Steps to Cooking Perfect Steak

Cooking Perfect Steak: Follow These Tips

Almost always, when someone refers to steak they mean beef. A steak is a piece of meat thinner than three inches (more than that would probably be called a roast). Most steaks are 1 1/2 inches thick or less, and most steaks are cut across the grain. Steaks come with or without the bone and can be cut from beef, veal, lamb, pork, elk, moose, and fish among others.

If you are looking for a steak type other than beef, look for it under the type of animal. For example, "ham steak" can be found under "Ham."

To see tables about how long to cook steak click on the type of steak, or click here for steaks in general.

Tips And Techniques For Cooking Perfect Steak Using Premium Steak

Premium steaks come from the rib and loin section of the beef. Certain steps hold true for all premium steaks and those steps are enumerated here. Refer to the specific cut of meat that you are cooking for that information, including the "flavors that go."

For premium steaks of all sizes:

Buy the best you can find. Find a good butcher and let him assist in your selection. Let's face it, cooking perfect steak requires using very good meat. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) provides grading standards for meat with prime being the highest grade, followed by choice, then select and standard. If you can find and afford prime graded steak consider it. But since only two percent of the beef in the USA is prime, your next best option is a well marbled cut graded choice.

Aging makes steak better. Dry aging concentrates flavor producing better tasting steaks than wet aging. Although wet, then dry aging combined is fine. Ask your butcher about how your steaks were aged. You can't safely do the long aging that is performed professionally without specialized equipment.

Temper your meat when you are ready to begin cooking perfect steak. That is, remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for from 30 minutes up to two hours. Another way to temper a steak is to preheat an oven to 200 F. then turn off the oven and place the steak on a rack in the oven for 30 minutes. The reason for tempering a steak is to make it cook more evenly and more quickly.

Season the steak with salt and pepper. You can also use some garlic or herbs such as those in the "flavors that go" section. The thicker the steak, the more seasoning you will want to add. You can season your steak just before you cook it, or an hour before. Don't season it 10 minutes to 50 minutes before you cook it. If you salt it just before you cook, the salt will not have time to draw many juices from the meat. If you salt your steak an hour before you cook it, the juices drawn from it will have had a chance to break down some muscle fibers as the juices reabsorb into the meat, tenderizing the steak.

Pat the steak dry before you cook it. Excess moisture sitting on a steak will keep the steak from directly contacting the cooking surface. It will allow the steak to stew until the moisture is evaporated.

Creating a crust: For a steak up to 1 1/2 inches just put it on a hot grill, under a hot broiler, or in a hot skillet until a nice crust develops. This can take as little as 30 seconds per side to start the crust formation. The skillet cooking method will actually give you the most control over your steak and is the method used in many steak houses. Cast iron works very well.

Turning the steak once, four times, or many times will yield different results. Turning once is enough to create a nice crust. Turning four times on a grill creates nice crossed marks. Turning many times creates a more even degree of doneness throughout, but with a bit less crust. There are differing opinions as to whether or not to turn the steak more than once while cooking perfect steak.

If you only turn the steak one time, it will develop a nice seared crust. Despite the often repeated myth, we have known since the 1980s, when Harold McGee reported the results of his experiment -- that this searing does not "seal in juices," but it does develop a texture that diners enjoy.

Turning the steak often does not develop quite the same type of seared crust, but it makes the steak juicier and more evenly cooked throughout. The turned once steak has a nice crust, but cutting it open shows that it has a margin of well done meat below the crust while the center of the steak has the targeted degree of doneness. The turned often steak (turned once every 15 to 30 seconds) is juicier and more evenly cooked throughout, but without as much well developed crust.

No matter how many times you turn the steak, it is best to use tongs to turn it. There is no reason to puncture the steak more than necessary if your goal is cooking perfect steak. The time to puncture the steak is when you are checking it for doneness.

Finishing the steak: After you have developed the desired crust, you can finish cooking at a lower temperature by reducing the heat on the skillet or moving the steak to a cooler section of the grill. A thinner steak, about 1 inch can be finished in the same hot skillet, on the grill or under the broiler. A steak can also be finished by indirect heat in an oven or on the grill by moving the steak away from the coals and closing the lid. This is a good idea for thicker steaks where you do not want to continually cook the outside while the inside of the steak comes to your desired degree of doneness. Click here for information about degrees of doneness.

Removing the steak just before it is "done." When measuring the temperature of a piece of meat, you measure the temperature from the center of the meat. (Unless you have a lot of experience cooking perfect steak you should take a temperature reading.) The best way is to insert an instant read thermometer into the edge of the steak. The top and the bottom of the steak are hotter, much hotter, and they create carryover heat that continues to cook the steak. So, the temperature of the center of the steak will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees higher after it is removed from the heat source.

Rest the steak: It is very important to let your steak rest in a warm place no matter how tempted you are to eat it right away. The wait will be worth it. This rest allows the steak to reabsorb the juices as the muscle fibers relax. It also allows the carryover heat to finish the cooking process.

Thick steaks, 1 1/2 inches or over, can be tricky. They take longer to cook so they are usually cooked at a lower temperature than thinner steaks. After creating the crust, complete cooking the steak at a lower temperature, for example 250 F in a covered grill or oven. Finish the steak in a skillet over medium heat.

The following tips for thick steaks come from Chef Alain Ducasse in a New York Times article published February 27, 2002.

If you are cooking perfect steak in a skillet from the start, use medium heat, render some fat by starting the steak on its fatty edge. Continue to sear the steak on its edges as it renders fat. Cook the steak on its flat side, and finish the steak by basting with butter and unpeeled garlic during the final few minutes of cooking.

No matter which of the above cooking methods you have used, a final finish in a skillet with butter and garlic makes a nice addition. According to Alain Ducasse, this is an old steak house trick to create a nice crust.



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