We love a tender, juicy, well-cooked beef steak. Because preparing it perfectly involves proper technique, temperature control, timing, and seasoning, cooking a steak is a great test of your culinary skills. Cooking the perfect steak might not be as easy as you wish, but with practice, and some insight, you can quickly master it. Here are six tips on how to cook the perfect steak every time.
1. Get Your Grill On
Grilling is the best way to cook a steak, whether indoors or out. And, the way to best grill a steak is to get the grill very hot. Place your steak on it. Stand back. Don’t touch it. After about three minutes, use a long pair of tongs to flip it over. Grill it for another two minutes or longer, depending on how thick it is. Don’t poke it with a thermometer, or cut into it to see what color it is, because the hole or slice will just let all the juices leak out, and your steak will be dry and chewy. A medium-rare steak will be light pink at the center and between 130° and 140° F.
Grilling times depend on how thick the steak is cut. However, in every case, the grilling should be done on a very hot grill directly over the heat source. To cook your steak to medium-rare:
- 3/4 inch thick – cooks 3-5 minutes per side
- 1 inch thick – cooks 6-7 minutes per side
- 1 1/2 inches thick – cooks 7-8 minutes per side
- 2 inches thick – 10-12 minutes per side
These suggested times will vary, depending on how hot your grill gets. A little practice will help you nail down the perfect timing. Additional methods of cooking vary by the type of steak you’re serving, and there’s some great insight on cuts of meat and cooking techniques here.
2. Warming Things Up
Whether you’re cooking a thin strip steak, or a thick porterhouse, you have to plan ahead, and that means taking the steak out in advance of actually cooking it. This gets rid of much of the chill, and lets it approach room temperature. The warmer the meat starts out, the less time it takes to cook the center, and therefore, less time the outer layers are exposed to high heat which can cook them beyond the desired doneness.
So, how long is “well in advance”? For the thinner cuts, twenty minutes to a half-hour on a cooling rack will do. If your steak is over an inch thick, plan on 45 minutes to an hour or more. Remember that the top will warm more quickly than the center (or the bottom surface if it is not exposed to air, such as when it is placed on a platter). This is why we recommend the cooling rack for this step. Remember, too, that once any surface reaches room temperature you have about two hours before dangerous bacteria begin to grow in that surface.
3. Marinading and Seasoning
When it comes to marinading and seasoning, this is the time to be bold. You can’t flavor the inside of the steak, so the flavor has to come from the exterior. Your marinade should point in the direction you want your flavor to go, or create a complementary contrast. Larry’s General Purpose Marinade is a perfect basic mixture that can easily be modified to suit your needs. Soak your steak in the marinade for at least ten minutes per side. If turning the steak, use tongs. We don’t want any holes that will let juices drain out during cooking.
In addition to providing great flavor for your steak, seasoning also aids the formation of a gorgeous crust. What we want to achieve here is big, bold flavor. We sometimes create our crusts from a thick coat of seasoning. Use coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and season generously so that you can actually see the salt and pepper. If you want to use a flavorful rub to create that crust, visit our dry rub page, which lists some simple, easy to make rubs for various pallet pleasing flavors. You can easily modify these basic rubs to let your favorite flavor dominate.
4. Chilling Out About Resting Your Meat
Aside from over or under-cooking and incorrect seasoning, not allowing meat to rest properly is probably the cooking blunder of which we are all most guilty. Cutting into hot meat before it has properly rested lets all the juices run out, causing dry, chewy, meat. Here’s why: when you place your steak into the hot pan or grill, the juices are forced away from the heat towards the center, increasing the concentration of moisture in the middle of the steak.
When the steak gets flipped over, the same thing happens on that side. The center of the steak becomes supersaturated with more liquid than it can hold on to. So, when you slice it open, all that extra liquid pours out. By resting the steaks, you allow all that liquid in the center time to migrate back out to the edges. How long to let it rest? For thin cuts, 5 to 10 minutes will do; for larger, thicker steaks, plan for 10 to 15. Don’t worry, your steak will not get cold, it will still be quite warm, juicy, and delicious.
5. Slice Across the Grain
There seems to be some confusion around cutting meat “against the grain,” or, “across the grain.” Those terms mean the same thing, but what is that meaning? You see in the photo in the next paragraph the fat that lies between the muscle fibers in that cut of meat. To slice “across the grain” means to cut those long strings of muscle into short pieces so they can be chewed more easily. Flank steak, skirt steak, brisket, and London broil have visible lines in the muscle. These are typically long, flat, and prized for the flavor, rather than tenderness.
These cuts of meat are usually sliced in a way so that the fibers are cut through, making the meat more tender and easier to eat. Notice the horizontal lines of fat running in long lines throughout the raw steak shown here. If you slice in the same direction as those lines, you’ll have to chew through those long fibers that will end up like strings. If you cut across the lines, however, the knife will have already done that work, and the meat seems to be more tender. Try slicing thinly while holding the knife at a 45-degree angle for a more elegant presentation. You can also shave the meat on a meat slicer like the one shown above.
It isn’t usually an art form, but serving well prepared and well handled steaks will get you a reputation for knowing what you’re doing, and you will get more comfortable taking better cuts of meat to the fire. Getting it right every time takes practice, but it is a skill you can definitely develop, and hopefully these tips will help those that want to step it up. Do you have favorite techniques you like to use?