Steak is one of those dishes that every meat-lover craves, and getting a perfect one is truly a thing of beauty. But as much as people love steak, it can seem intimidating to cook at home. Most cooks struggle with the temperature the steak is cooked to, but many also wonder why their steak isn't as flavorful as the ones they enjoy at their favorite steakhouse.
But steak doesn't have to be intimidating, and there's no reason to wait until it's time for dinner at a fancy restaurant to enjoy it. Follow these tips and you'll get a perfectly cooked steak every time.
1. Know when to use a wet marinade or dry rub for seasoning
Many ways exist to flavor steaks, but wet marinades and dry rubs are by far the most popular. It's important to know when to use which one. Wet marinades will work quickly to break down the fibers of the meat while they flavor it, so that method is best reserved for tougher cuts of steak such as flank steak or skirt steak. Dry rubs, on the other hand, mainly just flavor the meat and don't really do much to break down the fibers. Because of this, these are best used for tender steaks such as tenderloins, sirloins and rib-eyes. A dry rub can be as simple as a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
2. Let the steak sit on the counter for at least half an hour before cooking
Getting the correct temperature (rare, medium-rare, well-done, etc.) is the key to getting a well-cooked steak. The steak should have that temperature all the way through, not just the center. If you start with a cold steak, this will be much harder to achieve. The exterior of the steak will cook quickly whereas the inside of the steak will still be much cooler and therefore not cooked to the proper temperature.
To avoid this, make sure the steak is completely thawed if it was previously frozen. Take the steak out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before cooking to bring the entire thing to room temperature. This will allow for more even cooking and make sure the outside of the steak is not burned before the inside is cooked to the desired temperature.
3. Pat the steak dry
There is nothing good about cooking a steak that's wet. When a steak still has moisture on it when it hits the pan or grill, that moisture creates steam and steams the meat rather than grills it or sears it. Steamed meat becomes tough and chewy, and that's definitely something that no one wants. To avoid this, simply blot the steak on both sides with a paper towel when you take it out of the refrigerator. This will remove any excess water and ensure it doesn't steam.
4. Oil the pan, not the steak
Many people like to slather their steak with oil before it hits the pan, but it's actually the pan that should be oiled, not the steak. This is for several reasons. The first is that in order to get a nice crust on the steak, the meat should be entirely dry so it doesn't steam or end up with a thin layer of grease. But more importantly, if you oil the steak, that oil will be cold (or at least room temperature). That means the oil has to be heated and then the steak, which could cause it to cook unevenly. Instead, get the pan searing hot, oil the pan and only then add the steak. It's a little thing, but it makes a big difference.
Many steaks, such as rib-eyes and striploin steaks, also already contain a lot of fat so there's no reason to add more. As you'll see in the next tip, that fat can be added directly to the pan.
5. Cook the fat first
When cooking a steak that has a thick piece of fat along the side, such as rib-eyes and striploins, do not cut it off. Many people do, thinking that this is healthier, but that fat isn't as bad as they've been led to believe. Instead, leave it on and use it to your advantage.
To do that, sear this piece of fat first so it almost completely renders down into the pan. Rendering fat turns it into a liquid that will nicely coat the bottom of the pan and can be used to cook the steak. Hold the steak with a pair of tongs so you don't get burned by splatter, and hold it so that the fat side is pointing down. Press that fat into the pan, rotating if necessary to render the entire piece of fat, and then place the steak into the pan as you normally would. This time it will be cooking in its own fat, which is the best kind of fat to use for steak.
6. Use a meat thermometer
There are many tricks online that claim to be the only way to get perfectly cook a steak. Various parts of the palm, fingers and even the cheek can be used to help one compare to steaks and determine what temperature they are cooked to. Truthfully though, these tricks are inaccurate, and not everyone can figure out just how they work as they depend on lightly pressing the exact right place of the body. But does anyone want steak cooked by someone who's just spent 10 minutes touching his face?
There's a much better and much simpler way: using a meat thermometer. Choose one that can be inserted into the side of the steak until it reaches the center. Thermometers that can be placed before cooking and left in are best as this will avoid poking holes in different sections of the meat. Holes allow valuable juices to run out and, because that section of meat will not be thinner, it also won't be cooked as evenly.
7. Finish cooking with butter
Have you ever heard steak described as "like butter" or "melts in your mouth"? That's the sign of a really good steak. What better way to get it than to actually use butter while you cook it? Butter will provide more flavor to that steak and it will add to its tender texture.
Don't use butter at the start of cooking time as it will only burn and end up burning the steak as well. Instead, when the steak is nearing the end of cooking time, place a pat of butter right on top. As it melts, use it baste the steak until the meat reached the desired temperature.