How To Cook The Perfect Steak
Most of the best meals ever include a nicely cooked piece of meat and nothing excites the gastronomical senses more than a steak dinner. The sight, the sound and the smell are enough to get us salivating at the table, long before the steak is put in front of us.
Steak is simple to cook. You just throw it on the BBQ or in a pan (or even a slow cooker) and cook. As simple as it is, it boggles the mind that so many people get it wrong. If you’ve ever bitten into a piece of steak and found it tough, tasteless and just wrong, you’ll also know the disappointment that comes with having to eat a mediocre steak. So what does it take to cook the perfect steak? Here are 10 tips to get a perfectly cooked steak that you will enjoy, right down to the very last bite.
1. Choose the Right Cut
When it comes to choosing a good steak you need to start with good beef first. Naturally raised, grass-fed beef from organic farms is always a better choice because the animals will not have been fed concentrates and hormones.
When it comes to the actual cuts of meat, there are a number of great cuts to choose from. Some of the more popular ones are the T-bone, sirloin, strip steak and rib-eye filet, just to name a few. The key is the thickness. Thin steaks are not a good option as they cook really fast, all the way through and resemble shoe leather. You can make a good cut yourself by using a meat cleaver.
You should also avoid the really cheap cuts of meat. These cuts are fine for stews and casseroles that require several hours of cooking time, but they tend to be overly tough when you try to cook them quickly like you normally do for steak.
2. Don’t Cook Your Steak Right Out Of The Fridge
You’ve gotten everything prepared to cook your steaks and now it’s time to take them out of the fridge and get cooking. The first thing you need to do in terms of preparation is take the steak out of the refrigerator and leave them out for at least 30 minutes before you start cooking. You won’t get a nice, evenly cooked steak if you try to cook it cold and it will also make it really difficult for the center of the steak to heat up properly during the cooking process.
3. Season Well
There are hundreds of pre-mixed herb and spice combinations that claim to be the best seasoning for steak. But why add something that will clash with steak’s already perfect taste. The only thing you need to season steak with is plain old salt and pepper. Season both sides of the steak well but be careful not to over season. A little less is better because you can always add more salt, but you can’t take it away once you’ve added it. Also, once you have seasoned your steak, gently massage the seasoning into the meat.
4. Make Sure The Steak Is Dry
Once you’ve seasoned your steak, leave it alone for a few minutes, then pat off any excess moisture with a paper towel. You should never attempt to cook your steak while it is wet. This moisture will cause the oil in the pan to spatter all over the place but the bigger problem is that the moisture in the pan will interfere with the cooking process and you could end up with a tough piece of meat.
5. Turn Up The Heat
When your steak is finally ready to be cooked, turn up the heat. It doesn’t matter if you are cooking your steak indoors in a pan or indoor grill or grilling outside on a camping grill. You need a lot of heat in this initial cooking stage to sear the steaks and seal in all the flavor and goodness on the inside. Depending on the thickness of your steak, and how you like it cooked, you may need to lower the heat once you have your steak properly seared. What you do want to achieve is a little bit of crunch on the outside with a tender and juicy inside.
6. Use Proper Charcoal
If you’re determined to get your steaks cooked over an open flame then you need good quality charcoal. This charcoal will add a completely different flavor to your steak and make it all that much more delicious. Just make sure the charcoal has had a chance to burn down before you start cooking. When it comes to cooking steak with charcoal you can cook them using a grill placed over the embers, or you can place the steak directly on the coals. Be careful though, as you don’t want the steak to become a piece of charcoal. Try and avoid self-lighting or instant lighting charcoal as these often have accelerants on them that make them burn faster, but also come with a not so pleasant smell.
7. Get Yourself A Cast Iron Pan
Cast iron is the perfect material for cooking steak. Once heated, a cast iron pan will retain its heat and cook your steak to perfection. A cast iron pan needs to be seasoned to be efficient. This simply means applying a thin layer of cooking oil to the pan after you’ve cleaned it. Once this is done, you steak shouldn’t stick the pan. Cooking steak in a cast iron pan also gives you the option of searing your steak on the stove top and transferring the steak in the pan to the oven to finish the cooking process. Cast iron pans are chemical free and add natural iron to your food. They are inexpensive and will last for an extremely long time.
8. Be Careful Not To Over Cook
One of the worst things you can do to a beautiful, fresh steak is overcook it. Overcooking takes out all the moisture and flavor and you’ll end up with something that is so tough, almost to the point of being inedible. Even if you prefer your steaks well done, there is a very thin line between well done and horribly overcooked. Well done still means a little bit of moisture has been retained so you can use steak knives to cut your steaks and not a chainsaw.
9. Use A Steak Thermometer
If you’re not completely confident at your steak cooking skills and your main concern is overcooking or even undercooking, get yourself a meat thermometer. Most people have a tendency to underestimate cooking times and this means they will leave the steak to cook just that little bit longer and overcook it most of the time. A meat thermometer will take all the guesswork out of getting your steak cooked perfectly. Simply slide the probe of the thermometer into the center of the steak when you think it’s cooked, or close to being cooked and check the temperature. As a general guide, these are the temperatures to aim for:
- Rare: 125ºF
- Medium-rare: 130 to 135ºF
- Medium: 140 to 145ºF
- Medium-well: 150ºF
- Well Done: 160ºF
It’s a good idea to take your steaks of the heat when they are 3 – 5 degrees away from their ideal temperature as the center will continue to rise a little more even after you are no longer cooking them
10. Let Your Steak Rest
By the time you’ve prepared all the side dishes and cooked your steaks you are probably drooling in anticipation of finally getting to eat. Before you bring out the steak knives and start attacking your plate, take a deep breath, grab a beer and walk away. Your steak needs to rest at least 5 – 10 minutes before you start cutting. This gives the juices time to settle and it will help the steak stay moist and juicy, right down to the last mouthful. If you cut into it too soon, all those flavorful juices will seep out and your steak will start to dry out. If you must do something, gently smear a little bit of butter over the top of your steak. The butter will melt over the steak and mingle with the other juices forming its own delicious sauce.
The main thing with cooking steak is persistence and practice. Try different cooking methods, different pans and different cuts of meat. It takes time to learn how to properly prepare your steaks and cook them to perfection. Even the master chefs around the world had to learn how to cook steaks to perfection. The hardest part is getting the temperature right and you can bet that even top chefs get it wrong from time to time.
Keep trying until you master the art of cooking the perfect steak and you’ll never want to eat out again. Even if you do keep visiting your favorite steak houses, you’ll have the knowledge to order a perfect steak and make sure you get what you ordered. Bon Appetit.