Let's say the gods ate steak. I want to know how it would be prepared.
September 10, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Help me learn to make the perfect steak.

I'm learning to cook steak, and for the moment just steak. (as opposed to a full meal which features steak as a centerpiece. That can come later).

Right now my preferred technique is to set the pan to high heat, add in a bit of olive oil, sear the (room temperature, dried) steak on one side for about a minute, turn down the heat to about 350°, flip the steak and then let it pan-fry till the internal temp gets to about 125° - 130° at which point I pull it out of the pan, put it on a plate with a bit of butter, cover it with foil and let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

I've experimented with different kinds of rubs which have included various quantities of salt, pepper, and sugar (to improve the Maillard reaction), Right now I seem to be getting some successes with Penzy Spices Chicago Steak seasoning, but I'd be happy to try anything else.

What I'd really like help with is improving the tenderness of the meat, suggestions as to other kinds of rubs or marinades, whether or not it's worth it to sear on the stove top and then switch to a cast-iron skillet in the oven for the actual cooking, and any other suggestions as to ways of making my overall final product better. Google has a lot of advice... too much in fact. So I'm hoping that the Green can get a little more specific for me.

My only caveat is that I'm currently limited to an electric stove/ oven. So grilling isn't an option for me.
posted by quin to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 117 users marked this as a favorite
cast iron pan is key for a sear. especially because you can flip and xfer the pan to the oven after searing one side, and let the other side sear while it cooks to a perfect medium rare.

mario batali is highly against resting meat with foil over it, but then again we all dont have a salamander at home to quickly bring out steaks back up to serving temperature...
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 10:13 AM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

The tenderness of the meat depends largely on the cut and the grade of the steak. What cut of steak are you using, and what grade is it? Prime will be a lot tenderer than Select.
posted by Ery at 10:13 AM on September 10, 2010

FWIW, I'm also learning, but cooked steak tips as part of a meal for 11 friends the other day and people were raving.

I actually used lean steak tips for this:

- In a tupperware container, add olive oil, GrillMates Montreal Steak Seasoning and 2-3 cloves of freshly chopped garlic and chopped onion (I used yellow) and a teaspoon of fresh hot ground peppers.
- Add steak tips, cover with lid and shake all over the place
- Add more olive oil or Montreal Steak seasoning if needed, just make sure everything is well-coated.
- Shake again and let sit for 20-30 minutes at room temperature.
- Heat griddle or pan on stove top on high
- When pan is hot add the tips and sear on each side (the middle can remain red)
- Place in glass pyrex pan and drizzle any remaining juices from tupperware container and/or griddle
- Toss into oven at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, depending on how well you like your tips cooked.

They came out really juicy and good!
posted by floweredfish at 10:20 AM on September 10, 2010

Response by poster: One other caveat: my wife has absolutely no tolerance for spicy food, so I'm trying to avoid that as well.

Ery: I've been using select Angus eye of rounds, as they seem to be about the right size, meal wise, for us. I'm not all that knowledgeable when it comes to the different cuts, so any suggestions there would be welcome as well.
posted by quin at 10:20 AM on September 10, 2010

Stainless steel skillet (or cast iron, whatever, just no Teflon), butter instead of olive oil, sear for ~3 minutes per side for a big thick filet mignon, rest for 5. That gives me the steaks I love.
posted by komara at 10:21 AM on September 10, 2010

There are various techniques out there. You'll have to try a few to see which works best for you. Here are two which we've tried: Amateur Gourmet and Steamy Kitchen. I suggest reading the comments of other readers and their experiences. We like Amateur Gourmet's. We didn't quite do Steamy Kitchen's method well because our steaks became too salty. We'd try again, though.
posted by serunding at 10:21 AM on September 10, 2010

This is actually my preferred method for cooking steak. Alot of it will depend on cut/grade. I personally LOVE ribeye!!! If you are on the west coast, tri-tip is also pretty good, but it's tougher.

To add to what you have, I will add 2 cloves of garlic, rosemary and butter at the end and baste the steak for a minute or two and let it rest with the garlic and rosemary on top.

Tenderness will come from marbling and cut. If you want a very tender cut- go with filet. Won't have much flavor, but it should be pretty tender.

If you want flavor, go with something more fatty, like ribeye. Look for cuts of ribeye closer to the front of the roast as you won't get that big grain of fat through the middle that is common with cuts from the end.
posted by TheBones at 10:23 AM on September 10, 2010

Best answer: The cut of meat is very important. Good meat costs more. Fatty meat tastes much, much better than lean meat. Personally, I like ribeye.
posted by neuron at 10:23 AM on September 10, 2010

How to cook a f*cking steak.

Does what it says on the tin.

Note: I do not want to smack you.
posted by valkyryn at 10:25 AM on September 10, 2010 [6 favorites]

A 48-blade meat tenderizer may help.
posted by royalsong at 10:25 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Eye of round has no fat, other than the fat cap, and can be a really tough cut of meat because of lack of said fat. It is also very prone to over-cooking.

This is, most likely, the culprit. If you want something less fatty, go with either a new york strip or filet. New Yorks have fat caps on them, but can easily be trimmed. The marbling is much less than say a ribeye, but more than filet.

You will pay for a good filet- usually upwards of $20 a pound. Though you can find whole filets at costco for about $80 which will give you 6 to 8 steaks.
posted by TheBones at 10:27 AM on September 10, 2010

Best answer: Select meat is notable for toughness. It is the toughest of the three generally-available grades of beef in the US. Choice is more tender than Select, and Prime is more tender than Choice. It's also more flavorful—and more expensive.

Select is fine for slow-cooking tough cuts of meat, such as stew made with chuck steak, because the slow moist cooking tenderizes the meat. Prime is much better for fast-cooked tender cuts of beef, for the sort of cooking you're doing.

If you are careful to buy Prime grade meat, in any of the cuts others have already recommended here, you will notice a big difference in tenderness and flavor.
posted by Ery at 10:30 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sear it to complete doneness on the stovetop rather than finishing it in the oven.

I learned how to cook steak with Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For the Food, and this is the general process:

-Rub a healthy amount of salt and pepper into each side of the steak.
-Cast iron pan on a burner on high. Let it warm up fully, don't be impatient.
-Spray a very small amount of oil on the steak. If your pan is seasoned well enough, you may not need to do this.
-Steak goes on the pan. Five minutes. Don't touch it.
-Flip the steak. Another 5-6 minutes will cook a "supermarket size" steak to medium rare. (I'm not too picky about where mine ends up on the doneness scale, so I usually just wing it.) Don't touch the steak!
-Remove steak to a rack, tent with foil, and let it rest for five to ten minutes. I usually just throw them right on a plate, but they do get some resting time because
-It's time to make a pan sauce! One tablespoon butter, add a tablespoon of flour once the butter has melted. Cook until golden, then add 1/3-1/2 cup of liquid. Stir over medium heat until thickened.

Liquid can be a combination of your choice. I usually do some sort of stock or red wine as a base, some Worcestershire or soy, couple dashes of hot sauce - whatever works well together, really.

If you are cooking something relatively tough like blade steak, after cooking and resting slice the steak on a bias in to thin pieces before serving. This will break up the long muscle fibers and make the steak more tender.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:33 AM on September 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

Also, I know you said you're not interested in doing a whole meal at this point, but you can very easily throw in a handful of green beans, asparagus, or other veggies either during the second half of the steak sear or immediately after they're done. The pan has plenty of retained heat to do so, just make sure to keep tossing the veg with a pair of tongs. Should take about three minutes to get them nice and crisp-tender.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:35 AM on September 10, 2010

My method, for what it's worth, which seems to work pretty well:

1. Choose a better cut (and grade) of steak. NY Strip and ribeye give a great balance of flavor and tender. Flatiron's a newish cut that's a lot cheaper, and pretty damn good.

2. Salt & pepper your steak liberally and let sit at room temperature 30-60 min prior to cooking

3. While steak is sitting, make a compound butter. Personally, I like butter, blue cheese, parsley, and a little lemon juice. You can leave out the blue cheese if you're not a fan and it will still be awesome.

4. Take a well-seasoned cast iron pan, stick it in the oven, and turn the oven as high as it will go. You want that pan to get white fucking hot.

5. Once steak is at room temp and pan is white fucking hot, take pan out of oven and put on burner set to high.

6. Turn on exhaust fan and open windows-- you are about to generate some serious fucking smoke.

7. Pat steak dry with paper towels, and place in pan. Depending on how thick your steak is and how well-cooked you like it, cook somewhere between 2 and 4 minutes. (Or less, depending on the cut-- a filet, for instance, should probably cook no more than 1 -2 minutes per side, unless it's really thick). Pat the top side dry with another wad of paper towels, then flip and cook to desired done-ness.

8. Remove from heat, place on warmed plate, top with compound butter, cover LOOSELY with foil, and let rest for 5 - 8 minutes.

9. Slice steak on the bias, plate slices, then pour accumulated juices & melted butter over them.


(p.s., do not use olive oil with this method. It will just burn and taste yucky).
posted by dersins at 10:40 AM on September 10, 2010 [30 favorites]

Get yourself a Costco membership, and start buying USDA Prime meat there. It is very difficult to find Prime meat in NYC (not sure about Milwaukee area) in the grocery store, but Costco consistently has it. This will make a big difference in terms of tenderness. Also, when you first start searing the steak, use one half of the pan, and when you flip it, use the other half of the pan, so both sides get that really hot metal direct to the steak, then move it into the oven (which I usually set to 450 or 500). For an 1.5inch thick or so steak, I flip 3 times, so each side gets 45 seconds, then pop it in the oven for 4 minutes or so for medium rare. And if you're going for the steakhouse steak, use more salt than you think you should.
posted by Grither at 10:42 AM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been told, by several people, that my steaks are the best they've ever eaten. I'm a vegetarian, so I cook them by formula. My method is:

- start with a good piece of meat, preferably a fresh, organic, grass-fed filet (but if frozen, defrost overnight in the fridge)
- take the steak out of the fridge two hours prior to cooking. You want it room temperature
- pre-heat the oven to high (250c)
- put the cast iron frypan on high heat on the stove
- rub the steak with olive oil and then sprinkle over with kosher salt (on all sides)
- sear the steak in the frypan for one minute each side (set a timer)
- put a cooking thermometer in the steak, set the thermometer to 65c (rare)
- put the frypan (with steak) in the oven
- wait till the thermometer beeps
- turn the steak over, then stick the thermometer back in - if it beeps straight away it's ready, if not put it back in the oven until it beeps again
- plate the steak and leave to rest for 10 mins (no foil) before serving

Seriously, perfect every time. If you prefer your steak other than rare, google steak temperatures and cook according to the temperature.

Bon appetit!
posted by goo at 10:45 AM on September 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

Every time (every time!) I cook a steak, I pull out my yellowed copy of this article.
posted by TrarNoir at 10:52 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

My beef lady turned me on to chuck tenderloins. Nice and small, fairly tender and the only chuck cut I wouldn't do in the slow cooker.

I do flat irons sometimes, too, but they are thin so you have to be really careful to not overcook them.

Don't think you said how you are cooking them, but well-done is always going to be tough. I like very rare, but that can get chewy on occasion, too.
posted by QIbHom at 11:07 AM on September 10, 2010

Mostly seconding a bunch of stuff--

My Argentinian dad would disown me if I did anything to good steak other than salt it heavily with sea salt or kosher salt, let it rest for 30 minutes until the blood comes to the surface, then throw it on a lightly oiled hot ridged skillet (assuming no open flame is available) for about 5 minutes a side until it it's not done enough. Rest it a little under 10 minutes at the bottom of a deep bowl with foil very losely on top --you want to avoid steaming the meat. The trick of salting the raw steak is that the blood will come up and then carmelize when it hits the heat, so do not skimp on the salt.

The best way to test done-ness is by texture-- you'll notice that raw steak is floppy and over-cooked steak is like tire rubber. You're aiming for something still floppy but a little resistant-- you may have to practice eating perfectly done steaks until you can recognize the right feel. Always err on the side of raw, you can always put it back on for another minute, but over-done steak is lost forever.

The key to good steak, unfortunately, is good steak, with is hard to find and never cheap (unless you are actually in Argentina, or Alberta! but I may be partial). The Costco suggestion is a good one, this tip is also good for Canada I can confirm. Rib-eye is my personal favorite.
posted by Erasmouse at 11:08 AM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So it sounds like changing to a better cut and quality of meat will improve matters right off the bat. That's good to know, and I will implement it first thing.

A lot of the suggestions lean towards cast iron and cooking in the oven, I'm not against this, and I actually bought and seasoned a skillet specifically for this purpose, but I'm curious as to what exactly the benefit is over just cooking it on the stove itself. It seems like it would be harder to judge the internal temperature of the meat.

I've heard that cast iron gives the cut a more even heat, which I can see, but is it really that important to the cooking process of steak, and if you prefer this way of doing it, how do you know when the meat is done.

(also, is it safe to use a cast iron skillet on a glass top stove? I know it's a dumb question, but I don't think I've ever tried it before.)
posted by quin at 11:31 AM on September 10, 2010

Correction-- after reading some of the links, my previously stated 5 minutes per side is ridiculous-- it's more like 2 1/2 or 3. Stand over the pan in a state of zen, waiting for the steak to speak to you. Or cheat and slice a corner, to make sure it's red in the middle and pink on the inside edge.
posted by Erasmouse at 11:33 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Or cheat and slice a corner

Oh god no don't do this! You'll lose the juices this way. Feel the steak. Give it a little poke, prod or pinch with your bare fingers. With practice, you'll learn to recognize stages of done-ness, but while you're learning, you can use this rule of... er... thumb.
posted by dersins at 11:40 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

An alternate method, previously on the blue.
posted by bgrebs at 11:42 AM on September 10, 2010

Before you grill it, salt the hell out of it.
posted by ehamiter at 11:48 AM on September 10, 2010

We can agree-to-disagree about pan sauteeing all the way through vs. searing and slow roasting to finish (me = firm believer in the latter...), but one incredibly effective trick for any cut of meat of any variety: season it as soon as you get it home from the market, even if you're going to freeze it. It really DOES make a difference.

Oh, and, bring it all the way to room temperature before you start cooking it. For steaks of any reasonable thickness, that will mean setting it out at least ninety minutes before you're going to start.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 12:12 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's a fun little tip to help you tell when your pan is the right temperature before you put the meat on.
posted by platinum at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've heard that cast iron gives the cut a more even heat, which I can see, but is it really that important to the cooking process of steak, and if you prefer this way of doing it, how do you know when the meat is done.

Cast iron is preferred because because it is so heavy and dense. That density acts like a thermal capacitor storing heat. That's so when you put a cold or room temperature thing in the pan the pan doesn't suddenly loose a lot of heat. If the pan's temperature drops to low it will take too long to cook your steak i.e. it will be burnt on the outside and too done in the middle OR if you will, you take it off early to protect the outside and the inside is too rare.

Which brings me to the cooktop + oven approach. The reason this approach get a lot of praise is that it is one easy way of maintaining the balance of nice non-burnt crust with just the right amount of pink in the center. Clearly it is possible to cook perfect steaks without this approach but it is tough without a lot of practice. The stove top + oven approach is one way of trying to make it easier on yourself.
posted by mmascolino at 1:10 PM on September 10, 2010

I support the Alton Brown cast iron pan method. Works beautifully, and I use the technique on bison as well.
posted by musicinmybrain at 1:11 PM on September 10, 2010

After pulling the steak out of the pan, I like to throw a quarter cup of water or so into the pan (off heat, it'll bubble like crazy anyway), scrape up the brown bits, let it boil off--the water is just to loosen the brown bits, add a few tablespoons of brandy (or whatever seems right that's around), let it reduce by half, absolutely off heat -- swirl in a tablespoon of butter, it'll be a sort of creamy consistency. Pour over the steak. It's easy and elegant and takes no effort.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:12 PM on September 10, 2010

how do you know when the meat is done.

That soft bit of flesh on your hand, between your index finger and your thumb? The softest part is rare. Unpleasantly rare. Scooch your fingers back, back, to where the bones of the two fingers meet. That's medium rare. So when you touch the thickest part of the steak with your finger, that's what it feels like -- soft, but not squishy, with some underlying firmness.

Sometimes you'll see red juice come out of the steak as it cooks, the cooking happening on the bottom is forcing the liquid upward. I find that's usually a comforting sign things are going right.

I also torch the hell out of a cast iron pan before putting meat in it but you have to watch it -- if the steak is really thick, the high heat will cook the outside too quickly and the inside will be rare instead of medium rare, what most people go for.

After consideration, I actually don't mind medium either -- I used to think that was namby pamby but I think it's pretty good these days -- just the tiniest bit pink. It's a llama house compromise (he likes well done, I like medium rare.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:20 PM on September 10, 2010

seriously, from experience, alex balk's how to cook a fucking steak on the awl is simple and easy and, if you buy very good meat, will result in better steaks than most restaurants (even excellent and spendy ones) can manage. you really don't need anything other than quality steak, salt, and a good pan—steak seasoning is bullshit you will only ever need because the meat you bought isn't good enough.
posted by lia at 1:25 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of tips here. Before I went vegan, I employed the Alton Brown/Erasmouse method: Ribeye plus salt -- lots of salt, way more than you think you need. Rest it in the fridge for a while, uncovered, anywhere from a couple of hours to a day, to pull out some of the internal moisture. Sometimes I brought it to room temp before searing and most times I didn't. Add fresh ground pepper and canola oil and take it too the crackling grill (or the preheated skillet). Cooking time varied, depending on how long I'd left the steak in the fridge to dry.

Eyumm. Nothing I've been able to do to seitan or tempeh or tofu comes close. Oh well.

As far as portion size, my wife and I would split a ~one pound boneless ribeye. After resting, I'd slice it and serve.
posted by notyou at 1:29 PM on September 10, 2010

Salt and pepper them, throw them in a beer cooler with a few gallons of 130º water for at least 45 minutes, then sear them in a cast iron grill pan.
posted by nicwolff at 1:59 PM on September 10, 2010

Response by poster: I've actually been thinking about playing around with the whole DIY Sous Vide thing, but I figure I'll try to perfect the more traditional way first.
posted by quin at 2:15 PM on September 10, 2010

Have never tried this, but it's been in my "to cook" folder for a while until the next time I feel like steak. It seems theoretically sound, blending a cast-iron sear with the even cooking of an oven:

The Kitchn - How To Cook A Steak In The Oven
posted by smistephen at 2:47 PM on September 10, 2010

Marinate in WHITE WINE, crushed garlic & herbs.

Do not salt until it's in the pan. I only pepper at the end because pepper can burn.

I discovered this trick recently when I was out of red. At Casa Benben, it is now preferred:)

posted by jbenben at 3:28 PM on September 10, 2010

Tiny Urban Kitchen has my new go-to method. In essence:

Bring steaks to room temperature, or close.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Place steaks on wire rack in oven. Bake until they reach an internal temperature of 90-95 degrees rare to med. rare or 100-105 degrees for medium. For me, about 12 minutes.
Remove your pallid and unappetizing-looking steaks, sear on a rocket-hot cast iron pan or other heavy pan with vegetable oil, ~2minutes/side.
Rest 5-10 minutes on a rack.

Why do I love this method? Perfectly even internal temperatures, excellent browning, and my tiny apartment does not fill with smoke like it does if I try to do 10+ minutes of searing on a cast iron pan.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:04 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just tried this backwards way of cooking steak: it came out fantastic! And the damn smoke alarm never went off at all, which is a miracle. Thanks!
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:13 PM on September 12, 2010

Response by poster: So, in the interests of Science, I left everything else in my formula the same, but replaced the select eye of round with a choice sirloin and the difference was profound! Much more tender and flavorful!

Next, I'll move on to some prime cuts, and experiment with ribeye which sounds really promising. I'm also going to slowly work through the other suggestions here and see if I can't perfect the cooking preparation side.

Thanks everyone!
posted by quin at 8:26 AM on September 13, 2010

Seriously, try a nice NY strip steak. Eye of round isn't a steak! It's stew meat. All the fancy cooking techniques in the world won't make it taste like a strip steak.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:33 AM on September 13, 2010

As a rough guide to testing how well done a 3-4cm steak is by texture (after cooking both sides) -

Hold your left hand out, relaxed, with fingers just spread and thumb out at about 45 degrees. Trace the bones of your index finger and thumb back to where they join in the back of your hand.

Place your thumb just to the "meat" side of the joint. Press lightly. This amount of resistance is well done.

Place your thumb halfway between the joint and the web between your thumb and index finger. Press lightly. This amount of resistance is medium/medium rare.

Place your thumb just next to (but not on) the web between the thumb and index finger. Press lightly. This amount of resistance is rare.

Try it out on a steak or 50 and adjust to fit your own hand.

(I learned this from a steakhouse chef, and am comfortable with the notion that he sticks his thumb into every steak I eat there, because they always come out just as I order them.)
posted by Ahab at 8:57 AM on September 15, 2010

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