I cannot remember the last time I ordered a steak at a restaurant. I know it’s been at least a couple of years.
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
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.
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.
Bonus Tip: Never Cook More Than Medium Rare
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.