Beef/ Education

How to Cook Steak Perfectly

September 16, 2020
Grilled strip steaks
 This post is sponsored by the New York Beef Council.  Rest assured, all opinions are my own.

 

Whether you are someone who loves to cook or not, there are a few cooking skills everyone should possess.  Roasting a chicken, making a simple gravy are some good examples.  Knowing how to cook steak perfectly is definitely on that list.  With a little instruction I will show that anyone can cook a steak perfectly.  I will discuss how to pan fry steak as well as how to grill a steak over charcoal or propane outdoors.  I love to grill but I’m also a realist.  Cooking a steak indoors is quick and easy when you have a busy schedule.

 

New York Beef Checkoff

Recently, eighteen social influencers attended a virtual “BeefTogether” Steak Night, thanks to a partnership between the New York Beef Council and Iowa Beef Industry Council, funded by the Beef Checkoff.  Unfortunately, due to my work schedule I was unable to attend the virtual live event.

The event focused on teaching attendees how to prepare the perfect steak and selecting the ideal wine pairing to highlight the flavor of beef.   Chef Instructors Jamie Rotter and Patrick Rae of Finger Lakes Community College led the food bloggers in a live cooking class as they prepared a NY strip steak two ways.

I listened to the recorded event and there are a few “controversial” topics when cooking beef.  I wanted to give my opinion on some of the topics discussed to show people there are alternate methods.

 

There is more than one way to prepare and cook a steak indoors and likewise is more than one way to grill a steak outdoors.  That doesn’t mean someone else’s method is incorrect.  Use the method you prefer.

 

Should I Pan Fry the Steak or Grill It?  Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Method.

If you have grills then you have the option of cooking the steak indoors or outdoors.  There are advantages and disadvantages of both methods.

Advantages:

Grilling steak over charcoal gives a steak great flavor.  Fat that from a steak drips down between the grill grates on a gas or propane grill may flare and smoke.  Those little bursts of smoke though also contribute to flavor.  Cooking indoors is convenient.  In cold or less than ideal weather, cooking indoors is even more enticing.

Disadvantages:

When searing a steak indoors, the might smoke and set off your fire detector.  Open a window nearby if searing a steak indoors.  If you have a vent above your stove, this is the time to put it on high.  Since I cook so much I recently removed the microwave above my stove and installed a ventilation hood.

 

The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Cooking Steak on the Stove

  • Not preheating the pan or skillet until it is hot enough
  • Using butter to do the initial sear on the steak in a skillet (butter has a low smoke-point and will burn)
  • Not seasoning the steak
  • Overcooking or undercooking the beef
  • Not having adequate ventilation

 

Picking the Right Steak

Some cuts of beef have higher internal fat content compared to others.  A ribeye for example generally has a lot more fat than a strip steak or filet mignon.  Steaks with a greater amount of fat will tend to spatter more at searing temperatures.  I tend to use a larger skillet than I might typically need to sear a steak indoors so it is less mess on my stove to clean up.

 

Prime grade strip steaks

Prime grade strip steaks

 

When grilling, any steak is ideal honestly.  Smoke is not an issue when grilling outdoors.  Whether you have a $50 grill or a $5000 grill, you can cook a perfect steak outside on anything.

For information about beef cuts and nutrition, check out my article “Exploring the Nutrition, Grades and Cuts of Beef in the Meat Case”.

 

Seasoning the Steak

I season steaks differently if I am pan frying indoors vs grilling outside.  Pepper is delicious on a steak but you have to be careful.  At high searing temperatures pepper can burn and taste bitter.  For this reason I don’t add pepper until after I have decreased the skillet temperature.  If grilling on a grill grate, once I move the steak off direct heat or onto a plate I will add pepper if desired.

I try to pick quality beef, and will simply season with kosher salt if pan frying steak.  If grilling however, sometimes I get more adventurous adding different seasoning blends to my beef.

 

How and When to Salt the Beef and the Process of Dry-brining

In the video the chef said not to salt a steak until directly before cooking by either pan frying or grilling.   He said that you will end up pulling moisture out of the meat.  I don’t always agree with that statement.  If I am taking a steak out of the refrigerator and I am going to cook it immediately, I will salt it right before cooking.  However, if I have time, I love to dry-brine a steak.   Because he didn’t mention the process of dry-brining, I feel I need to.  Salting ahead of time is exactly what the method of dry-brining is.

 

To Salt or Not to Salt

While it’s true that salt initially pulls moisture out of the meat, if using the process of dry-brining your steak prior to cooking, that salt and moisture is reabsorbed back into the meat.  The result being a dry surface to the meat which gives even better searing results and enhanced flavor to the steak.

 

Salt seasoned strip steaks

Salt seasoned strip steaks

 

To dry-brine, you would salt the steak with however much salt you would usually use.  Place the steak on an elevated rack in the refrigerator uncovered.  For an average steak, this can be done 1-2 hours prior to cooking and up to overnight.  If I was doing this to a thick 48oz porterhouse however, I would dry-brine overnight.

If you would like to read more about the process of dry-brining, check out my post on “Grilled Picanha” where I used this process.  If you have any questions about the process, feel free to ask in the comments.

 

USDA Recommended Safe Minimum Temperature and Rest Time for Beef

For steaks 1/2 inch or thicker, insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally from the side, so that it penetrates the thickest part or the center of the steak, not touching bone or fat.

For medium-rare the temperature should read 145°F, the temperature for medium steaks should read 160°F, and well done is 170°F.

After cooking, let steaks rest before serving

Strip steak grilled over charcoal

Strip steak grilled over charcoal

 

Picking a Proper Skillet to Cook Steak In

When picking out a skillet to cook steak, look for a pan with even heat distribution that can get nice and hot.  I am a huge cast iron fan.  Some are intimidated by cast iron but I assure you, they are truly easy to take care of and use.  One might say I’m a little obsessed with collecting both vintage and new brands of cast iron.

You can buy a 13.25 inch Lodge cast iron skillet for only $40 which will work perfectly.  Many brands of cast iron may have a smoother bottom than a Lodge skillet but that comes with a price.  Finex, Butter Pat Industries and Smithey are all newer brands of cast iron with a super smooth surface.  My Finex and Butter Pat skillets get more use than my other pieces but they were an investment.

Stainless steel skillet and cast iron skillet

Stainless steel skillet and cast iron skillet

 

Stainless steel and carbon-steel pans are durable and perfect for searing.  Stainless steel are going to come in at the highest price point.  They don’t require as much maintenance as carbon-steel but are expensive.  However, a good stainless skillet should last a lifetime.

 

How to Pan Fry Steak

 

Methods to cook steak indoors:

  1. Pan frying the steak the entire length of time
  2. Pan frying a steak (searing on both sides) then finishing in the oven

 

Method 1 Summary: Pan Frying the Steak Start to Finish

  • Season steak
  • Heat skillet over medium-high heat
  • Add small amount of high smoke-point oil until shimmering
  • Carefully add steak to skillet
  • Do not move or flip steak until nicely seared and brown crust forms
  • Flip steak to sear other side
  • If basting, reduce heat on skillet, add 2 tbsp butter plus herbs, garlic etc
  • Baste steak with butter until 5°F under target temperature
  • Remove steak from skillet
  • Rest steak for 3-5 minutes
  • Cut steak across the grain
  • Serve

 

Preheating the Skillet

Over medium-high heat, preheat skillet.  If you own an infrared thermometer you are aiming for 450°F-500°F.  If not, if using cast iron, it will start to smoke slightly when hot enough.  For other skillets, if you put a bit of water on your fingers and flick it on the pan surface, the water will bead, dance around and evaporate when hot.  In addition, the oil in the skillet will shimmer when adequately heated and near the smoke-point.

 

Strip steaks in stainless steel and cast iron skillet on Hestan Dual-Fuel range

Strip steaks in stainless steel and cast iron skillet on Hestan Dual-Fuel range

 

IMPORTANT:  If you put the steak in the pan and it doesn’t immediately start sizzling remove it immediately and get the pan hotter before proceeding 

 

As I was watching the playback of the event I had missed, I noticed the chef decided not to use any oil or anything prior to put the steak in the hot skillet.  Is that incorrect?  Of course not.  Is it my preferred method?   No.   I add about a tablespoon oil with a high smoke-point to a hot skillet.  When it shimmers the steak is ready to go in.  My personal preference is to use ghee.

 

Note: Do not add the oil then toss water droplets in the pan to test the temperature.  Do that before adding the oil.

 

High Smoke-Point Oils and Fats For Searing at High Temperatures

  • Canola oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Ghee
  • Beef Tallow
  • Bacon Fat
Strip steak searing on cast iron skillet

Strip steak searing on cast iron skillet

 

Strip steak searing on Hestan Probond stainless steel skillet

Strip steak searing on Hestan Probond stainless steel skillet

 

DO NOT PUT BUTTER IN A SKILLET AT SEARING TEMPERATURES.  THE MILK SOLIDS IN THE BUTTER WILL BURN AND YOU WILL RUIN YOUR STEAK.

 

To Flip or Not to Flip, That is the Question

Another topic I wanted to mention is the topic of only flipping a steak once whether cooking in a skillet or on the grill.  Some say that this makes the steak potentially tough and you might lose internal moisture.  I’ll explain my method and why I don’t agree with that statement entirely.

If I am cooking the steak start to finish in the pan, I get a great sear on the first side then flip it.  I continue on the opposite side it also is seared nicely.

Then, if basting, I turn the heat on the stove down to low-medium (on my stove which would be medium on many others).   Add a couple tablespoons of butter and any herbs, garlic etc. that you desire and baste the steak until 5°F degrees shy of the finished target temperature.

 

Basting strip steak with garlic butter

Basting strip steak with garlic butter

 

For a thicker steak, it might take awhile to achieve the target temperature.  If you don’t flip it again, you risk having one side of the steak exposed to the heat for a longer time.  The result: uneven cooking.

Do you have to flip it?  No.  The reason I do continue to do so is to get a more even cook on the steak.  People have been cooking steaks by all of these methods for years.  They are all fine to use.

 

 

Edge to Edge Color

When cooking on one side and then the other without flipping at all, the steak will taste delicious.  However, I enjoy more of a thorough edge to edge pink color of medium-rare.  Often when flipping once, there is more banding of color.  Meaning, more of the outside edge is well done and with less internal pink color to the meat.

To summarize, if it’s not a thick steak, I’m okay with flipping once, maybe twice.  If a thick steak, I tend to keep the steak moving more often to achieve an even cook.

 

 

Medium-rare strip steak grilled on a Weber kettle

Medium rare strip steak grilled on a Weber kettle

 

 

 

Now, that I’ve covered flipping, don’t go and stab your steak with a fork to flip it.  Please use tongs so you don’t unwittingly let the juice in the steak escape

 

Method 2 Summary: Pan Frying a Steak Then Finishing in the Oven

  • Preheat oven to 450°F
  • Season steak
  • Heat skillet over medium-high heat
  • Add small amount high smoke-point oil until shimmering
  • Carefully add steak to skillet
  • Do not move or flip steak until nicely seared and brown crust forms
  • Flip steak to sear other side partly
  • Insert steak in oven and cook until 5°F under target temperature when measured with instant read digital thermometer
  • Remove steak from oven
  • Rest steak for 3-5 minutes
  • Cut steak across the grain
  • Serve

 

How to Grill Steak Over Charcoal, Gas or Propane

The one thing I discuss the most on my site is how to grill steak.  There are a multitude of ways to do it.  How long it takes to grill a steak depends on a number of factors.  Temperature of the meat, temperature of the grill, proximity to the heat source, size of the cut of meat some of the factors that determine how long to cook a steak.  The most reliable way to check if a steak is finished will always be by using a digital instant read thermometer.

 

Two Zone Cooking: Direct and Indirect Heat

One method of grilling steaks will easily work no matter what type of grill you own.  By setting up an indirect and direct heat zone, you are always in control of the fire and heat.  If you’ve ever seen someone turn all the burners on a gas grill on high then grill something with a high fat content, you know why that is a bad idea.  An indirect cooking zone does not have the heat source directly underneath it.  If fat drips off a steak, it will not flare up when on the indirect side.

With any type of grill, always clean the grill grates prior to using.  Place some oil on a paper towel and wipe down the grill grates prior to using.  This will prevent sticking and promote adequate browning of the meat.

 

Two-zone charcoal grill set up on Weber kettle

Two-zone charcoal grill set up on Weber kettle

 

Charcoal Grilling

On charcoal grills, light the coals then bank the hot coals to one side of the grill only.  The area over the banked coals is your direct heat.  The side of the grill with no coals underneath is your indirect cooking zone.

 

Gas Grilling

On a gas grill, turn the burners on high on one area of the grill, and leave the burner off on another area.  When the grill lid is closed, you will still have plenty of heat throughout the grill.  When the steak is on the indirect side after searing, you don’t have to worry about a flare up.

 

Once you have either type of grill set up for two-zone cooking, place your steak over direct heat.  Do not leave the steak unattended.  Sear the steak until an adequate brown crust forms on each side.  If it appears to be searing too fast and you are using a gas grill, turn down the heat a bit.

 

Strip steak cooking on Weber kettle

Strip steak cooking on Weber kettle

 

If using a charcoal, move the steak further away from the coals toward the indirect side.  Remember, you are always in control when you have a direct and indirect side set up.

When the sear is to your liking, move the steak to the indirect side of the grill, close the lid, and continue to cook until 5°F shy of your target temperature.  Remove the steak from the grill and let rest for 3-5 minutes prior to cutting.

 

Strip steak on Weber kettle

Strip steak on Weber kettle

 

Indirect Zone = Safety Zone

I think people who are intimidated by grilling often think they won’t be in control of the heat or fire.  With this method of cooking, you have the option of moving the steak to the indirect side to slow down the cooking process.  You aren’t going to accidentally burn a steak because you can always pick up the steak and move it to the safe indirect zone.

Remember pan searing a steak?  You are grilling with the same concept.  Think of the skillet as the direct heat and the oven as your indirect heat.  Either way, you are in control of the heat.

 

How to Grill a Steak Summary

  • Clean grill and oil grill grates
  • Set up grill for two zone grilling: direct high heat and indirect heat
  • Season steak
  • Place steak over direct heat
  • Sear steak on both sides
  • Move steak to indirect side of grill
  • Remove steak from grill when 5°F under target temperature
  • Rest steak for 3-5 minutes prior to cutting
  • Cut steak across the grain
  • Serve

 

Compound Butter

During the event they made compound butter to top the steaks with after they were finished cooking.  Compound butter is softened butter that you can mix a variety of ingredients into.   The New York Beef Council has a number of quick and easy compound butter recipes that you can find here for reference.

I like to make the compound butter ahead of time.  Once all of the ingredients are mixed in, you can use plastic wrap to form in into a butter “log”.  When you need some, just slice off a medallion to top your steak.  Alternatively you can choose not to shape it at all and just keep it in a little container for when you need it.   Different flavor combinations are great on other proteins as well.

 

Get Cooking!

If you once felt that you weren’t able to cook a great steak at home, I hope you are now inspired to do so.  Once you master the cooking steak yourself, you’ll never want to pay to eat steak out at a restaurant again.

 

To learn more about the New York Beef Council and Beef Checkoff efforts visit www.nybeef.org or NY Beef Checkoff on Facebook. 

 

How to Cook Steak Perfectly: Methods for Pan Searing and Grilling

How to Cook Steak Perfectly: Methods for Pan Searing and Grilling

 

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