How to Cook Steak Properly

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BrianBrian says:

As I mentioned in my last post, there are a great deal of people out there who cook their steaks half to death with the slightest bit of remorse. At first I was just going to let it go, hoping to play the ignorance-is-bliss card but I just can’t let it stand, people!

For this post, I’m going to show you the bare bones method to cooking a modest cut of meat the proper way. There are those who love to throw a hunk of beef on a spit fire until it reaches a toughness comparable to that of anodized rubber, but there’s an even better method that goes widely unused in most amateur and some professional kitchens: pan searing.

Now, you might be saying, “Brian! That’s not grilling!”, and you’d be right but that’s not necessarily the point. Instead of trying so hard to make a steak look good i.e. grill marks, etc., your primary goal should be to make sure the steak tastes good! Here are some tips to help you along:

– Know your meat. Love your meat (and the person cutting it for you).

More often than not, a cook will blindly choose a piece of pre-cut meat from behind a glass case without the slightest attempt at exhibiting any real competence–or confidence, for that matter. Whenever you’re in doubt, and I know I’ve said this many times over, ask the butcher! That’s why they are there. Even the generic “butcher-type” individual behind the counter at your local chain store knows a thing or two about the product you intend on purchasing. For your own sake, don’t go into the cooking process with rib eye on your mind when you have a Porterhouse in your hand.

– Prepare Yourself!

Over seasoning an already perfect cut of steak seems to be the common M.O. for some people, but I’m here to tell you that the most you’ll ever need for a perfectly seasoned steak is salt and pepper (gasp!). Put away the garlic, Worcestershire sauce and all the other hangups that you might have about cooking a great steak and go for what you know; coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper, got it?

– Bring the heat.

High heat for short periods of time is your friend. Period. Once your meat is good to go, break out a stainless steel skillet and get it as hot as you can. The point is to get the pan hot enough so that it can sear the outside of your steak to seal in as much of the moisture (read: flavor) as quickly as possible. You will need no more than 2 minutes on each side to get a good sear. Before you start this lightning fast process, you should be preheating your oven to 500 degrees. This is going to serve as your springboard into the second portion of the cooking process.

– Out of the frying pan…

Once you’ve got the sear that you’re looking for, and your oven is heated, quickly move the pan into your oven and cook for about 2-3 minutes per pound. Disclaimer: There will be smoke, especially with fattier cuts of meat. But do not panic! This is part of the process. Just be sure you ventilate your kitchen accordingly or cook on an outside grill/oven combination if smoke isn’t your thing.

– Let it rest.

Once you’ve reached the perfect point–any good steak should be cooked to a medium rare state–you’ll reach the most crucial part of the cooking process: letting it rest. Place your steak(s) on a microwave safe dish or cutting board and let it sit. That’s it! Don’t immediately cut into it, touch it, flip it around or anything. The meat has been through a lot at this point and it needs a chance to get its bearings straight. You will not believe how many people neglect this step and go straight for it. In the end, it’s better to have a warm steak that was cooked to a tee than a scalding hot one that has yet to finish cooking at all.

Brian Wilder is a writer for Home Ec 101. You can also find him at Things My Grandfather Taught Me.
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10 thoughts on “How to Cook Steak Properly”

  1. YES! It's been ages since I put a steak on a grill. Once I found that searing it in an extremely hot pan gave me what I really wanted (and to me, with much less hassle than a grill) I've never cooked steak any other way.

    One thing I always do: Cook the steak LAST. Have everything else for the meal ready to serve, THEN cook the meat. You can pour drinks or toss the salad & dressing while the steak is standing, then have at. For some reason THAT little notion took a while to sink into my noggin. I'd have the meat ready and then be "oh, wait — what am I serving this with?"

  2. We tend to buy a large steak and split it. Pan searing is a little tricky with a steak that's more than 1 inch thick. I've been experimenting with low heat/high heat cooking. I put the steak in the oven at 225 degrees to get the temp up slowly. Then I turn the heat up high – 425 or so- to finish it off. It works wonderfully. I agree on the seasoning. A little salt and pepper is enough.
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  3. I add one step whether grilling, pan frying, or broiling (this works best in a toaster oven that gets really hot). I take my steak out of the package and immediately crust it heavily on both sides with sea salt and one seasoning – I like black pepper, garlic, or Tiger Sauce. I then let it sit for 10 minutes, then flip it over and let it sit for another 10 minutes. Then I brush off the steak, dress it lightly with olive oil and a light dusting of pepper, and proceed to cook it. The point of the salt crust is to carry the flavors down into the meat and also to "relax" the tissues – steaks, even the tougher, lower fat cuts I typically buy, come out tender this way without requiring the use of meat tenderizer.

  4. I agree that searing is important. However, for a different reason than “sear the outside of your steak to seal in as much of the moisture (read: flavor) as quickly as possible.” Searing allows the outside of the meat to undergo the Maillard reaction, a ‘caramelization’ of the sugars and proteins on the surface of the meat. Searing before cooking actually causes a slightly greater loss of weight than searing after or not searing. While sealing in moisture was and still is a common notion, the most common explanation I hear is that people equate it with cauterizing a wound, a steak has had much of the blood drained from it and searing the meat actually opens up the muscle fibers more than if you had not.

    Not finding my more institutional study on it but SeriousEats addresses it in #4 and quite a few other groups/people have come to the same conclusion.

    But yes, searing does create your most flavor. Also why you sear meat before braising. One method that is gaining popularity is to bring the meat closer to the desired temperature (i.e. letting it sit out, sit in a warm oven, sous vide) and then searing it.

  5. I hear you also can do a face test on it to get it just right. Poke the steak then poke your face and compare :if it’s like your cheek it’s rare, nose/chin = medium , forehead – well done.

  6. One thing I have learned about cooking steak is you should let the steak reach room temperature before cooking. If you don’t it will not cook properly. I tried it without letting the steak come to room temperature and it came out grey and was more like I boiled it.


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