This is going to be tough.
March 2, 2011 10:37 AM   Subscribe

WELL DONE!?! Help me ruin a couple of perfectly good steaks.

A friend recently did my wife a very nice favor, to be repaid with a steak dinner for the friend and her partner. I am to cook the steaks. This would be no problem if not for the fact that both of them like their steaks well-done, whereas I'm a medium-rare kind of guy. The friend who did the favor gets nauseous if she's served meat that's pink in the middle. Her partner's preference has been described to me as "basically shoeleather."

Is there such a thing as a well-prepared well-done steak? Is there a better or "right" way to do this? Particular cuts of meat cut in a particular way? Low and slow or hot and fast? I want to do it right, because the favor was really nice. Please share your wisdom!
posted by jon1270 to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You want low and slow if you're going for well-done. If you try to do it hot, the way you'd do for a medium (or rarer) steak, you'll get inedible charcoal. This is part of the reason people tend to hate well-done steak: they've always had it cooked as if it were exactly the same as rare steak, just darker. I recommend cooking it in the oven, covered, the way you might for a pork chop. You can get a lot of flavor out of a well-done steak this way.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:42 AM on March 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm not speaking from direct experience, as I also like my meat cooked about medium, but low and slow seems like a good bet to keep it from getting too tough.
posted by torisaur at 10:44 AM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: Ignoring the inevitable fight about how well done steak is pointless...

Go for a cut of steak that has more fat, because you'll need it to keep some resemblance of juiciness. I'd go for ribeyes. As for preparation, I'd try to find a thinner cut steak for the two shoeleather people. Don't go for hot and fast for a well done steak. You will have the outside done and the inside too pink.

Maybe go to a good butcher and explain to them what you are looking for. After they are done guffawing at the idea of a "good well done steak" they should get you something that will work out.

Rare for life!
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:46 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Low and slow, turning it often is you best choice. Lots of butter and salt. Choose a rib steak - its a "Nice Steak" that has more internal fat then something cut from the short loin like a strip or porterhouse. Also get thinner steaks then you would normally use, and make sure they are at room temp in middle before you start cooking. Salt them and leave them on the counter for a few hours.

You want to get some maillard reaction on the outside of it, but not charcoal.
posted by JPD at 10:46 AM on March 2, 2011

Yeah, I'd imagine you'd cook it like you do with ribs, the lower and slower the better!
posted by Grither at 10:47 AM on March 2, 2011

And by ribsteak I meant ribeye.
posted by JPD at 10:47 AM on March 2, 2011

yeah, ribeye. You can sear it fast and then throw it in the oven to finish cooking. Don't have it cut too thick - an inch or less.

Also: Don't worry too much; presumably if they like their steaks well done they don't mind a little dryness or toughness.

But still, don't splurge.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:50 AM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: Ugh. I am the hugest advocate for juicy, blood-dripping down the plate, tasty meat but recently I've started to get increasingly nauseous if I have it how I want it.

This means I've been needing to cook my steaks a little more well-done. I basically slather it in butter and coat it in salt and pepper (smoky salt and garlic pepper - thank god for an awesome spice shop) and let it come to room temperature like JPD suggests. Then I pan sear it in a heated cast iron pan with more butter until its cooked like 1/4-1/2" through. After that I just throw it on the grill for a couple minutes on each side.

Definitely get a thinner steak than you normally would because otherwise you'll cook too much. Also let it the meat sit for a couple minutes before you slice, otherwise all the already meager juices will just come out with the first slice.

I'm craving steak so bad now. Guess I know what's for dinner.
posted by Marinara at 10:51 AM on March 2, 2011

Kebobs might be the best bet--they don't dry out as much as a regular steak.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:01 AM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: I love steak, and I love them med-well to well-done. Blasphemy, I know, especially here in Montana. But it's not difficult to get a juicy, tender, and flavorful well-done steak.

I prefer eye of round, and I tenderize it with a multi-blade tenderizer. Pan-fry on medium heat in butter with seasoning salt. Bonus: I add diced onions, carrots, and celery. The steak will gain flavor from he veggies, and the veggies will retain the meaty flavor of the steak. When done, serve the veggies on the side.
posted by The Deej at 11:02 AM on March 2, 2011

You are probably doing this one the stove top, or in the oven or some combination of the two, in which case I am just going to nth the low and slow advice and suggest you just follow that.

If you are grilling, I have two suggestions, keep the steaks away from the fire itself, and use wood chips for some smoke, you are going to have to spend a good while at it, but you will end up with juicy fully cooked steaks with a nice flavor you cannot really replicate using other methods.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:03 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

As someone who likes their meat well-done, (and yes, I know how WRONG that is), I'd say don't worry about keeping it too juicy. In my mind, juice=blood, and like your friend, I'm nauseated at the thought. Your other guest likes "shoeleather?" Let them eat shoeleather.

I know it's hard for the "cooked rare" crowd to believe, but a little bit of dryness to the steak is half the appeal of a well-done piece of meat. To me, anyway.
posted by terilou at 11:07 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love a medium rare steak, but a well done well done steak (as it were) can be great too.

Pick a really great meat, and have the butcher cut some thin steaks (less than an inch). Cook them over super high heat with butter and oil (butter for flavor, oil to help the butter withstand the high heat) and seasonings (for me just salt & pepper).

Thin steak = short cooking time, won't kill the inside.

High heat = crusty on the outside, making for a real caveman-like meat experience.
posted by crickets at 11:12 AM on March 2, 2011

I agree hat they'll be best if brought up to room temperature first. I like to pre-heat the oven to about 180 degrees while I "toast" the each side in a very hot frying pan. Then you can pop the steaks into the oven to bring them slowly up to well-done.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:23 AM on March 2, 2011

Low and slow on the grill seems like the right approach to me.

That's what my parents do and they like to cook their meat to something approaching jerky. They seem to enjoy it that way. I would not be afraid of dryness if your guests have already indicated a preference for shoe leather.
posted by mazola at 11:24 AM on March 2, 2011

In my experience, people who like well done steak really like it with steak sauce, so you might want to have some A1 on hand.
posted by phelixshu at 11:26 AM on March 2, 2011

If it's a thick steak, microwave it for a couple of minutes before you grill. This will start cooking the inside, and will remove alot of the pink look.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:34 AM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: Oh oh following up on the steak sauce thing: if you have, can get, or can make some demiglace, then when you're done cooking the steaks, pour off most of any fat left in the pan, and deglaze the pan with the demiglace. (For extra fanciness, deglaze with red wine first, let that mostly boil away, then go in with the demiglace.) Salt and pepper to taste, and you'll have your own homemade steak sauce that will 1) kick the pants off of A1 and 2) have you literally licking your plate clean.
posted by KathrynT at 11:37 AM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Testing Meat Doneness
posted by leigh1 at 11:42 AM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: Last year for Valentine's day, my husband used a steak cooking recipe from thekitchn to make the BEST STEAKS we've ever made. In the year since, we've made this steak recipe for others with fantastic results -- even for his well-done steak loving brother. On step 13 (the oven part), we just cooked the steak for 4 minutes per side (may need adjustment based on overn temps).

The only problem in cooking steaks for people with such radically different preferences is that the rare & medium rare people get to eat before the well-done people. We compensate for that by letting the steaks rest in foil with butter after cooking. The medium rares just rest for longer. (We've never had a problem with them being too cold by the time the well-dones are read.)
posted by Kronur at 11:48 AM on March 2, 2011

if they have to have it well done, what about skirt steak tex mex fajitas? (skirt steak is bad ass, often looks a little weird next to the other blood-red steaks at the store though) or if it has to be a traditional 'sitting on a plate steak' either a peppercorn steak or using some sukiyaki/teriyaki style sauce w/ some creative sides. I completely agree that the typical 'good steak' doesnt hold up when well done, but some of these other styles will work a lot better.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 11:49 AM on March 2, 2011

Rouxbe has a nice "How to Cook Steak" lesson, but you will have to join their cooking school.
posted by leigh1 at 11:49 AM on March 2, 2011

At the risk of giving a non-answer, why not make brisket? I can't see how anyone would be ANGRY at brisket being offered to them.

It's brisket.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:57 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well here I am in another steak AskMe to pimp the beer-cooler sous-vide method, but this time I think it's really the perfect solution. Put a couple of well-marbled steaks in Ziploc bags and suck the air out, then sink them in 160ºF water for 2 hours. They'll be uniformly and perfectly well-done right through, no matter how thick they are; very juicy since they haven't been exposed to high heat; and very tender since they've been exposed to low heat for a long time. Now just sear the outside on a hot skillet or grill pan and serve.
posted by nicwolff at 12:27 PM on March 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oh: salt and pepper the steaks before they go in the bags, and dry them thoroughly with paper towels before searing them.
posted by nicwolff at 12:28 PM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: I agree with JPD's method, except that I don't think you need a thinner steak. JPD's method is like the method referred to in this thread, which mentions a technique shown by America's Test Kitchen that starts a steak in a 275 degree oven until its internal temp gets to just under 100 degrees, then finishing by a hot pan sear to get the maillard reaction. I use this method and have accidentally cooked steaks medium-well (I prefer medium rare), but the steaks still turned out quite tender and tasty. I suspect that a normal thick cut of steak would benefit a lot from the tenderization that the meat undergoes; a thinner cut would not have much margin for error and would be prone to quickly drying out.

Also, it would be good to start with a well dry aged steak, and cornfed (or at least finished), not grassfed beef; while the grassfed tends to taste beefier, the corn-fed is usually more tender (and fattier).
posted by odin53 at 1:05 PM on March 2, 2011

The only problem in cooking steaks for people with such radically different preferences is that the rare & medium rare people get to eat before the well-done people.

Orrrrrr.... do as I do. Start cooking the rarer ones later than the well-done ones and they can be done at the same time. Sounds crazy, I know.
posted by The Deej at 1:18 PM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So many different approaches, and so many good answers! Thanks everyone. I don't have to prepare this meal until Saturday, but I'm already feeling better about it.
posted by jon1270 at 1:22 PM on March 2, 2011

High fat steak. Bacon wrapped filet is usually cooked more than something like a standard strip. Cook slowly on low heat, no matter what type of steak you're making, and slather it in butter first. Marinating it for a good chunk of time in advance may also help.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:17 PM on March 2, 2011

+1 to nicwolff's sousvide suggestion. Long, slow, and it'll be uniformly brown throughout. And tender.
posted by jlunar at 4:46 PM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: nicwolff's is a great suggestion. I do the ghetto-sous vide every so often.

For well-done, you'll want to go higher than 160'F; at 160, it'll come out a little pink in the middle. Maybe use hot hot hot tap water supplemented with boiled water, aiming for 180'F. Change half the water with fresh hot water every hour or so. A digital meat thermometer will read water temps just fine. With a good beer cooler or a thick-walled styrofoam box, you might not need to change the water with hotter for 2 hours - or just top it up a bit with boiling water.

Ribeye (conversely, flank steak also works) for 4 or 6 hours could be good. Season with a little salt, white pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, maybe a bit of rosemary or thyme in the ziplock bag the night before in the fridge. Dunk the meat bags in water when you get up in the morning. The extra time allows a greater degree of fat-rendering and connective-tissue break-down-age.

In my experience, letting the steaks cool a little bit, re-salt, then sear on high heat to give it some colour and a bit of crust lends a nicer appearance (sous vide comes out of the bag looking kinda... grey. The extra time allows the fluids to redistribute or something. The salt is helpful in creating the colour and crust.).
posted by porpoise at 8:15 PM on March 2, 2011

I defer to porpoise on the temperature for well-done – I do all mine at 130º ツ
posted by nicwolff at 8:54 PM on March 2, 2011

I've read, and from my experience women prefer tenderloin. Many have suggested rib eye (my fave), and stats say that that's the preferred choice of males.

My mother hated any pink in her beef. On rare occasions we sprung for porterhouse. She only liked the tenderloin. So instead of over-cooking the whole steak, I removed the tenderloin from hers, seared it, then finished in the oven, using the "poke test."

If you have an instant read, or better yet a Polder Thermometer, sear/grill on stove top, then roast it to 145. Tent it with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes. This will take the internal temp to near 160. There will be no pink, no flavor, but it won't be tough.

My mother's was always fork-tender. For flavor, you might want to opt for au poivre, and add some mushrooms, if she likes fungi.

For timing, you can sear/grill all the steaks at one time. Put hers in the oven, followed 10-15 minutes later by the others. At any rate, be sure they all rest for 15-20 minutes.
posted by JABof72 at 6:23 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not a big steak fan, pretty much entirely because of the necessity (I'm told) that it be pink and dripping and bloody and ew. But a good skirt steak or carne asada? Oh, hell yes. This is pretty much in line with the tips above to get a thin cut of steak, as skirt is way thin and way long, and very close to the cut used for brisket. If you go this route, look up some instructions for preparing a carne asada--you're still searing to get that good outside crust, but because it's so thin, it cooks all the way through at the same time.
posted by MsMacbeth at 6:28 PM on March 3, 2011

Steaks are usually done in "minutes" - the thing with tougher less marbled cuts like flank (skirt) is that this normal steak-treatment doesn't do the right thing with these cuts.

6-8 hours of 150-160'F on flank is amazing; pre-marinade adds aromatics to the meat, with sous-vide the moisture (and armomatics) loss is minimal, and the extra time (hours) really breaks down the connective tissue. Especially with "tougher" cuts, which are already generally more flavourful, the long low cooking time draws them out even more - the awesomeness of sous-vide is that all the natural moisture isn't lost like in traditional slow-cooking of, say, brisket or in stews.

I've made flank steak (cheap!... er) this way that ended up the texture of tenderloin (filet mignon, overpriced) but with much more flavour (which could be a negative for someone who doesn't like or are used to eating steak) plus the tasty-crunchy crust. I actually prefer "good" steak cuts done the traditional way (sear, oven at 400'F until internal reaches 140-50-ish) but less expensive cuts really benefit from long sous-vide. Expensive cuts done (in my ghetto sous-vide hands) this way isn't much better than done the traditional way (in my hands) - I can control the maillard crust way better the traditional way than after a sous-vide.

I'm kinda sketchy on the bpa content in ziplock bags, but... hey, it's not like I get a chance to do this more than once a month or two. I've also left sous-vide-ed steaks in the fridge for a day or two; the sear (~1 minute per side) for flank steaks (thin - about 1.5 - 2") is enough to warm them up through to tasty.
posted by porpoise at 8:39 PM on March 3, 2011

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