Five Rules for the Perfect Steak
Rule 1: Know your steak
Different cuts of steak have different attributes. Tenderness and flavor can vary quite a bit, but that’s not all. Some cuts, like flank steak, like to be cut in a certain direction (against the grain) after cooking, or have different “ideal” doneness.
One of the biggest factors you need to be aware of is the thickness of the steak. The thicker the steak the longer it will take to get the center to your desired doneness. You also get more time to develop the sear on the outside of the steak. Before you even start cooking, thickness will tell you if you’re going to be cooking the steak for just a couple minutes on each side, or several minutes on each side.
Rule 2: Make sure you season
When we refer to seasoning, we’re talking about salt and pepper, which 95% of the time is all we put on our steaks. If you want to add other spices, that’s fine, but salt and pepper is a must. And you need to be generous. Going back to rule 1, the thicker your steak, the more seasoning you’ll need. And you need to season both sides. Also keep in mind, that some seasoning falls off into the grill or pan, so you need to factor that in as well. We like to use kosher salt because of the size of the grains, and a freshly ground black pepper.
Rule 3: Get a sear on both sides
This is the most important part of the process. Searing crystallizes the sugars in the meat, it renders down the fat, and gives the outside of the steak that awesome crunchy layer that contrasts so nicely with the inside of the meat. It’s what steak houses do so well.
To get the perfect sear, get your pan or grill smoking hot - as hot as you can. Add some oil to the pan (or to the meat for grilling), and if the oil doesn’t smoke, let it continue to heat until it does. Lay the steak, carefully and with confidence, into the pan and you should get big time sizzling. If you don’t, remove the steak, and let it get hotter. Don’t move the steak around. You need maximum heat transfer from the pan to the steak and every time you move that steak you lose heat. And don’t worry about burning!!
Even at this heat, it would take at least 5 minutes (probably more) to burn, aka – turn black. It will take at least 2 minutes to get a good sear, probably more like 3. The thinner the steak, the less time you have to get the sear (because you don’t want an over done center), so it’s critical to let the heat do its thing.
After 2 – 3 minutes you can check the seared side. You’re looking for a deep brown crust. Flip the steak to sear the other side. By the way, 95% of the time, you’ll only need to flip your steaks once. Put the steak into a hot (North of 425 degree) oven.
Rule 4: Know your temperatures
The temperature of steak or its doneness (driven by total cooking time) is separate from the sear. You can have steaks ranging from rare to well done, all with a good sear on them. After you get the steak seared, use the oven to get it to the proper doneness. On the grill you can move your steak to the side, off the direct flame and create an “oven” by closing the lid.
To test doneness use either the “touch” method or a meat thermometer. Using a thermometer makes things pretty clear, and we recommend it for all beginners. The only downside is that you have to own a meat thermometer. The only key thing we’d advise is to put the thermometer in, and leave it there. The more you poke the meat, the more you’re going to allow the juices to leak out.
The touch, or feel, method is what we use, and hope you’ll learn after you cook enough steaks. Basically, the firmer a steak, the more well-done it is. With some practice, you can use that firmness, as well as the length of cooking time to know if the steak is rare, medium or well. In fact, we suggest that every time you use a thermometer, you also practice the touch technique so you get a sense of what various temps feel like.
Rule 5: Let it rest
As steak cooks, the fat melts and juices heat up, and begin to “run”, or flow more easily throughout the meat. It’s inevitable for some of those juices to seep out (there’s really no such thing as “searing in the juice”), but cutting into a steak that just came right off the heat increases that flow of juice out of the steak. What results is dry steak.
So, once you take the steak off the heat, you need to let it rest. Resting allows the meat to cool down some, and the juices get re-absorbed into the meat. This results in a juicy steak. We generally let our steaks rest wrapped in foil for 2 – 5 minutes (which is usually just enough time to make a pan sauce) before we serve.
Simply put: Steak is great. There’s no reason to be intimidated or concerned, just follow these 5 basic rules, and they’ll come out perfect each time.