One of the most disappointing dining experiences one will ever encounter is a bad steak. Sometimes it's worse than not eating any steak at all.
Similarly, one of the most satisfying dining experiences you can have is eating a great steak, especially if you cooked it yourself. TODAY Food sought the advice of two experts who probably know enough about steak to have Ph.D.s in prime rib. Here are their top tips for preparing the perfect steak at home — whether on the grill or in a pan.
How to buy the right steak
To end with a great steak, you have to start with a great cut of meat. "Look for an abundance of marbling — those little white flecks of fat you see within the lean,” said Diana Clark, a meat scientist with Certified Angus Beef.
When you add heat to fat, it turns it into flavor. Fat also makes the meat tender and juicy. While many people have been conditioned to think filet mignon is the best, it has very little fat in it — meaning it can dry up quickly. Plus, it's pretty pricy.
Of course, the cut you pick depends on how you want to prepare it. “If grilling, opt for loin or rib cuts," said Clark. Think strip, rib-eye, porterhouse, tenderloin filets and flank.
After 17 years of cooking in steakhouses, Scott Kroener's favorite cut is strip steak.
"It has the perfect balance of marbleization and tenderness," said the general manager and executive chef at Rick Erwin's West End Grille.
The best steak for beginners to cook
The steak you order at a steakhouse might not be the steak you try to make at home if you've never cooked it before. For a good steak that's hard to screw up, consider a rib-eye.
"It has a high fat content," Kroener said. "So if you were to overcook it, it will still be juicy because of the elevated level of marbling."
Clark agrees that, for beginners, the more marbling the better. Her top pick for beginners is a center cut strip steak, but also recommended a more wallet-friendly alternative that's hard to mess up: a top sirloin cap steak.
Once you feel more confident in your steak-cooking skills and want to achieve the perfect juicy steak, you can try different cuts. Kroener says rib-eye will still be the juiciest, but a tenderloin (or filet) will be the most tender. If you want the perfect balance of both, try the New York strip steak.
How to cook steak in a pan
This method is best for steaks less than 1-inch thick. Steaks any thicker than will still need to be finished in the oven, otherwise their surface area will burn in the pan.
Tender cuts that are smaller in size and filets will pan cook more evenly than rib-eyes. It takes about four minutes to cook a steak to a medium-rare doneness.
As for equipment, Kroener recommends using a pre-seasoned, cast-iron pan. Here's how to cook steak in a pan:
- Heat pan over medium high heat.
- When the pan is piping hot, add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter. As the butter melts and foams, liberally season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper.
- Place steak in the pan and cook to desired doneness, without flipping.
- Then, add 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter into the pan. Use a large spoon to baste the steak with the melted butter. Flip the steak, continuing to baste it. Add smashed garlic cloves and fresh herbs is desired.
- Once the steak is just short of where you want it to be on doneness (since it will continue to cook as it rests) use tongs to remove it from the pan.
- Place it on a racked plate and it let rest for 5-7 minutes.
While you may be tempted to dig right in after taking your steak out of the pan, don't! This is one of the biggest mistakes home cooks make when it comes to steak. Resting "allows the steak's juices to redistribute, thereby making the steak a uniform color throughout," said Kroener. "It also makes for a juicier chew and more flavor."
How to cook steak on the grill
In many parts of the country, summer is the best time to grill steaks — but it shouldn't be the only time. Kroener has been known to grill when there's snow on the ground. "Cooking (a steak) inside will only yield a caramelized flavor, not char," noted Kroener, who uses an 1800-degree broiler in his restaurant. Unfortunately, most home kitchens aren't equipped with that kind of heat.
Steaks that are over 1-inch thick are great for the grill. Here's how to cook steak on a grill:
- Heat the grill as hot as you can. If using charcoal, aim for 600 to 700 F. If using gas, aim for 500 F.
- Season both sides of your steaks with kosher salt (the type of salt really does matter!) and freshly cracked pepper.
- Next, put your steak on the hottest section of the grill. Cook for two minutes. Rotate steaks 45 degrees and cook for another two minutes. This technique will give you those beloved hatch marks.
- Flip your steaks and let cook for another two minutes. Then, rotate 45 degrees and cook for another two minutes. Remove steak from the grill and place it onto a racked plate to catch any juices that drip. These hot juices can continue to cook the steak and lead to overcooking. Wait 5 minutes and then put the steaks back on the grill for 30 seconds on each side.
- Remove and place directly on serving plates.
How to sous vide a steak
For ultimate temperature control, the best way to cook steak is using a technique called sous vide. Kroener explained that it allows chefs to cook steak for an extended period of time at a specific temperature. The technique allows meat, poultry or fish to cook to a perfect melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.
However, even if you prepare steak sous vide, you'll still need to sear it or grill it at the end to produce that caramelized desired crust. Here's how to sous vide a steak:
- Season steak with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Place meat into a zip-top bag, and zip it 80% closed.
- Slowly start submerging the bag. Hold the unzipped part of the bag above the surface of the water. As you submerge the steak, the air in the bag will be forced out by the water.
- When the bag is almost entirely submerged (all but the unzipped part) zip it shut. Clip it to the side of the container using an alligator clip.
- Set sous vide temperature at the desired level depending on how much you want the steak cooked.
- Cook for up to 2 hours.
- Remove steak, pat dry, and season again with salt and pepper.
- Sear on a very hot grill, or in a smoking hot pan, to give it nice color and a crust (approximately 1 minute per side).
- Let it rest out of the pan for 3 to 5 minutes. Enjoy!