How to Make the “Best” Steak Ever

Steak cooked in cast iron skillet with blue cheese butter topping.

I cannot remember the last time I ordered a steak at a restaurant.  I know it’s been at least a couple of years.  

Why?

Because I see no point. Through much trial and error, over the years I’ve learned the fine art of making some really good steak.  And just about any time I order a steak at a restaurant, even a really nice restaurant, I always feel a tad bit disappointed.

It’s rare that I come across a steak at a restaurant that’s as good or better than what I make at home. And even when it is, it’s only incrementally better, and not worth the extra money you shell out at a restaurant for a steak. 

The truth of the matter is that making a killer steak is a matter of simple technique. Granted, those techniques can take time to discover and master. I’d say my journey has taken at least 10 years.  But that’s because I tried a lot of different things before finally narrowing it down to what is essential. 

Thankfully, because of this blog post, I’m going to save you years of trial and error. Simply follow my tips below.

Tip #1: Pick Your Steaks Individually, and Always Buy Fresh

Never buy frozen steaks, and never keep steaks in your freezer. Freezing your steaks will always degrade the quality of your steaks at the molecular level. Whenever you buy a steak, buy it at the grocery store and cook it the very same day.

And if your grocery store has a butcher and/or meat counter, always buy your steaks individually from behind the counter. Never buy the pre-wrapped steaks, as these are almost always the lower quality steaks, or they are sold in bulk, which prevents you from picking steaks individually.

You should always buy steaks individually, not only so you can ensure that they are the proper thickness (1.5-2 inches thick), but so you can ensure they have the best “marbling” (distribution of fat) that you can pick.

Not all steaks are created equal. So choose wisely. It only takes an extra minute or two, and the impact on flavor and texture can be like night and day.

Tip #2: Never Cook Your Steak Cold

Before cooking your steak, you should take it out of the fridge and let it sit on your counter for at least 30-45 minutes before cooking.

Taking your steak straight out of the fridge and cooking your steak on a high heat will result in a steak that doesn’t cook evenly in the center. It’ll suffer a sort of “shock” from doing so. As a result, you could cook a steak that looks nicely cooked on the outside, but still very cold and rare in the middle.

Resting your steak before you cook it is just as important as resting your steak for a few minutes after you cook. This also gives you some time to generously season your steak before hand, allowing salt to further penetrate and flavor your favorite cut of meat.

Tip #3 Season Generously, But Keep Your Steak Seasoning Simple

The perfect steak blend: Salt, pepper, and Chicago Steak Seasoning

Some purists like food guru Alton Brown believe a steak requires nothing more than to be generously seasoned with salt. Alton Brown believes this allows you to get the maximum amount of “beefy” flavor when you eat your steak.

I love Alton Brown, and I like his general philosophy here about keeping things simple when it comes to steak. As when it comes to steak, I’m all about that yummy beefy goodness.

But I think strictly salt isn’t going to do it for most people. I personally like salt, fresh cracked pepper (never powder!), and a little garlic powder, or my favorite steakhouse seasoning, “Chicago Steak Seasoning.” I personally prefer my steak to have a little “kick” to it, and a generous cracking of fresh ground pepper or Chicago Steak Seasoning really adds that extra level of spice I think most of us crave when it comes to a really good steak.

And if you want to occasionally make a special topping to go on your steak, like Bobby Flay’s blue cheese butter, I am entirely down with that.

But make sure whatever you do…. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER eat your steak with steak sauce. About the only time you will ever see me use steak sauce is if I don’t feel like my steak tastes very good, or if I’m just in a weird mood.

Tip #4: Cook Your Steak Slowly, And Never On A Grill

The only time you should ever cook your steak on a grill is if you have a large party.

Why? Three reasons.

First, you’ll never get a perfectly caramelized crust on your steak. Grill marks may look pretty, but they don’t have the same flavor that comes from a fully developed crust. That crust only comes from intense direct contact with a red hot skillet.

Second, grills have a lot of random hot and cold spots, are subject to flare ups and other extreme spikes in temperature, resulting in uneven cooks and very hard to control internal levels of doneness.

Third, when your steak cooks on a grill it loses juice and fat. Those juices and fat (flavor!!!) falls forever between the grill grates and burns up in the flames below.

That’s why there’s only two ways you should ever cook a steak.

You need to cook steak slowly, and you need to cook it either using a sous vide precision cooker (pictured below), or you need to “reverse sear” the steak by cooking it slowly in the oven at 225 degrees for about 45 +/- minutes (depending on what cut of steak you have).

By cooking slowly, you gently raise the internal temperature of the steak to the desired level of doneness, and the steak’s fat melts and infuses your steak with it’s full flavor potential. Your steak also better retains its juices, ensuring you don’t eat a steak that’s ever tough and dry.

I personally prefer the sous vide method, and it’s what they use in most high end professional restaurants. But if this tool seems a little intimidating to you, the reverse sear method is perfectly acceptable too. But seriously, don’t be intimidated by the sous vide cooker. With a sous vide cooker, you are simply warming your steak up in a hot water bath to the exact temperate you want (130 degrees for perfect medium rare). The internal temperature of your steak will never rise above the temperature of the water bath. If you set the water at 130, your steak will cook to 130, and hold there until you are ready to serve.

Once you go sous vide, you’ll never cook a steak any other way. I promise. And it’s super simple.

Sous Vide Precision Cooker

After cooking your steak with a sous vide cooker (or using a reverse sear), you simply finish the steak by lightly patting it dry and then searing it in a fire hot cast iron skillet.

When cooking in the cast iron skillet, I highly recommend using an oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado oil. This way your house will be a lot less smoky when you sear the steak in your pan, the oil won’t burn, and the flavor is completely neutral (it won’t taste like an avocado). It also makes it safe to add a little butter to the steak pan if you wish to finish your steak with some butter, garlic, and herbs such as thyme or rosemary. The oil will prevent the butter from burning.

Searing steak in a cast iron pan.

Bonus Tip: Never Cook More Than Medium Rare

Perfectly cooked medium rare steak (130 degrees)

I feel very dogmatic about this point.

Unless you have some religious or dietary/medical restrictions, you should never cook your steak above a medium rare (130-134 degrees).

Cooking your steak with an internal temperature above this point truly ruins your steak. This simply is not a debatable point. If you want your steak above this temperature, excuse yourself from the table and go get a burger at McDonalds, because you probably aren’t an adult and haven’t fully developed your taste buds yet.

Sorry to be rough, but it’s true. Deal with it 😉

So, make sure when cooking your steak to check the internal temperature of your steak with a digital instant read thermometer when you are cooking your steak (unless you are using a sous vide, which requires no internal thermometer usage). This way your steak cooks to the precise temperature you want it, and is the only way to make a steak perfectly.

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How to Make the “Best” Burger Ever

Best burger ever

If you wanna make the “best” burger ever, there are only 3 rules you must adhere to. Anything different and you’ll probably still end up with a something delicious, but it won’t be the best.

1. Grind Your Own Burger “Mix”

NOTHING beats a freshly ground burger. Don’t buy any frozen patties from Sam’s Club. Don’t buy any of the prepackaged stuff wrapped in plastic from your grocery store. If you want the most amazing burger experience, you need to grind your own burger blend.

It’s pretty easy to do. You don’t need to be a culinary expert to do this. You don’t have to be able to beat Bobby Flay at anything.

All you need is a meat grinder and some cuts of beef.

You can use a dedicated meat grinder if you want. But if you already have a Kitchen Aid mixer, I recommend buying a simple meat grinder attachment.

From there you can buy any assortment of meats you want and grind it up and call it a burger. They key is to make sure you don’t grind anything super lean. You want something with fat. Fat will keep your burger moist and juicy, and give you a ton of flavor (“fat is flavor.”)

And keep your meats cheap, don’t buy steak or anything ridiculous, as you’ll spend a lot of money for something that doesn’t give any more flavor.

For me, I keep it simple. I grind only two types of meat: chuck roast and boneless short-rib. It should be noted that not every grocery store carries boneless short-rib. If your grocery store has a butcher, most will trim the meat off the bone for you. I recommend this as doing it yourself can be a little tricky.

For every pound of chuck roast you buy, I recommend a quarter pound of short-rib. This will give you a burger mix of 75% chuck and 25% short-rib.

To make your burger mix, cut all your meat into small cubes. Chill it in your freezer for about 30 minutes (this keeps it from melting into a gummy texture when grinding.) Then simply grind your meat, season, and form your hamburger. Be careful not to over work the meat when forming it in your hands.

2. Generously Season Your Burger Mix… ALL Of It.

Salt and freshly ground black pepper is all you need.

BUT, if you wanna set your burger apart, I highly recommend a Chicago Steak Seasoning blend. When you season your meat be very generous. More is more when it comes burgers.

Now what I’m gonna say here is controversial. Many would say I am wrong. But that’s where I think they are wrong

You need to mix your seasoning into all of your burger mix, not just the surface!

Most folks making burgers say you should just season the outside of your burger patty. I find this to be lacking, especially if you make your burger patty a little on the thick side (like me).

If you only season the outside, then the inside of the burger will lack much in the way of flavor. And if only the surface is seasoned, then a lot of that seasoning will get cooked off when the burger crust forms.

If you season ALL of your burger mix, you will impart flavor throughout the entire burger.

However, after you season your burger mix and form the patty, I still recommend you hit the exterior with extra salt and pepper, as it will help form a better crust when you cook them.

I personally like to hit the outside with a lot of extra freshly ground black pepper. Season according to your liking.

3. ONLY Use A Cast Iron Skillet

Unless you are cooking for a large party…

Never. Never. NEVER cook your burgers on a grill.

You should only cook your burgers on a cast iron skillet.

The reasons are simple.

First, a grill will not really allow you to form a great crust on your burger. It’ll just leave grill marks. The crust on a burger forms when the entire surface is exposed directly to intense heat. The heat causes the crust with all its’ seasoning to caramelize, creating not only amazing flavor, but a great texture.

Secondly, if you cook a burger on your grill, all that amazing flavor from the fat (fat is flavor!) and all the juices from the burger will fall between the grates into the flames below. When cooking on the cast iron, all that juicy fat will be saved, and your burger will be so juicy it’ll run down your fingers as you eat it. Just as God intended.

BONUS TIP: Use 2 Slices of Cheese

I’ve noticed over the years, one slice of cheese just isn’t enough.

The cheese has a tendency to thin out and melt away a bit. But TWO slices of cheese, that’s where it’s at. Your cheese will be more creamy and full of flavor. And to better melt your cheese, I recommend putting a pan lid on top of your cast iron skillet as you cook it, as the heat from the pan will get trapped under the lid.

And I recommend a sharp cheddar cheese to top your burger! It has more contrasting flavor than boring old American or Colby cheeses.