How to Cook the Perfect Steak
Cooking a perfect steak at home is a lot easier than you might think, despite the fact that there are many different opinions about how to achieve this classic culinary feat. After you decide upon your definition of the perfect steak, you will want to carefully consider which cut of meat to choose. This means paying attention to the meat’s origin, minimize moisture, time your seasoning, cook your meat evenly, rest your meat, and be thoughtful about how you cut the final product.
The 7-Step Process to Cooking the Perfect Steak
- Select Your Cut
- Consider the Meat's Origin
- Minimize Moisture
- Season Early or Late
- Cook Evenly
- Let it Rest
- Cut with Care
When we say “the perfect steak,” we’re talking about a juicy, tender, well-seasoned piece of meat that boasts a beautiful peppery golden-brown crust. The extent of the crust will often depend on the thickness of your steak. A thinner piece of meat will naturally cook more quickly than a thicker cut, allowing less time for the formation of that delicious golden brown exterior (known as the Maillard reaction). You can still have a great result, no matter the thickness of the meat you select.
Select Your Cut
Ribeye, strip and tenderloin cuts have a well-deserved reputation for producing a delicious steak. These muscles come from the middle of the animal and therefore aren’t required for any of the heavy lifting, so to speak. When starting with a top-dollar cut, you’ve got a greater margin for error because these steaks don’t really need much work.
However, as any real meat lover should come to appreciate, there are many other interesting cuts to explore that, if prepared properly, can produce the perfect steak. One cut of meat we recommend is the sirloin flap steak, commonly known in French as bavette. Its distinctive grain, similar to that of a hanger steak, gives it an interesting texture while packing plenty of great beefy flavor. Making a point of learning how to cook the whole animal is an excellent way to better understand the entire process from pasture to plate.
Consider the Meat’s Origin
Before we begin, we need to cover two broader concepts. First, cooking the perfect steak starts with the selection of your meat. We’re not just talking about the specific cut, but the actual origin of the meat itself. A fully pasture-raised, all-natural steak not only tastes great but also makes you feel great. If you care about the food you put on your table, the integrity of the animal’s diet and lifestyle are important factors to consider. Believe it or not, the genetics and stress level of the animal also play a role in determining the tenderness of the meat.
A steak isn’t just a steak; it’s a representation of our most important values. Choose wisely, and remember that by cooking your meat at home, you’re going to save money in the long run. Even if you are purchasing a product that costs a bit more, a restaurant or steakhouse has a lot more cost built into that menu item than just the meat itself.
Once you have selected your cut of meat, you’ll want to make sure that you prepare the meat in a way that will ensure a superior result. A dry steak gets a better crust. Water and moisture on the surface of the meat will begin to steam when they hit a hot surface. Excess moisture will partially prevent the browning effect that a good hot sear will create (for more on this phenomenon, you can read up on the Maillard reaction).
To avoid having this chemical reaction occur, consider resting your steaks on a plate uncovered in the fridge next to the fan for a day ahead of time to help dry out the surface. Even better, put your steaks on a rack so the air can reach the bottom of the meat as well at the top. Or simply pat your steak dry with paper towels just before cooking. Whether or not you take the other steps mentioned earlier, drying your steak right before you cook is imperative to get the maximum flavor from your cut of meat.
Season Early or Late
Another important factor in cooking the perfect steak is timing the salt seasoning. Season your meat well ahead of time or just before the steak meets a hot pan. The reason you want to be careful about when you apply the seasoning is that salt will begin to draw moisture to the surface of the meat. If seasoning is applied ahead of time, this salty moisture will get reabsorbed into the meat itself, creating a more seasoned, flavorful result. How far in advance should you season your meat? Depending on the thickness of the cut, apply salt 24-48 hours ahead of cooking.
Another seasoning trick is to apply salt to your steak and let it rest in the fridge uncovered on a plate. Any moisture that hasn’t been reabsorbed or evaporated can be wiped dry just before cooking. If you don’t season a steak in advance, wait until literally just before your steak hits the heat to do so.
A room temperature steak will cook more evenly. Bring your meat to room temperature, pull your steak from the fridge up to two hours before cooking, and let it temper. Doing so will help you get a consistent finish and color to the meat’s interior while also speeding up the cooking process. Another way to make sure the meat is cooking evenly is to flip your steak every 15-20 seconds. Some cooks swear by this method, but we prefer to let the steak cook without constantly fussing with it (which also leads to less of a potential for hot melted fat jumping out of the pan onto your clothing or skin).
If you prefer a black and blue steak, which results in the outside being charred and the interior remains quite bloody, you can cook your steak while still cold. In fact, fans of this type of steak cook partially frozen meat to emphasize these characteristics.
Let It Rest
How long to cook a steak depends on the cut of meat you select, the thickness of your steak, and the degree of doneness you prefer. Once the steak is cooked and resting, do not touch it. It is crucial that a hot steak is allowed to rest for a period of time before cutting. The hot juices are still circulating within the meat and cutting it too soon can result in a drier bite as the juices will escape onto your cutting board.
If you let the steak rest, the juices will distribute more evenly. This small detail makes a remarkable difference. A good general rule of thumb is to allow for about 10 minutes of resting time. If you have a thinner steak, less time may be required. If you’re worried about the outside of the steak getting cold, you may choose to tent it with foil to retain some of the surface heat.
If you cook a very thick cut of meat, you can use an internal probe thermometer to make sure your meat is cooked exactly how you like it. If you want your steak rare, your meat should be between 126 and 130 degrees. For medium-rare, aim for between 130 and 134 degrees, 135 to 140 degrees for medium, and over 140 degrees for well done. Keep in mind the steak’s temperature will continue to rise a few degrees as it rests after cooking.
Cut With Care
You may not realize it, but the way that you cut into your meat will impact how tender it will be. Imagine your meat as a dense bundle of fibers. When you cut perpendicular to the fibers, 90 degrees against the grain, you’re doing more of the work ahead of time. With specific cuts of steak–– including the skirt, flank, hanger, or bavette––this step is crucial. These steaks typically encompass entire portions of the muscle, so identifying the direction of the grain and cutting perpendicular to it should be relatively easy.
With other portions like ribeye, strip, and tenderloin, steaks are already cut against the grain from a larger muscle into much smaller pieces. The meat is also already so tender that you don’t need to worry about how you cut into it. To maximize the tenderness of the bite on steaks that are already cut against the grain, try cutting portions at a diagonal 45-degree angle. This cutting technique will ensure you are slicing against the grain as much as possible.
From Our Ranch To Your Table
Ready to get cooking? We’re willing to bet that by now, you are ready to try out what you’ve learned. At Augustus Ranch, we understand the drive to cook the perfect steak. We’ve applied four generations of ranching know-how to develop the most tender, juicy all-natural beef available for online ordering.