How to Cook Steak
Everybody knows that a tender, juicy steak dinner is delicious. What many do not realize is that preparing it at home is very easy and can actually be inexpensive. Certainly, the Filet Mignon, New York Strip or Rib Eye is a nice cut of meat but, if you know how to prepare it properly, the less expensive cuts (when they are at least ½" thick) can be just as tasty. Very hot, dry heat works best to cook steaks. Your goal is to create a nicely browned crust on both sides in order to trap the juices inside. If you choose to marinate, be sure to dry off the moisture from the steak before cooking, otherwise you will find it difficult to form a crust. When using lesser cuts of meat, I recommend cooking them to no more than medium in order to keep them tender. My favorite methods for cooking steak are on the grill, in the pan, or in the oven under the broiler.
How to Cook Steak in a Pan.
Pan frying is actually my preferred way to cook a steak. You can use any frying pan you have on hand but I prefer one that is cast-iron or non-stick because the clean-up is easier. It's important to remove the meat from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature before you cook it. If you don't do this, you will end up with a well-done exterior with a cold interior.
- About 30 minutes before frying the steaks, lay them out on a cookie sheet and season them on both sides with a little salt and pepper. You can also use grill seasoning if you like, it's completely up to you.
- Once the meat is at the correct temperature, prepare your pan by brushing it with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Turn your burner to a medium-high heat and let the pan heat up until it is smoking.
- Lay the steaks in the pan, making sure to give each plenty of room. Press them down into the pan to ensure they have thorough contact.
- After around 3 minutes, check to see that they are properly browned. Flip the steaks over using tongs. It's very important that you not use a fork to turn it over. You want to avoid piercing your steaks. Press the steaks into the pan as you did previously.
- At this point, you can touch the steak to get a feel for it. It will most likely feel soft and squishy because it is very rare. Periodically, touch the meat to determine doneness. (See the chart and photos below for determining doneness.)
- After your steak has reached the desired level of doneness, place on a plate and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Cooking Steak on the Grill
Preparing steak on the grill is very similar in technique to pan-frying. Two important things to remember, regardless of the method you use, is to avoid the temptation to constantly flip your meat and to use tongs, rather than a fork or knife, to turn the steaks in order to avoid puncturing it.
- Lightly oil and preheat the grill.
- As with all methods, bring the steaks to room temperature and season to taste.
- Place steaks on grill. You should hear a sizzling sound.
- Allow to grill, uncovered, until nice grill-marks have formed. Here's a tip: I prefer my steaks to be medium. The way I know it is time to flip is that the top of the steak begins to sweat a bit. I can also look at the profile of the steak and see that a nice bit of crust has formed by identifying a thin, grey line on the bottom. Flip the steaks.
- Continue grilling until desired temperature is reached. Immediately remove from grill and allow to rest 5-10 minutes.
The Best Way to Cook Steak in the Oven
It's true, you can bake steaks in the oven. I remember my mother covering steaks with some sort of condensed soup and baking it until it was tender. It's a method that reminds me a little of preparting meat in a crock-pot. If you're looking for a steak with a golden crust and tender, juicy interior, however, it's best to utilize the broiling method when using the oven.
- Preheat broiler. The broiler is the heating element in the oven that is at the top.
- Season room temperature steaks to taste.
- Place meat on the unheated rack of a broiler pan and place in oven, 3" from heat.
- Broil until a good crust forms then flip.
- Continue broiling until you reach the temperature you prefer.
- Remove steaks to a plate and allow to rest.
Broiling is my least favorite way to cook steaks. It's a little more difficult to keep an eye on the cooking process when it is in the oven. Pan frying and grilling are easier for me. If you feel more comfortable using an oven than a grill or stove-top, then broiling is definitely preferable.
How to tell if your steak is done.
You can use a meat thermometer to determine if your steak is done, however, that involves piercing the meat. Why would you work so hard developing a nice, golden crust on your steak only to poke a hole in it and release the juices? I'm sure professional restaurant chefs have their ways, but, for a home cook, a good way to tell if a steak is done by touching it with a finger and comparing it to the fleshy pad below the thumb on the hand. (See above photos.) A steak is soft and squishy and becomes firmer as it cooks.
- Rare: Index finger to thumb. Soft.
- Medium-rare: Middle finger to thumb. Yields gently to the touch.
- Medium: Ring finger to thumb. Slightly yields to the touch.
- Well-done: Pinky to thumb. Hard.
You could also cut the steak open to see if it is the proper color but, once again, that involves puncturing the meat and losing it's juices.
Testing a steak's doneness
red in center
pinkish red in the center
yields gently to the touch
pink in center, grayish brown surrounding
slightly yields to the touch
a thin pink line, mostly grayish brown
firm to the touch
©Denise Mai, May 30, 2012. All rights reserved.
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