1. Why We Love Steaks
There’s a reason why, after all these years, a good piece of steak is still the reigning champ of the “special occasion” meals.
Its simplicity is part of it: there are no complex recipes, no elaborate ingredients, nothing really fancy about it other than, perhaps, the quality of the meat.
And though steak is such a huge part of our culinary lives, not everyone has truly mastered the art of cooking a steak to perfection. It’s common for people to overcook it, overcomplicate it, use the wrong methods, and end up with a slightly disappointing meal.
Cooking a steak to perfection is a basic kitchen skill, like knowing how to sharpen a knife, that will aid you tremendously.
2. What Technically Counts as a “Steak”?
A steak is a relatively thin piece of beef cut across the grain.
That’s right, cutting across the grain is what makes it a steak – if you hold up a piece of ribeye and examine it closely, you can see lines running up and down the side.
That’s the “grain”, the muscle fiber that runs parallel to each other.
That said, there are cuts that don’t fit within this narrow definition that is still commonly referred to as “steak”.
For instance, the flank steak, which comes from the belly of the cow. It’s so thin that you can only cut it into a steak along with the grain, resulting in long muscle fibers running side-to-side rather than up-and-down.
3. The Different Levels of Doneness
|Seared on the outside, completely red throughout
|Seared on the outside, 75% red through the center
|Seared outside, 50% red center
|Seared outside, 25% pink inside
|Mostly brown with a slight hint of pink
|Completely brown throughout
There’s no accounting for taste, and the best doneness is the one that feels right to you.
4. How to Cook a Steak to Perfection
For all these methods it helps to have a meat temperature. Along with a good knife set, it’s one of the must-have kitchen essentials.
Cooking a steak on a grill
Grilling steak is very straightforward. Preheat your grill to a medium-high temperature. While it heats up, pat your steak dry with a paper towel.
Season your steak with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (if you’re looking for a more flavorful steak, try this marinated steak recipe).
Once your steak is seasoned and the grill is ready, simply throw it in and delight in the ever-so-satisfying sound of that sizzle.
The secret is to flip your steak frequently. Introduce your meat thermometer at an angle in the thickest part of the steak.
Once it’s a few degrees below your desired doneness, pull the steak out and let it rest — it will actually continue cooking internally, as the heat from the surface continues to work its way inside.
If you measure it just right, you’ll end up with a perfect steak.
Cooking a steak in a pan
First, dry your steak with a paper towel to remove as much of its surface moisture as possible. Season both sides of the steak with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
In order to get a delicious outside crust while also avoiding overcooking the steak internally, we need to make our pan very very hot.
Bring it up to the point where putting your hand just above the pan is actually uncomfortable. Once you’re there, put your steak in the pan and enjoy the sizzle.
A great finishing touch is to add in some butter, rosemary, and garlic. The butter will melt and pool on the edge of the pan, mixing with the garlic and the rosemary; you can use a spoon to baste the melted butter over your steak.
Not only will the butter and aromatics add depth and complexity to the flavor, but it will also assist in the cooking of the beef. Truly delicious.
The reverse-sear method
Season your steak with salt and pepper. Preheat your oven to 275° F. Cook the steak in the oven (it will likely take a few hours) up to about 125° F.
While that’s definitely still rare, that’s because we will actually continue the cooking process when we move the steak over to a hot pan. Remove from the oven.
Make sure your pan is very hot, because we want to blast it with heat to achieve that perfect sear. From this point on, you can continue the steps from the previous method, including butter-basting it if you like.