilting.
You can grow these juicy burger toppings almost anywhere if you have 100-150 frost-free days. Northern growers should always get a head start by sowing indoors and transplanting out under cover.
Tomatoes need well-rounded fertility to crank out an ongoing abundance of fruit. Espoma Garden-Tone is one of my favorites because it provides balanced, slow-release nutrients throughout the season.
It is helpful to fertilize with a diluted fish emulsion every 1-2 weeks during the establishment phase and switch to a high-phosphorus fertilizer like bone meal or seaweed fertilizer during fruiting.
Many soils lack sufficient calcium availability for thriving tomato plants. Calcium amendment with crushed eggshells, seaweed, bone meal, lime, or gypsum can help prevent blossom end rot.
Whatever fertilizer you choose, be careful not to overdo it. Too much nitrogen can cause overly lush foliage growth at the expense of fruit. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is particularly risky for gardeners because they often add too much, leading to potential nutrient leaching into the water table and a disappointing lack of tomatoes. When this crop receives too much nitrogen in any form, it tends to put all its energy into growing leaves and stems rather than the tasty ‘Beefsteak’ we crave.
‘Beefsteaks’ aren’t particularly high-maintenance but require regular pruning and trellising to reach their fullest potential. It’s recommended to prune off suckers once or twice a week. Suckers are the side shoots from a central tomato stem and can form new vines. They are called suckers because they “suck” the energy from the plant, which can reduce fruit development.
Depending on your trellis system, you may choose one or two “leader” vines and prune off all side-shoot vines. This encourages the plant to funnel its efforts into growing fat, juicy tomatoes. Use sharp, sanitized pruners to cut suckers right in the “elbow” where they connect with the main stem. Take them to your compost pile so they don’t become a reservoir for disease.
When trellising, be careful not to bend or snap the vines. You can use twine or plastic trellis clips to hold young vines and train them to climb where you want them to go. These plants tend to be very pliable and easy to manipulate. You can grow a ‘Beefsteak’ up a fence, over an archway, or even winding around a single pole. Whatever method you choose, keep the vines up off the ground and ensure that there is plenty of support for the stems and fruits.
Other Beefsteak Varieties
The classic ‘Beefsteak’ has evolved into dozens of varieties with extra large fruits and stupendous flavor. Botanical Interests offers the iconic ‘Beefsteak’ seeds and several related cultivars.
Some of our favorites include:
- ‘Big Beef’: A superior disease-resistant variety, this globe-shaped fruit is ultra-productive.
- ‘Pineapple Pole’: This high-yielding yellow-orange beefsteak has low acid and a hint of fruitiness.
- ‘Brandywine’: This classic heirloom yields giant ridged fruits in pink, red, and yellow.
- ‘Steak Sandwich’: This hybrid offers an old-fashioned taste and a luscious, firm texture for any burger or sandwich.
- ‘Cherokee Carbon’: A cross between heirloom ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Carbon,’ these giant purple fruits carry the beefsteak shape, texture, and rich flavor.
Pests and Diseases
Tomatoes are amazingly resilient plants, but they are unfortunately susceptible to a vast range of pests and diseases. In general, the best prevention is healthy soil rich in organic matter. Keep your plants well-watered because stressed crops are more vulnerable to problems. Adequate spacing and regular pruning will help maintain airflow and vigor.
Stripped leaves or entirely defoliated plants are signs of a tomato hornworm infestation. These caterpillars can destroy a tomato plant in the blink of an eye. They have voracious appetites and are among the best camouflaged insects ever. They blend right into the vines!
Their only giveaways are barren, leafless sections of your tomato patch or piles of brown, black, or green caterpillar poop. Hornworms are the larvae of the beautiful sphinx moth. It’s also called the hummingbird moth due to its resemblance to the bird.
These moths typically lay their eggs on the plants at night. Cover your tomato plants with row fabric if possible to prevent the moths from laying eggs on the stems.
Remedies include neem oil, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), parasitic wasps, diatomaceous earth, and hand removal.
Pro Tip: If you suspect hornworms but can’t seem to find them, hold your plant from the center and give it a firm shake. The pesky caterpillars will “hiss” when disturbed, giving away their position. Then, you can pick them off and place them elsewhere in the garden. Chickens also love eating hornworms!
Is there anything these sap-suckers don’t eat? Aphids aren’t usually a deadly issue for ‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes, but they can be a nuisance and weaken the plant’s defenses. Use a heavy spray of water (in the morning so the leaves can dry out), neem oil, or insecticidal soap to remove the little green bugs. Plant marigolds, white alyssum, and dill nearby to attract beneficial predatory insects.
A million tiny shotgun-like holes in tomato leaves are a sign of flea beetles. These itty bitty leaping beetles have a shiny exterior and a tendency to multiply rapidly. They pose the greatest risk to young tomato seedlings because their holes are an entry point for early blight disease.
You can dust leaves with diatomaceous earth or talcum powder to deter feeding or set up floating row covers early in the season. Flea beetles mainly attack in the spring, so covering small plants at this stage is easier.
When chunks of your tomato fruits go missing, rodents are likely to blame. Moles, voles, mice, rats, and rabbits love tomatoes as much as we do. The best way to keep them out of your tomato beds is to trellis your tomatoes so none of the fruit hangs close to the ground. You can also try critter cages, traps, organic rodent repellent (like coyote urine), or a garden cat or dog to act as a guard.
As one of the most common tomato diseases, early blight is caused by a destructive fungus that overwinters in plant debris or the soil. The number one way to prevent it is to remove all tomato debris from your garden at the end of every season. Never leave behind prunings, stems, leaves, or fruit to rot on the soil surface.
Dense plantings and high humidity also create conditions for the fungus to spread. Ensure adequate spacing and pruning to maintain airflow between your ‘Beefsteak’ plants and their neighbors.
Early blight causes yellow and brown bullseye marks on the leaves, which eventually shrivel up and fall from the plant. Older leaves closer to the soil are usually affected first. Remove infected areas immediately and destroy infected plants to prevent spread. It is difficult to kill the pathogen, so prevention is important. The disease can also attack potatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
While early blight is more common, late blight is more deadly. It attacks plants later in the season and can spread rapidly. Late blight is caused by an oomycete water mold that grows similarly to a fungus.
You will first notice it as brown spots that form on the leaves after particularly wet, warm conditions. As it spreads, late blight can kill whole sections of a plant and even spread to an entire plot of tomatoes within a couple of days.
When you spot the signature brown lesions and fuzzy undergrowth, prune off infected parts or remove the whole plant immediately. Take the same prevention precautions as you did with early blight.
Septoria leaf spot is yet another devastating fungal disease. The symptoms are smaller brown spots between the leaves’ angular veins. Prevention is similar to blights in that you want the most airflow and least humidity possible. Look for resistant varieties in moist climates and prune regularly to keep this pathogen out of your garden.
Blossom End Rot
Although it’s not technically a disease, blossom end rot is a major killer of beefsteak tomato dreams. This physiological issue causes ugly, brown, rotten “butts” on your tomatoes. Its most common cause is inconsistent watering frequency, making it difficult for the plant to absorb nutrients in the soil, which can result in a calcium deficiency. The best way to prevent blossom end rot is to maintain regular soil moisture, amend with mineral-rich compost, and avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers that can cause rapid growth.
Blossom end rot won’t ruin your chances of more tomatoes. However, you can’t reverse it in the fruit once the fruit starts to rot. Remove rotting fruit and ensure your plants consistently have access to the moisture they need to uptake nutrients from the soil.
Tobacco Mosaic Virus
Curling, sickly leaves, and alternative light and green mosaic patterns are sure signs of mosaic virus. This disease distorts tomato plants and is fatal. Typically, tobacco mosaic virus (as with all mosaic virus strains, such as tomato mosaic virus) is spread by pests, largely aphids or thrips.
Thoroughly wash your hands and disinfect tools before handling your other plants if you’ve worked with suspected TMV or another mosaic virus. Remove infected plants immediately and choose resistant varieties (often labeled TMV) when available.
Commercially-grown tobacco products may include TMV-infected tissue. While the risk is more severe from the tobacco itself than its ash or smoke, many sources recommend keeping tobacco products out of your tomato garden in an abundance of caution to prevent mosaic viral spread. There is no cure for mosaic viruses nor any treatment regimen, so prevention is crucial.
‘Beefsteaks’ and their close relatives make delectable additions to sandwiches, burgers, salads, pizzas, sauces, salsas, and other tomato-centric dishes. To experience the richness of their flavor, enjoy the fruits sliced and sprinkled with salt.
If you want an abundance of giant tomatoes, grow ‘Beefsteak’ in rich, loamy soil with consistent moisture and full sunlight. An organic all-purpose fertilizer without too much nitrogen promotes healthy growth. Regularly prune plants to prevent disease and encourage more fruit production. Don’t forget to install a sturdy trellis, as these giant fruits can weigh down a plant!