Cooking the perfect steak is very much about your preference and taste, but there are some techniques that no matter how well-done you like your meat to be, will take you from an amateur griller to a home chef capable of creating a perfect, steakhouse quality piece of beef.
It all starts with the meat. Finding a quality purveyor is the single most important part of making a great steak. If you pick up an on-sale, paper thin, or hormone-injected steak, it's just not going to taste as good as that meal you had at Morton’s. Find a butcher that takes great care in the ranch they source their beef from. If you can find a butcher that dry ages his steaks, buy them. They will have more depth and flavor than cuts that aren’t aged.
Next, choose your cut. There are a lot of choices on the market, but a few simple rules of thumb will help you choose your favorite. Cuts of beef are labeled according to the level of marble they contain. (Red meat has various amounts of intramuscular fat, giving it an appearance similar to a marble pattern). Prime cuts will have more marbling than a select cut of beef. A cut with less marble means less flavor, but it'll be more tender. For example, filets are the most tender with the least amount of fat, but that comes at the price of a little less richness in flavor than others. The ribeye is the most marbled cut and provides the most juicy, rich flavor. The New York strip and sirloin cuts lie in the middle, and many believe the sirloin to be the best value cut of meat.
Once you have your choice cut, a few simple techniques will make your steak the best you've ever had.
1. Season your steak generously with kosher salt. Never, ever use iodized salt for this. (In fact, it’s best to never use iodized salt for any cooking since it’s processed and has four times the sodium of organic salts.) Kosher salt has less sodium and provides a truer, more flavor-enhancing benefit to the steak.
2. Once you’ve seasoned the steak, let it rest until it reaches room temperature. The FDA suggests you can leave a steak out for up to four hours. Since you're going to cook the outside of the beef at an incredibly high temperature, you needn’t worry about keeping it refrigerated.
3. A little secret: no steakhouse serving $75 cuts ever grills their steak. Instead, they broil or pan roast them to perfection. Doing this keeps the meat from acquiring a black char that detracts from the rich flavors we all love. Ideally, you want to get a good brown caramel on the outside to add to the juicy inside.
4. For those of us without big broilers in our home kitchen, the pan roasting method will give the closest flavors to that of the steakhouse. Preheat your oven to 475ºF. Heat an iron skillet with no oil on the stove until it’s super hot. Add your room temperature, seasoned steak to the skillet, and cook for four to five minutes until a nice brown sear forms. Then, flip the steak and transfer it to the oven. Cook in the oven for five to 10 minutes depending on your desired level of doneness.
5. Filets tend to be best served on the rare side. As you move into ribeye territory, you’ll want to get the fat nice and hot, so a medium-rare temperature will melt the fat into the meat – providing one of the best tastes you’ve ever had.
6. Do not cut into your steak to measure temperature. Doing this will cause the juices that you seared inside the beef to leak out, making the steak dry. A good rule of thumb (literally) for testing temperature is to put your thumb to the base of your pinkie and feel right below your thumb with your other hand. That area is what the steak will feel like medium-well. Now move over to your index finger – that's medium. Your middle finger will be medium-rare, and your ring finger will be rare. The more firm the steak, the more well-done it will be. If you learn what it feels like, you'll never need to cut into your steak again.
7. The last tip for cooking a perfect steak is to let it rest. Remove your steak from the oven, and let it hang out for six to eight minutes. This will let the juice settle inside the steak and keep it from running all over your cutting board.
Some like to slice the steak before plating, but you can serve the entire steak as well. Another little secret is to squeeze a bit of lemon over the steak. This adds a touch of acid, tenderizing the steak and balancing its richness. Serve yours with sautéed mushrooms and onions, oven-roasted asparagus, and/or your favorite potato recipe…and of course a big glass of a bold red wine!
Practice makes perfect. You’ll have to give it a couple of tries to figure out what you like best in terms of cut, temperature, and level of doneness, but these simple techniques will take you from that over-charred, backyard amateur to a steakhouse pro!