You don’t have to be a supertaster to know that not everyone knows how to cook a piece of meat. Some amateur chefs start with the wrong cut, while others use the wrong heat, and others still slice into the meal before its time. Cooking a steak in your kitchen is a relatively basic skill, but it’s not exactly intuitive. The cooks at Stack Exchange offer a few friendly tips to ensure your next dinner party doesn’t go down in flames.
Image: Matthew P. Hunt.
Whenever I cook steak at home, something goes wrong. Often, I burn the outside and cut into a cold, totally raw centre. When I lower the temperature on my grill pan, my steak dries out and resembles cork.
Clearly, I need help. Who’s got it?
Accepted Answer: Stovetop Step-by-Step
You should be able to cook a reasonable steak on your stovetop using a cast iron grill pan and hopefully you’ve got a strong enough exhaust or plentiful ventilation to handle the smoke.
First: Oil a cast iron pan (with canola or such), then heat it very hot, until it starts to smoke. Make sure the meat is completely dry on the outside (wipe with a paper towel, water will prevent browning) and gently place in the pan. Leave it there for a minute or two (it’ll smoke quite a bit!), rotate 90° to get the nice grill marks. Leave for another minute or two. Flip, and repeat for the other side.
It may splatter — have a splatter screen handy. It will smoke, quite a bit, make sure the exhaust is on high. You will probably have a medium-rare steak now. Using a thinner cut will make it more well done (you can cut a thick steak in half with your chef’s knife, making two thin steaks); so will plopping it in the oven (it’s up to you whether you’d like to use the oven before or after searing). I like ‘em medium rare…
Remember to let the meat rest for five minutes or so before serving.
Also, if your steaks are coming out tough, you’re probably using the wrong cut of meat or a terrible grade.
Edit by rumtscho: There is a reason this answer specifies a cast iron pan. If you are limited in your cookware choice, pay attention to the maximum temperature your pan can tolerate. If you are using a non-stick pan, you have to use medium heat and wait longer, or else you’ll damage the pan. (And sorry, but you can’t get it as tasty as when you use high heat). See this Q&A for a few other uses for your cast iron pan.
Answer: Use The Rule of Thumb
Loosely touch one of your fingers to your thumb: forefinger for rare, middle finger for medium rare, ring finger for medium and pinky finger if you like your steak well done. The tension in your muscle below the thumb should resemble the toughness of the steak you want to cook.
But remember, the steak will continue to cook as long as five minutes after you remove it from direct heat. Aim for undercooked. You can’t uncook a steak once it’s overcooked.
Answer: Let it Rest
An important part of the process is allowing your steak to rest for up to 10 minutes before before serving (depending on size). Some experienced chefs recommend letting your steak rest for half the time it was over a flame.
Resting is necessary because at temperature the muscle fibres have tightened and are unable to retain their juices. A steak straight off the heat and cut open will instantly lose all its juices. If you allow the steak to cool for a few minutes, then the muscle fibres relax, hold the juices better and you end up with a much more flavorful steak.
Answer: Most of What You Know About Cooking Steak Is Probably Wrong
First: Read the Food Lab articles on cooking steak.
Start with a decent cut. Typically, these will be cuts from the rib (Ribeye), short loin (Tenderloin, T-Bone, Porterhouse, Top Loin) and sirloin (Sirloin, Top Sirloin) parts of the steer. Whichever cut you go with should have a nice, even distribution of white fat throughout the muscle (called marbling). Read About.com’s write-up on steak grades & cuts for details.
Second: ALWAYS let your meat come to room temperature before doing anything to it. Then, salt and pepper it and let it stand at least 40 minutes before cooking or cook it immediately.
Third: Get a nice heavy pan and a high smoke point oil (like canola) and heat a thin layer of oil until it just starts to smoke. Don’t let it smoke too long lest the oil break down and affect the flavour of your steak. Avoid butter as the milk solids will burn before achieving a high enough temperature. And see here for the right way to dispose of fats and oils after you’re done.
Fourth: Add your steak to the pan and flip every 15-30 seconds until desired doneness is reached. This is where most people get it wrong. Not flipping is an almost guaranteed recipe for unevenly cooked steak. The temperature in the pan will fluctuate no matter how high you have it cranked up, which means one side will be cooked more than the other. Flip to equalise any temperature differences in the pan.
Fifth: Forget about shortcuts for testing doneness and get yourself a decent meat thermometer. Testing temperature is the only sure-fire way to ensuring steak is done to your liking.
Last: LET IT REST! From 5-15 minutes, depending on the thickness and cut. Not giving it time to rest is a surefire way to end up with dry steak.
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