Steaks vary in fat content and tenderness based on the location of the cut and how hard the muscle was worked during the life of the cow. More tender and fatty cuts like the rib eye come from the rib or loin area of the cow, while tougher steaks and cuts with less fat come from the chuck, sirloin or round section of the cow. However, regardless of where the steak was taken from, there are a couple different methods to determine how long to cook a relatively thick piece of steak, depending on your desired doneness.
One way to determine how long to cook your steak is by touching the steak and comparing how similar it feels to different areas of your hand. First make the okay sign with one of your hands by touching the index finger to the tip of your thumb. For a rare steak, take your thumb and index finger of your free hand and gently squeeze the fatty pad of your thumb just above your wrist where the thumb meets your palm. Take a pair of tongs and gently press down on the top of the steak. The steak should have the same amount of give as the area of your thumb. For a medium-rare steak, touch your middle finger to the tip of your thumb and squeeze the same area of your thumb to compare how the steak feels. Change the finger to your ring finger touching the tip of your thumb for medium, and your pinkie to your thumb for medium well. Well-done will be anything tougher than your pinkie against your thumb.
The most accurate way to determine how done your steak is with a thermometer. A thermometer allows you to get the perfect doneness level regardless of how thick your steak is. For a rare steak aim for 125 degrees Fahrenheit; for medium, 140 degrees Fahrenheit; and for well-done, 170 degrees Fahrenheit. For medium-rare and medium-well, shoot for temperatures between the two listed temps.
Time is one of the least accurate ways to cook your steak to the right doneness level. Time can vary widely depending on the makeup of the steak, the type of steak, the cooking temperature, the temperature of your cooking implement and the overall thickness of the steak. For example, a 1-inch New York strip steak may take 10 to 12 minutes of grilling time to reach medium doneness on the grill, while the same-sized T-bone steak may take only seven to nine minutes. As such, the other methods in the previous steps are preferred over simply timing the steak.
Chef Klaus Fritsch, co-founder of the Morton's Steakhouse chain, suggests not cooking steaks above medium, due to the loss of flavor and juice needed for a good steak. Before placing the steak on the heat, bring the steak up to room temperature to ensure more even cooking. Steaks should always go on a hot pan or grill, which aids in cooking time and creates a good sear on the outside of the meat to keep natural juices locked in.