How to cook the perfect steak

How to Cook the Perfect Steak at Home

There’s no denying that great steak is a treat – juicy, tender and rosy meat surrounded by a well-seasoned crust is a simple yet impressive main course that’s often on the menu for celebrations and special occasions. Considering the cost of a steakhouse, learning how to cook the perfect steak is a skill that every (meat-eating) man should have.

What can you expect to find in this guide?

  • Our top recommended cuts of steak and how to buy steak.
  • A list of the tools and equipment you’ll need with recommendations.
  • Tips from the world’s top ranchers and butchers on how to store steak.
  • Tips from award-winning celebrity chefs.
  • Our top recipe with two ways to cook the perfect steak.
  • How to rest, cut and serve steak.
  • And more…
Cuts of Beef Infographic

Cuts of Beef

Types of Steaks

A steak is technically any beef cut that is quick-cooking. Cuts like chuck roast are classified as slow-cooking, since they are cut larger and need time and heat to render them tender. The two key characteristics of beef, tenderness and flavor, are the main considerations when choosing a steak. There are many types of steak cuts, meaning the part of the cow that the steak actually comes from, which you can learn more about in our steak guide. In this article, we’re only focusing on the cuts specifically meant to be steaks. There are many, but the most common ones are:

  1. Ribeye
  2. Strip
  3. Tenderloin
  4. T-Bone
  5. Porterhouse
  6. Hanger Steak
  7. Flat Iron
  8. Skirt Steak

While they are all worth eating, the best combination of flavor and tenderness comes from:

  1. Ribeye, also known as a Delmonico Steak or an Entrecote
  2. Strip, also know as a New York Strip or Kansas City Strip

The tenderloin lived up to its name, but the flavor wasn’t as robust and beefy as the ribeye or strip. It also lacks the same quantity of marbling and fat, which makes it trickier to cook without drying out. Ribeyes and strips won’t naturally be as tender, but the flavor is unsurpassed.

Beautiful marbling on a steak

Beautiful marbling on a steak

There are two key steps to cooking the perfect steak at home: buying the right steak and proper cooking. Let’s start with buying a great steak.

How to Buy Steak

These days you can buy steaks pre-cut at the grocery store, cut at the meat counter, at a butcher shop, or directly from your local farmer. We suggest buying the best quality meat you can afford, but that’s not always easy to determine. Most pre-cut meat packages in the supermarket offer up very little information, so a visit to a butcher or local farmer is likely to yield more information. Assuming you’re buying a ribeye or a strip, here’s what you else should look for:

The flavor profile you prefer. Grass fed, grain fed, or grain-finished animals all have different flavor profiles due to the difference in the animal’s feed. Grain-fed beef has the traditional flavor profile most people are used to, while grass-fed beef is often described as grassy, beefy, gamey, and in general stronger in flavor with less marbling. Since some find the flavor of grass-fed beef to be too intense, lately a new trend of “grain finishing” has popped up; cows are raised on grass but fed grain the last few weeks of their lives to balance the flavor in the meat between corn and grass.

If a steak is labeled only “beef”, it’s grain-fed. Grass-fed and grain-finished beef is always marked clearly since these methods are more expensive and thus they command a price premium. Note that the USDA dropped its definition of “grass-fed” so now it falls to the consumer to verify if beef labeled as such is actually 100% grass fed. For more detail on the differences between grass fed and grain fed beef, visit our steak guide. We suggest you select the flavor profile that most appeals to you, and if your choice happens to be grass fed, note that most recipes are developed for traditional grain fed beef and cooking times may vary.

Good marbling. A steak with exceptional marbling will generally be far more tender and flavourful than one with very little. Of course, that’s not always true. Some cuts such as the tenderloin will generally be quite tender and delicious regardless of how much marbling there is, but for ribeye and strip steaks good marbling is highly desirable. Aside from visually assessing the marbling of a steak, you can use the USDA grading system to help. The USDA grades meat into three categories. USDA Select is considered the lowest grade of steak you’ll find in the United States. It’s less expensive, but it is also less juicy and less flavourful since it’s leaner. Typically, it has very little marbling and isn’t recommended if you’re looking to cook the perfect steak. USDA Choice is right in the middle. It’s more tender and flavourful than select, but the best choice is USDA Prime. Considered the highest grade, this is the kind of steak you want to be looking for if you don’t have the budget for American Wagyu. It’s tender, flavourful and should have superior fat marbling.

 

Authentic Japanese Kobe beef at the Wynn

Authentic Japanese Kobe beef at the Wynn

Aging of the meat. Steaks are either wet-aged, dry-aged, or not aged at all. The process is intended to help tenderize and concentrate the flavor of the meat. According to Shave Vaughan of AgriBeef, which owns ranches including Snake River Farms and Double R Ranch, says one of the mistakes consumers make in the store is they look for bright red steaks thinking they are the freshest. In reality, color can be an indication of freshness (some companies will add CO2 to the package to keep it artificially red) but it’s not what you want. What you should be looking for is a darker cut; not gray but edging that way. It’s these cuts that have been aged before hitting the shelf which adds flavor, tenderness and gives you better results. Since wet aging occurs in a sealed environment, the flavor improves but the moisture level stays relatively the same. Dry aging occurs in open air in cold storage, and the meat loses water through evaporation, concentrating the flavors. Dry aging, in theory, produces richer flavors in the beef.

Size of the steak. When you do pick out your steak, a thin ribeye or strip is going to grill quickly, but it also overcooks quickly. According to almost all the chefs, we spoke with, the best steaks will be between 1 1/4 – 2” thick.

Storing Steak

If you don’t plan on eating a steak within fifteen days of buying it, you want to vacuum seal each steak individually to prevent water crystals from forming, which can cause freezer burn. Do not freeze your steaks on the foam try;the package contains too much air and will be difficult to defrost. Once individually vacuum sealed, place steaks in the very back – or coldest – part of your freezer. The best vacuum sealer in our experience is the FoodSaver GameSaver Titanium, with the FoodSaver V4800 coming in a close second.

If you do decide to keep them in the fridge, most prime and wagyu beef can be wet aged in your fridge for up to another 25 days, even though the FDA doesn’t recommend it for safety reasons. Ideally, you don’t want to leave a steak in the fridge for more than 10-15 days.

A beautiful bone in ribeye

A beautiful bone in ribeye

How to Defrost a Steak

The best way to thaw a frozen steak is to place it in the refrigerator and allow to slowly defrost. Place your packaged steaks on a plate to catch any liquid that might escape during the thawing process. Once your steak is fully thawed, remove it from the packaging, pat it completely dry with a paper towel, loosely cover it and allow it to sit at room temperature for up to an hour. While not critical, this is a great way to let your beef warm slightly and improve the end results.

Celebrity chef and restaurant expert Wille Degel

Celebrity chef and restaurant expert Wille Degel

Getting Started

When we sat down with celebrity chefs Hugh Acheson, Willie Degel, and Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, all three of them stressed that you need to let the steak come to room temperature before cooking it. The reason is that a cold steak will seize up when it hits a hot pan, and the end result won’t be as good. Our own testing corroborated this, so take note – don’t cook cold steaks!

Butter basting adds flavor and nuttyness as well as keeps the steak juicy and tender

Butter basting adds flavor and nuttiness

Equipment Needed to Cook the Perfect Steak

There are few basic pieces of equipment you’ll need to be able to cook our final “perfect steak” recipe. You’ll need:

  1. A  well-seasoned cast iron pan
  2. A razor-sharp chef’s knife.
  3. An instant-read digital thermometer
  4. A high-quality cutting board

Butcher Cut Pepper is best for steaks

Butcher Cut Pepper is best for steaks, but it’s best to crack peppercorns yourself to preserve the flavor

Ingredients You’ll Need

There are some basic ingredients you’ll need in order to cook the perfect steak. This is the shortlist of what we found worked best.

  1. Good quality, well marbled, aged Strip Steaks
  2. High-quality kosher salt, such as Diamond Crystal or Jacobsen
  3. Fresh cracked butcher pepper.
  4. A good, high heat oil (or duck fat, if you’re feeling adventurous)
  5. Fresh rosemary, thyme, and garlic.
  6. Unsalted butter.
  7. High-quality olive oil.
  8. A great finishing salt, such as the Sherpa Pink Himalayan Salt from the San Francisco Salt Company.
Duck fat is great for searing steak

Duck fat is great for searing a leaner steak

 Chef Tips and Tricks

We interviewed quite a few chefs for this article,and here are some of the best tips we were given for cooking steak.

Hugh Acheson

Hugh Acheson is a celebrity chef, a cookbook author, and well-known restauranteur. He has won multiple James Beard Foundation Awards and was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine. Currently, he stars as a judge on Bravo’s hit television show Top Chef.

Gentleman’s Gazette sat down with Acheson to talk about how he buys his beef to preparing, cooking, resting and serving it. Like the other chefs, he agreed marbling is key; a steak needs to be rested, and the best steaks are simple. Here are a few of his top tips:

  • You don’t necessarily need American Wagyu to make a great steak“Sometimes there’s great [USDA] Choice or Angus and you just have to look at it,” he says. “A really good sirloin is awesome and from the bottom of it, you get this really obscure little tri-tip. If you can find a great butcher, you get this really fantastic steak,” Acheson tells us, explaining that there are many good cuts.
  • Examine all sides of the steak“Look for even marbling throughout the entire steak,” Acheson says, suggesting buying at the counter rather than a package you can’t open.
  • A thick steak can feed 2 people. “You have to get away from the notion that one steak is for one person,” Acheson says, suggesting a steak should be able to feed two people, and you don’t need to buy a thinner steak just because you’re worried one person won’t finish it. “Look for anywhere from an inch and a half to two and a half inches thick,” Acheson explains. He says anything smaller will cause the temperature to jump, and a thicker steak will cook evenly and be easier to time and control.
  • Rest your meat based on the size of the steak. “A Tomahawk steak is going to have to rest for 20 minutes, but a simple, inch and a half New York Strip is going to rest for five,” he explains. The idea behind resting a steak (or any protein) is that when you take the steak out of the hot pan or off the grill, all the juices rush to the center, and when you slice it open quickly, it pools out all over the cutting board. The resting allows the juices to reabsorb back into the meat, so you end up with a juicy steak.
  • Steak doneness “hacks” are a terrible substitute for the internal temp. Acheson argues feeling different points on your hand or face to figure out if the steak is rare, medium or well is a “fool’s system”. He says you need to take a temp. Sure enough, all the other chefs agreed.
Celebrity chef Hugh Acheson

Celebrity chef Hugh Acheson

Geoffrey Zakarian

A Michelin star chef, the host of more cooking shows on The Food Network than any other chef and a revered Iron Chef, Geoffrey Zakarian is well known as one of America’s best chefs. He is the owner of a number of restaurants and a cookbook author, speaker, and teacher. In fact, if you’re in the New York area, you can hire him to give you private cooking lessons or to cook for you. Here are a few of his top tips:

  • Don’t flip your steak every 30 seconds. “Put it in the pan and don’t play with it,” Zakarian says. The Maillard reaction, which causes the amino acids and reducing sugars to give seared food its desirable flavor, needs time to work. We tested both theories out and found Zakarian was right. Don’t flip it more than once.
  • You can sear more than two sides. “There’s four sides of the steak,” Zakarian explains. He’s right. It’s not just front and back. We tried searing the ends and leaving them. Every steak that we rendered the fat of turned out better than the ones we left alone.
  • Super expensive beef should be prepared simply. “Wagyu is a very special cooking process,” he says. He notes that with any other steak he would baste it in butter and add some extra ingredients. With Wagyu, however, he says he would only use salt and pepper and let such a beautiful steak speak for itself.
  • Fat needs a counter point. “A little bit of vinegar and olive oil is a nice relief from a fatty steak,” Zakarian says. Known for pairing peppery greens with his steaks, Zakarian explains that you need that to combat the richness. “You can’t get relief from mashed potatoes,” he says.
  • Grilling a steak has an obvious flaw. “What happens with a grill is you’re cooking…and any flavor – any fat – it drips. Guess where it drips? It drips in the charcoal. So you’re gonna have really tasty charcoal,” Zakarian explains. He is right, though; a cast iron pan contains all the flavorful drippings.
Geoffrey Zakarian

Geoffrey Zakarian

The Perfect Steak Recipe

Finally, after weeks of eating steak at every meal and in between meals, we narrowed down all the recipes and techniques into what turned out to be – what we consider – the perfect steak recipe. We replicated the recipe a total of ten times and each time it was equally superb. There are two methods of doing it that produce similar results. Both methods use the same recipe, and both methods turned out better than any of the other recipes we tried.

Method # 1 – Cast Iron Skillet

cast iron skillet steak

cast iron skillet steak

Ingredients

1  ribeye, 2” thick, American Wagyu
1 T high-heat oil
Jacobsen kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
Whole clove of garlic, unpeeled
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 T unsalted butter
Drizzle of good quality olive oil
San Francisco Salt Company Sherpa Pink Himalayan salt, to finish

Directions

  1. Thaw your ribeye in the fridge overnight.
  2. Remove it from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to allow it to come up to room temperature.
  3. Pat all sides dry with paper towel.
  4. Generously salt all sides (including edges) with kosher salt and massage it into the beef
  5. Let it sit for another fifteen minutes for the salt to penetrate
  6. Bring your skillet up to medium high heat
  7. When you can’t hold your hand an inch over the skillet for more than a few seconds, pour the oil in.
  8. When it begins to dance in the pan, but before it smokes, lay the ribeye away from you in the pan and gently push it down to get an even sear.
  9. Allow it to sit for 3 minutes, then flip.
  10. After 1.5 minutes, place the butter, garlic and half the rosemary and thyme in the pan and begin basting it constantly for another 1.5 minutes.
  11. Remove the pan from the element and remove the steak from the pan, placing it on the cutting board.
  12. Sprinkle pepper and finishing salt on both sides of the steak and place the other half of the rosemary on top.
  13. Let it rest for 7.5 minutes.
  14. Find the grain and slice against it with the chef’s knife at a 40 degree angle.
  15. Remove the thyme from the sprig and let it fall all over the steak.
  16. Plate the steak and give it a soft drizzle of olive oil from a squeeze bottle.
  17. Enjoy your perfect steak.

Method #2 – Sous Vide Cook with Cast Iron Finish

Sous Vide Cook with Cast Iron Finish

Sous Vide Cook with Cast Iron Finish

Ingredients

1 American Wagyu ribeye, 2” thick
Water
1 T high-heat algae oil
Jacobsen kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
Whole clove of garlic, unpeeled
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 T unsalted butter
Drizzle of good quality olive oil
San Francisco Salt Company Sherpa Pink Himalayan salt, to finish

Directions

  1. Thaw your ribeye in the fridge overnight.
  2. Remove it from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to allow it to come up to room temperature and pat dry with a towel.
  3. Generously salt all sides (including edges) with kosher salt and massage it into the beef.
  4. Drizzle olive oil on the steak, and place it in the bag.
  5. Place half the rosemary, the thyme and the garlic in the bag on both sides.
  6. Seal the bag with a FoodSaver vacuum sealer. We tested others but found none worked nearly as well.
  7. Place it in the sous vide water tank or the pot if using the Anova and set the sous vide to 124°F.
  8. Cook for 40 minutes in the sous vide machine. We found both the Tribest Sousvant and the Anova Precision
  9. Cooker did equally good jobs. Of the five sous vide machines tested, they are the only two we recommend.
  10. Once the forty minutes is up, remove the bag carefully and remove the ingredients from the bag.
  11. Pat the steak dry.
  12. Bring your skillet up to high heat.
  13. Once it’s very hot, pour the algae oil in.
  14. It will begin to dance right away and smoke a bit.
  15. Lay the ribeye away from you in the pan and gently push it down to get an even sear.
  16. Allow it to sit for 40 seconds, then flip.
  17. Place the butter in the pan and begin basting it constantly for 40 seconds.
  18. Remove the pan from the element and remove the steak from the pan, placing it on the cutting board.
  19. Sprinkle pepper and finishing salt on both sides of the steak and place the other half of the rosemary on top.
  20. Let it rest for 4 minutes.
  21. Find the grain and slice against it with the chef’s knife at a 40 degree angle.
  22. Remove the thyme from the sprig and let it fall all over the steak.
  23. Plate the steak and give it a soft drizzle of olive oil from a squeeze bottle.
  24. Enjoy your perfect steak.

Video

In case you prefer a video, take a look.

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed this guide to cooking the perfect steak at home – now go cook yourself a steak! What is your favorite cut of steak and how do you prepare it?

Summary
Article Name
How to Cook the Perfect Steak at Home
Description
The ultimate guide on how to cook steak with tips, tricks and recipes from Hugh Acheson, Snake River Farms, Willie Degel and Geoffrey Zakarian.
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette
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21 replies
  1. Jason Ainsworth says:

    This has my mouth watering! Thank you! Just one comment–I have read and been told that you shouldn’t salt a steak until AFTER you’ve cooked it as salt can dry out the juiciness. My method is to go from grill or pan to the plate, salt and then rest. Interested what others think about salting before/after. (On my own tests, I’m not sure it matters too much)

    Reply
    • Rob Beebe says:

      Kitchen salt is sodium chloride. When heated, salt breaks down into chlorine gas and sodium. The chlorine gas acts as what is known as a parting agent, thus the meat does not readily stick to the pan (along with use of a high-heat oil, like canola or olive). So, there is benefit to salting before sauteing in a hot pan. It also means that the “saltiness” taste is greatly diminished during cooking, so salting after cooking will be up to individual tastes.

      Reply
      • JD says:

        Sodium chloride can melt at about 800 degrees Celsius. It is quite far from decomposing into its constituents at that point, but that’s neither here nor there since it’s really unlikely you’ve got a cook stove capable of that kind of temperature.

        Reply
  2. Ray Loggins says:

    I prefer bone-in steaks. They seem more flavorful. Abandoning my good old grill in favor of a cast iron skillet and rigorous attention to a meat thermometer result
    in better steaks. I remove them from the heat 5-7 degrees below desired temperature as they continue to heat while resting. This assures a perfectly done steak.

    Reply
  3. EG says:

    Thank you for the article! I opt for the traditional boneless strip loin steak grilled over hot glowing charcoal. The fat dripping on the coals imparts a nice flavor to the steak when it is finished. To further round out that flavor, I use a few lumps of mesquite wood along with the coals. The surreal effect of hardwood smoke tend to make one feel as if they are camping on a vast open plain, when they are really at home on the patio.

    Reply
  4. Octavio Berganholo says:

    I certainly will try these steaks! They look delicious!
    Here in my country we make steaks in charcoal barbecue grills. As for the seasoning, we use coarse salt only. Some times, a little black pepper. It’s really cool to see how they are done outside here!

    Reply
  5. Rick Giles says:

    Check the section on defrosting. I think a sentence didn’t get finished.
    ” If you’re running late, you can quickly defrost a steak in the package in a . Once your steak…”

    Reply
  6. carlitos says:

    I have cooked steaks exclusively on the grill for years. Living in a cold climate, this leads to some comical steps to get a perfect steak in winter. I tried the cast iron method on a prime ribeye last Saturday and it was amazing. Next up – duck fat.

    Reply
  7. N B says:

    Great guide! It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I do like a lean piece of fillet, left to go brown, then cooked very ‘bleu’, served with fois gras and truffles (Tournedos Rossini).

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] popular instant-read thermometer used by executive chefs. First recommended to us by celebrity chef Hugh Acheson, the Mk4 reads the temperature of just about anything in record time and with astounding accuracy. […]

  2. […] on its beef, this style of barbecue usually opts for dry rubs on meat typically including brisket, steaks and […]

  3. […] Foie gras is another delicacy that is often served in the form of a mousse, pâté or parfait, but can also be served alongside the main meal as an accompaniment to such entrees like steak. […]

  4. […] but does take a certain amount of practice and patience to achieve. I cook everything from steaks and hamburgers to pork shoulders and brisket on my charcoal barbecues. It is my go-to, daily […]

  5. […] for a long period of time. While grilling works best on small cuts such as hamburgers, chops and steaks, barbecuing low and slow is best for larger cuts of meat or whole animals that take longer to cook […]

  6. […] European knives as they tend to last longer and hold their own better than the Japanese-made steak […]

  7. […] cow that the steak actually comes from. Below are a list of the most popular cuts. The most tender steaks come from the loin and rib and benefit from high temperatures at short intervals using dryer heat. […]

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