There are very few things that a person can cook that’ll impress guests more than a finely prepared steak. The reason it’s so impressive is because steaks can be really hard to cook properly. They’re temperamental. You can overseason them. You can dry them out. You can burn the outside while the inside is still raw. You can lose all the juices. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong.
This article is meant to be a primer to put you on the path to cooking better steaks. Becoming a better steak chef is a lifelong endeavor, but by avoiding a few common pitfalls, you can greatly increase your steak cooking abilities. Here are 7 basic steps to cooking a better steak.
- Buy a good steak - This is the most important step to cooking a good steak. You’ll never be able to cook a Dollar General steak into a 5 star restaurant quality meal. Find a local butcher if you can. Otherwise, get freshly cut portion at the supermarket. The same way that you couldn’t bake a delicious cake with spoiled milk, you’ll never cook a good steak if the piece of meat is bad quality.
- Bring the steak’s temperature up before cooking - You should never cook a cold steak. It’s a recipe for failure. Ideally, the steak should be just below room temperature when you toss it on the grill or in the skillet. The reason you don’t want to cook a cold steak is because you’ll never get the inside to an acceptable temperature before the outside chars to a crisp.
- Season liberally (but not too much) - A good steak doesn’t need much: just salt and pepper. You should season the steak after you take it out of the fridge while it’s coming up to temperature. When you season it, don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty. Really rub the seasonings into your steak. You want the entire thing to be full of flavor. Use your knuckles. Massage the meat. It’ll be worth it when every bite is buttery, bursting in your mouth savory flavor.
- Make sure the cooking surface is hot - You should never put a steak on a cold surface that’s still heating up. The surface should be piping hot before the steak touches it. The reason is two-fold: first, a hot cooking surface makes the crust on the steak delicious; second, shocking the surface of the steak locks in all of its juices.
- Use the right tools - You should never flip a steak with grill forks. Those are fine for ribs and slow smoked meats, but your steaks should only ever be turned with tongs or spatulas. Puncturing the outside of the steak will cause all of the juices to exit your steak, leaving you sad and dejected with a dry dinner.
- Cook to your temperature preference - I’m kind of a unicorn when it comes to steak lovers. Most people like me say that if you’re eating your steak at any temperature above ultra-rare, you’re ruining the meat. I disagree. That’s why I don’t pass any judgement on folks that like their steaks more done than others. The best way to make sure you’re cooking your steak for the correct time is to time it. This chart is pretty helpful if you’re wondering where to start. Once you get more used to cooking steak, you’ll be able to determine doneness by how firm the steak is--typically more firm means the steak is more done. Cooking by feel should be the ultimate goal of any steak cooking connoisseur.
- LET IT REST - The last step of cooking a good steak is probably the most important of all: let it rest. If you don’t mind a bit of crude language, Anthony Bourdain can tell you why it’s so crucial. When you remove a steak from its heat source, a bunch of things are still going on inside of it. There are scientific things we could talk about, but the important thing to know is that resting your steak normalizes the color. Have you ever cut into a steak, and there’s practically a line on the inside where color changes? That’s because it didn’t rest long enough. 10 minutes is the sweet spot. Letting your steak rest will make sure that the inside color gradually changes from brown crust to your preferred doneness. LET IT REST.
Cooking a good steak takes practice. These 7 tips are a great place to start if you want to learn how to cook a better steak. Whether you prefer cooking your steaks in a skillet or on the grill, the basics don’t really change. Bring the steak’s temperature up, make sure the heat source is hot, and let the steak rest.
LET THE STEAK REST.
I’m going to say it one more time; let the steak rest. It really does make a world of difference.