How to Cook the Perfect Steak

December 11, 2014

perfect steakI’m going to show you how to cook the perfect steak… A great steak starts with 5 things.

  1. A good quality piece of meat
  2. The perfect amount of good salt and pepper
  3. The right amount of oil, heat, and cooking time
  4. The perfect pan (hint: it’s cast iron)
  5. A caramelized exterior – the deep, dark, delicious crust that happens from the right amount of oil, heat, and cooking time.  This exterior – which is drawing out the natural sugars from the meat – is called caramelization.

Here are steps to cook your steak perfectly.

1. Always bring the steak to room temperature before cooking.  

All protein should come to room temperature before attempting to be cooked.  The cornerstone to a great steak is a great sear – so if your steak is cold, instead of forming that prized deep, caramelized crust, you will bring it to temperature in the pan.  This results in less than optimal results.  No crust=no flavor.

2. Always pat the steak dry with paper towels before cooking.

Again, the cornerstone of a great steak is the brown crust.  If you place a wet steak in a pan, your meat will steam, thus reducing its ability to brown.

3.  Season your steak with salt right before cooking – not 5 or 10 minutes before, but immediately before.  

Salt begins to draw the water out of your steak – and water is no-no for optimal flavor.  Again, no crust=no flavor.  Water=no crust.

4. Use the right amount of salt.  Preferably Diamond Kosher salt.  Don’t use iodized salt.  

1 tsp per pound of meat.  It may seem like a lot, but it’s not.  It may even need more.  A sprinkling of maldon sea salt when the steak is done is also marvelous.

5.  Use a cast-iron pan to cook your steak.  Make sure to heat it at medium high heat (not on high, not on medium.  In between) for about 3 minutes.

Don’t heat it for 1 minute.  Don’t heat it for 4 minutes.  Pay attention.  2.5 to 3 minutes is optimal.  You will not have the same results if you heat is on high for 1 minute.  Where you put that little stove knob matters and will make a huge difference in the ultimate results.

6.  Once hot, add 1-2 tablespoons of oil to your pan.  Let heat for 15 seconds to 30 seconds.  

Turn your fan on high.  Open your window.  NOW add your steak.  Don’t crowd the pan.  This will create steam.  Steam=no crust.

This is SUPPOSED to smoke a little.  Welcome to cooking like a chef.

7.  You may need to turn the heat down a little – this is a process of paying attention.  

If it’s crazy full on sizzling and smoking, do turn it down one half to a full stove knob (for example, from stove knob 7.5 to 6.5)

8. DO NOT TOUCH THE STEAK.  Let it cook for 3 minutes on each side WITHOUT touching.  

It will develop a gorgeous, caramelized crust.  Turn it over and do the same thing on the other side.

9.  The thickness of your steak and the amount of fat will help determine how long it takes to cook.

A thicker steak will take more time and may require some oven time.

10. Always let your steak rest 5 minutes before slicing.

The protein seizes when you cook the steak – so giving it a few minutes for the protein to relax and the juices to distribute is key here.

perfect steak frying pan

You can also use this type of pan. This is a good example of how not to crowd the pan. This steak is thick, so it needs to go in the oven for extra cooking time.

Grass fed vs. grain fed beef

Grass fed beef has less fat than grain fed so it will cook more quickly.  The ideal – both for health and sustainability, is to buy grass fed.  If you cannot afford grass fed, try getting grain fed meat from a butcher, Whole Foods, or an organic place that has decent butcher counter.  Big box supermarket meat is not recommended – both for its factory farming practices and subpar flavor.

What steak cuts to buy

I’m listing my personal favorites and best recommendations for beginner cooks.

Also, I love skirt, hanger, tri-tip, sirloin tip, london broils – but in my opinion, these are trickier to cook to bring out their best flavor.  They are also less expensive, so it may not hurt as much to experiment with.  Skirt+ hanger are fattier and need to be sliced at an angle with the grain to be tender.  London broil does not have a lot of fat, so it needs to be cooked perfectly to not be dry.  Sirloin tip is a bit fattier/more marbled than sirloin and thus has a better flavor – you also have to slice it with the grain once it is cooked.

Flat-iron steak, $$

Well-priced at less than $10/pound and extremely flavorful, not overly fatty – but enough fat to keep the meat juicy and delicious. This is a great cut of meat for the price and the flavor.

New York Strip steak, $$$

Not cheap at $15-$20/pound but very flavorful.  Not as fatty as the rib-eye but enough fat to make the meat very flavorful.  This is a cut for a special meal.

Rib Eye steak, $$$

Expensive – about $20-$25/pound but again, extremely flavorful.  Might be too fatty for some but the deep flavor comes from the fat.

Filet Mignon steak, $$$$

This is the most expensive cut – coming in at $25-$30 a pound.  It’s a good cut for those who enjoy flavor in a steak but not the fattiness.  Nice cut for a special meal.

How much meat do you need per person?

1/3 to 1/2 pound of meat per person.  1/3 pound is 1/3 teaspoon salt.  I don’t care how much pepper you put on your meat.  But the right amount of salt?  It really does matter.

How long do I actually cook this thing?

The bigger the piece, the longer you cook it.

Medium Rare, 1″ thick steak – 10 minutes

Medium, 1″ thick – 11-13 minutes

Medium rare, 1 1/4″ inch thick – 12-15 minutes

Medium, 1 1/4″ thick – 1 minutes

This means sear your steak for 3 minutes on each side, and bake it in the same pan in a 400 oven for the rest of the time.  Each cut is going to behave somewhat differently.  These aren’t exact – I can’t tell you how hot your stove is or how the beef will behave exactly.  So, guidelines.

The best way to really know?

Get yourself a meat thermometer.  It’s the best way to find out.  Rare is 140, medium is 150, well done is 160.  You want to take it out 5-10 degrees before your ideal steak – carry-over cooking will cook it the rest of the way. (this means the steak is hot and it’s going to keep cooking on the plate or cutting board.)

So, that’s how to cook the perfect steak.  I’m not going to lie, it takes some practice.  You have to pay attention – to the sound, the smell, the sight of your steak.  You have to pay attention to detail – to the heat, the salt, the amount of time you cook the steak.

But if you learn this, you won’t need to put anything on this piece of meat – because it will be delicious as is.

Good luck on cooking your perfect steak.  Email me if you have questions.

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