Steak is a mainstay of many cultures and cuisines but it takes preparation, planning, and patience. Our guide below will help you find the perfect steak, prepare it just right, and cook it to perfection.
PICKING THE PERFECT STEAK
There are a number of options for the perfect steak that could depend on availability, price and how many you’re cooking for. I recommend everyone have a local butcher that you frequent. Talk to them, get to know them a little bit. This may help you in the future when it comes to picking out a great piece of meat. Butchers know best. See below for a diagram of where the different cuts are on the cow. Now, we are talking about steak and you can get a beautiful steak from 4 different “primal cuts”. A “primal cut” is a piece of meat initially removed from the carcass during butchering. We are going to exclude the Beef Tenderloin as this piece is wildly popular. Today we are going to look at the beef chuck, rib/short rib, and sirloin primals.
The Chuck: This is the shoulder and neck of the animal and yields some of the most flavorful and economical steaks. These cuts are perfect for large gatherings. Our favorite steak comes from this piece of meat: the Flat Iron Steak. Don’t cook these past a medium-rare temperature.
The Rib/Short Rib: Self explanatory and home of the Ribeye, Porterhouse, and Strip Steaks. These beautifully marbled cuts take salt and pepper…and a little love. Don’t cook these past a medium temperature.
The Sirloin: The back of the animal. For a great steak make sure you get a cut from the Top Sirloin as the Bottom Sirloin isn’t as tender. The Top Sirloin has average marbling and is a great cut when cooked no more than medium.
When choosing a piece of meat or steaks, the meat should be firm to the touch, bright red in color, and if pre-packaged there should not be a lot of “purge” or red liquid accumulated in the packaging. For rib and sirloin cuts look for little strips of white through out the meat; the more there is the juicier the steak. Remember, fat equals flavor in all steak cases. For chuck cuts look for steaks called Flat Iron Steaks. This surprisingly well-marbled steak comes from the shoulder blade of the animal. You may need to ask your butcher to remove the “fascia” which is a gristly skin that connects the flat iron to surrounding muscles.
PREPARING THE PERFECT STEAK
Once you’ve picked the perfect steaks, it’s time to prepare them. Steak night is usually a special night so plan ahead by at least 30 minutes. Let your steaks come to room temperature before even thinking about cooking them. This helps create an even sear as your meat won’t be “shocked” when put into a hot pan or over a hot grill. If you go directly from fridge to pan with your steaks, you’ll usually run into a ring forming around the edges of your steak, as well as an ice cold center while the outer side of your steaks begin to overcook. Our recommendations for prepping your steak depends on the cut of meat and goes as follows:
Flat Iron Steak: We have have two favorite ways to prepare this cut. First, you can marinate for at least an hour with olive oil and garlic. Just smash the garlic and drizzle the steaks with olive oil, cover and set aside. Alternatively, you can dry rub with Achiote, which is toasted and ground annatto seeds which you should be able to find in the latin/hispanic foods aisle at your local market. We promise you will not regret this one!
Rib Cuts: After reaching room temperature (right before cooking), rub in olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper. That’s all these babies need.
Top Sirloin: Marinate for at least an hour with olive oil, ground pepper, rosemary and thyme sprigs. Follow similar instructions as the Flat Iron.
COOKING THE PERFECT STEAK
Grilling is an obvious choice, and our preferred way to cook a steak. This gives us the “charred” flavor we look for in meat. Season liberally with Kosher Salt. Most of the salt will fall off the steak but you need the salt to penetrate the meat and create a nice salty crust on the outside of your steak. Be sure to pat the steaks dry if you’ve marinated them in olive oil. Oil drips cause flare ups which can cause burns on the outside of your steaks. If working on a gas grill, turn one end of your grill to high, and the other end to medium, close the lid and walk away. Let it get hot. You’ll want to “season” the grill which means scrubbing the grill with a grill brush and rubbing the grill with oil. I leave a bar towel rolled up tightly and lightly greased with canola oil in a tupper ware container near the grill for this purpose. You don’t want flare ups by drizzling oil on the grill.
Start your charcoal grill using a chimney.
Working with charcoal? Use a fire chimney to get your embers nice and hot. Place the coals in a flat layer on one side of the grill and season the grill as explained above.
Now you’re ready to cook. Using your favorite heat resistant tongs, carefully place your seasoned steaks directly over the hot grill. Then…wait. Don’t poke or pick it up. Just leave it alone. You’ve made it this far and the last thing you want to do is cause the meat to stick to the grill. The grill will release the steak when it’s ready. After 2 minutes, you should have a nice crust developed on one side. You’ll notice dark bronzed spots and a nice char around the edges of the steak. Now it is safe to flip. Then, again…wait. Two minutes.
At this point you have a “blue” steak. It is not even rare yet. Move the steaks over to indirect heat and insert a meat thermometer into the center of one of your steaks. This takes the guess work out of what temperature your steaks are at which can be a chore if you’re trying to enjoy a glass of wine or sangria.
For rare, remove at 115-120 degrees Fahrenheit. Medium rare 125-130 degrees. Medium 135-140 degrees.
WHAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE A GRILL?
A cast iron skillet is a cook’s best friend. This helps create a beautiful sear that will be comparable to a nice hot grill. Before preparing your steak, preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and place your seasoned cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat for at least 20 minutes. Carefully place your skillet on the stove top over medium high heat and add a tablespoon of canola or any oil with a high smoke point. Once you see your oil start to lightly smoke, add your seasoned steaks to the pan. Again, leave the steaks alone. Two minutes on each side. Then place the steaks in the preheated oven with a meat thermometer and follow the temperature guide above.
These “degrees of doneness” are 5-10 degrees lower to account for “carryover cooking” which is the process in which your steaks continue to cook after you’ve removed them from cooking. Finally, it is most important to…
LET YOUR STEAKS REST.
I know you’re excited to cut into that beautiful ribeye but patience here is a very virtuous trait. Please allow your steaks to sit and rest for at least 5 minutes (or more if you have thick cuts). This allows all the fats and juices to redistribute into the meat. If you cut your steaks immediately after removing from your grill you’ll cause all the juices to run off onto your cutting board and you will end up with dry, grey meat. Nobody likes that.
Congratulations! You’ve done it from start to finish. Pour yourself a glass, have a seat and enjoy that first delicious bite. Cheers!