Learn how to buy and cook a great cut of beef to cook steak just the way you like it every time. Once you know what to look for and how to treat the meat, you can ensure that every steak you prepare reaches its full potential.
Know your cuts. In order to cook a steak properly, you must first understand what type of steak you have in front of you. This knowledge is vital because each cut requires a different method of cooking. You wouldn't cook a 1 1/2-inch thick filet mignon in the same manner that you'd cook a 1/2-inch thick top sirloin. Learning your cuts and understanding the desirable traits of each is the first key to preparing a great steak. Generally speaking, the one common denominator to look for within all cuts of beef is marbling distribution. Marbling is the white fat that you see in all cuts of beef. Some cuts - such as rib eye - will naturally have more marbling than others. Just keep in mind that a substantial amount of evenly distributed marbling is a good thing. If you don't want too much animal fat in your diet, then eat something other than steak. To avoid fat in steak is to avoid steak altogether.
Know your method of cooking. There are many methods of preparing steak. From broiling to grilling, there is no singularly ideal cooking method for all steaks. However, there are ideal methods for various cuts. When cooking a 1 1/2-inch filet mignon, you should pan-sear it and then finish it in a hot oven instead of grilling it over an open flame. Why? By pan-searing, you'll produce a nice brown crust on the outside of your filet mignon that is not quite as achievable through the use of an oven . But if you were to attempt to finish the 1 1/2-inch steak over open flame, that desirable crust will burn before the inside of the steak is cooked through. The evenly distributed heat of an oven will not burn your steak until well after it has cooked through.
Allow your steak to approach room temperature prior to cooking. This step is very important in achieving a perfectly-cooked steak. Depending upon ambient temperature, always remove your steak from the refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes prior to the time you plan to actually cook it. The reason for this is simple: The colder the steak, the longer it takes to reach the desired serving temperature. An ideal steak will arrive on your plate as evenly cooked as possible. The best way to cook a steak as evenly as possible is to slowly raise the internal temperature prior to exposing the outside of the steak to a hot pan, oven or grill.
Season your steak to enhance its natural flavor rather than to mask it. A great cut of beef is naturally flavorful, and all it really needs to enhance that inherent flavor is a little salt and pepper. Kosher salt is an excellent choice for most meats, and fresh cracked pepper is always a better choice than the stale stuff that comes out of a shaker. There's nothing wrong with adding in a few other ingredients, but you should choose those ingredients based on their ability to complement the flavor of beef rather than mask it. Quality blue cheeses accomplish this very well.
Touch your steak only to turn it, while cooking. Needlessly moving your steaks around on the grill or in the pan does nothing for the steak. All it does is guarantee that your steaks will turn out to be lacking in flavor and texture. In order to achieve maximum flavor accumulation, the steak must remain undisturbed for a long enough period of time to allow a maillard reaction to occur. Simply put, a maillard reaction is a process that allows meat to brown. It won't happen if you continually fiddle with your steak. Cooking times and temperatures vary greatly depending on the thickness of the cut and the choice of heat source. So leave your steak alone until it's had a chance to brown, then turn it over and leave it alone for another extended period of time. Never poke your steak with a fork while it's cooking. Always use tongs or a spatula when turning your steak.
Know how to tell when your steak is done the way you like it. An easy way to determine when your steak is cooked to your liking is to simply look at it and touch it. Gently press your finger into the middle of the steak. If it doesn't bounce back at all, it isn't cooked yet. When it just begins to lightly bounce back, it's medium-rare. The more bouncy and firm it becomes, the more well-done it is. With a bit of practice, it'll become very easy to know exactly when to pull your steaks off the grill. Never bind yourself by time when cooking steaks. They're done when they're done.
Allow your steak to rest for at least 10 minutes after cooking. It's important it is to allow your steak to rest prior to cutting into it. If you cut into a still-hot steak, you allow a substantial amount of its internal moisture to escape in the form of steam and juice. This is the same moisture that you worked so hard to trap and protect, and will result in a steak that is undesirably dry. When allowed to rest, a hot steak will retain the majority of its moisture. It's that simple.
Cut across the grain when cutting your steak. If you cut your steak with the grain, it will be noticeably tougher to chew than it would be had you cut across the grain. The reason for this is that by cutting with the grain, you allow the natural fibers of the meat to remain intact. You'll wind up with a mouth full of still-intact meat fibers, which can be tough for the teeth to break down for further digestion. When you cut across the grain, you immediately break all those tough fibers into small pieces, thereby making each bite as tender as possible.
- When picking a steak at the market, avoid those that display brown splotches. That brown color is a sign of oxidation, meaning the steak in question has been sitting there longer than it should.
- Do not trim the fat from your steak. You paid for that flavor, so don't waste it. I'm not saying you should eat hunks of chewy fat, but wait until the steak is on your plate to decide which parts to discard. That hunk of fat does a great job of flavoring and moisturizing the meat that it's connected to.
- Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images