I’ve always fancied myself a pretty good griller. I’m no Bobby Flay, but I get my grilling done and I usually end up getting things right. Well, that is, except for steak. Isn’t steak supposed to be really easy to cook? Why the hell did I keep getting it wrong? It was always either the meat was too raw, or too well done, or too tough, or too salty. However, very recently, I think I’ve finally found the right combination of factors that will lead to what might be considered a very good steak.
So, here I am, talking about some pointers I’ve learned about making a really good steak. Most of these tips I got from Mike Palacios of Havoc Digital, by the way, who still makes the best goddamned steak ever.
1. The quality of meat is important!
Before we get to actually cooking the meat, you gotta first pick out good cuts. I particularly like the ribeye because of its tenderness and its relatively low price compared to a t-bone or a New York cut, which is the meaty part of the t-bone.
However, if you have some money to burn, pick anything from the loin like the sirloin, the porterhouse, or the filet mignon. Here’s a good guide.
Unfortunately, not all cows are created equal. For some reason, local beef is tough and chewy. I’m not sure if its their diet or the way they’re raised or if it’s just genetic. I find that New Zealand cuts are cheaper than Australian ones, but are also less tender. US meat tends to be more expensive but are probably of the same quality as NZ, if not a little tougher.
2. Thickness of steak is also equally important
You want to get at least an inch thick steak, but about 1 1/4 inch steak would be ideal.
3. Thaw your meat slowly.
Do not throw them into a microwave to thaw them out. The meat gets gummy and will go gray, especially if you microwave them in packaging that retains water. The best way to defrost your meat is in the refrigerator. A few hours before you need your meat to be ready, take them out of the freezer and put them into the ref to slowly thaw out.
4. Season the meat at least 30 minutes before cooking
The allows the salt to absorb the moisture out of your steak and then settle back in. If you salt right before cooking, you’ll melt your salt off, along with moisture, leaving your meat dry.
5. Cook steak when they’re at room temperature
After thawing the meat out in the ref, take them out and let them warm up. To cook evenly, steak needs to be at a uniform room temperature all throughout the meat.
6. For control, use a cast iron skillet.
I prefer this method over grilling, even though grilling is just as good and gives a nice smokey flavor, because of the control it gives me. Cast iron skillets get very hot and if it’s seasoned properly, meat won’t stick to it.
7. Oil the meat, not the pan.
Cast iron pans, if seasoned well, won’t let meat stick. But just to be on the safe side, lightly coat the meat with some oil. This just saves up on the fat that you need, plus it gives some extra flavor. I use olive oil, and sometimes butter because it smells better. Unfortunately, it burns quickly.
8. Place the steak on the pan only when the pan is very, very hot.
Once the meat hits the pan or the grill, you have to hear a loud sizzle. If you don’t, you won’t get that delicious crust and you won’t get that pinkness inside. Everything’s gonna be gray, once it cooks through. Plus, it won’t be tender. So make sure there’s enough heat in that pan.
Here’s a thing I’ve been reading lately. Some techniques say that you should cook the steak under very low heat to let the meat cook through then sear the outside in high heat after.
I haven’t tried that second technique, but I’ve been getting good results with the first one I use so I’m gonna stick with that for now.
9. Cooking time is dependent on the thickness of the meat and the doneness you want
Generally, I think steaks are best medium-rare. There are some who like their steaks still practically mooing; so rare that if the meat were any fresher, it would still be pulsating. On the other side of the spectrum, I know some people like their steaks a little more done and don’t like the pink in the meat. And then there are people who like their steaks well done. Just politely ask those people to leave your steak party.
For a 1 – 1 1/4 inch steak, these are the cooking times
Rare – 2 minutes
Medium rare – 3-4 minutes
Medium – 4 minutes
Medium well – 1 minute under super high heat on either side, then 5 minutes on medium heat on either to allow the meat to cook through without burning
Well done – 10 minutes on either side on medium heat. This is to prevent the outside from charring up and being carbony and inedible. Also, anyone who requests for a well done steak may be shown the door.
10. Flipping matters.
I’ve always been told that steaks should be flipped only once. However, new techniques show that flipping the meat very often will lead to a more evenly cooked steak. This technique is said to be better for the inside of the steak, but won’t give a nice crispy crust. So it ultimately depends on you, but I prefer to use the single flipping method because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
12. While there are set cooking time guidelines, there are many ways to tell doneness.
The most practical way is to use internal temperature. Just stick a thermometer in that bad boy and check the reading. According to this wikihow, here are the proper temperatures:
Rare – 48.8° C
Medium rare – 54.4° C
Medium – 60° C
Medium well – 65.5° C
Well done – 71.1° C
Another way is to use the finger test. The more cooked it gets, the firmer the center gets. It’s hard to describe so here’s a tutorial right here.
11. Let the meat rest.
While the meat rests, the muscle fibers are given the chance to relax. This allows the juices to redistribute within the steak. Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes. Wrap it in aluminum foil while it’s resting to prevent runny juices running around and to keep in some of that heat for serving.
12. Once you cut them open, you should find the outer layer charred and with a hint of pinkness inside.
Mind you, the pink meat doesn’t mean it’s raw. It has been heated up and cooked through. It’s completely safe to eat. At least, I haven’t gotten sick yet.
There you have it, those are my tips. I haven’t completely figured it out yet. I’m probably at 85% of a perfect steak. I’m getting there, though. After all the mistakes I’ve made, it helps that I figured out what I did wrong and corrected myself. Go ahead and try it out for yourself!
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