Cooking With Confidence
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Beef, Main Dishes

One Way to Cook a Steak

by Nick

A few weeks ago a friend called me and asked, “Nick! How do I cook steak?” It was hard for me to explain over the phone, but I promised a post showing a really good way to cook a steak using a stove top.

The home cook is at a disadvantage when it comes to cooking steak. Restaurants have tons of tricks to give steak a great taste. They let it age (which can be reproduced at home, but that is a separate post) and they have high heat devices which is tough to impossible to replicate. My favorite way to cook a steak is actually on the grill, but I don’t have a grill these days so the stove top is all I have to work with.

But that does not mean I cannot make a good steak. In fact, I argue that I can make a near-restaurant quality steak on the stove top. With a few tips and tricks, it is actually really simple to cook a beautiful steak. One like this!

There are a few things I want to address before we jump into the cooking. First, when I say steak in this post, I’m taking about a steak at least 1/2 inch thick and with good marbling. The process I’m using in this post would do nothing on a skirt steak (one that is very thin) or any lean cut. By steak, I mean a ribeye, T-bone, or something of that nature.

Second, fat is the key in this cooking method. You would not want to cook Filet Mignon like this. It is too lean. When I say that the steak should have good marbling, I mean that it should have veins of fat within the tissue. Like this:

A very good hunk of meat.

A very good hunk of meat.

Now, you may already know this, but this is not an economical meal. If you are going to get a real steak like the Prime grade ribeye above, you are going to pay for it. The good news is that it is so tasty, that I never need a full steak to get full. Could I eat a full 1 pound steak? Probably. But Betsy and I usually split one and it makes for a perfect meal.

Low Heat First

The first key to cooking a good steak in your kitchen is to relax the steak. If you were to feel the above steak, it is rigid and hard. That’s because all of that marbling in the meat is solid. We want this fat to relax a little bit. There are a few ways to do this. First, you could just let it sit at room temperature for at least 30-45 minutes. I don’t like this option because I don’t always have that kind of time and it still doesn’t get the meat very relaxed.

Second, and the method that I use, is to actually put the steak in the oven on the lowest possible setting, with the door slightly open. If you are a seasoned chef, this may sound completely blasphemous, but trust me, it works. It actually perfectly simulates a real restaurant kitchen. Typically, a steak house will take the meat out as soon as the order comes in, but they will let it sit for 15-20 minutes by the stove before cooking it. The difference being that in an industrial kitchen, it is much hotter than your room temperature house.

A low setting (200 degrees F. or lower) oven approximates this setting. It needs 3-4 minutes on each side. Again, you are not cooking the steak at this point, you are just getting it ready.

I was scared the first time I did this, but trust me. It works.

I was scared the first time I did this, but trust me. It works.

When you pull your steak out, you will notice immediately that it is much more tender. It’s almost like your steak has had a few cocktails. It’s just having a good time.

Compare the below photo to the one above to see how just a few minutes in a low heat oven (like 200 or under) can really start to melt those veins of fat.

Relaxed.

Relaxed.

Seasoning

The next step is to season this guy. I’m a complete purist when it comes to this. If you have a quality cut of meat, all it needs is salt and pepper. Feel free to give it a liberal amount of both, but I have no desire to put anything else on it.

Hot Heat

Your steak is now seasoned and relaxed. It’s time to do our best to give it that characteristic steakhouse char on the outside. The way to do this is blazing heat. If you don’t have an industrial strength salamander (who does?), there is no better way to do this than a cast iron skillet. Put it over high heat with a few Tablespoons of butter in it and let it get hot until the butter is just starting to smoke.

Then toss in your steak. If you are cooking more than one, be sure not to crowd them. If you crowd them then the heat will not transfer well and you will end up with a strange gray hunk of meat.

Seriously. Don't touch it.

Seriously. Don’t touch it.

Once your steak is in the pan, don’t touch it. Seriously don’t touch it. It will smoke and steam and hiss and be generally unhappy about the situation. That’s fine. Just let it complain, but don’t touch it!

When to turn it is when experience comes in a bit. For a perfect medium rare steak that is a bit under 1 inch thick (like mine in this post), I do 4-5 minutes on the first side. When in doubt, I always shoot low as I despise overcooked steak.

Flip it and forget it for another 4 minutes. By forget it, I mean don’t touch it!

Beautiful crispy crust.

Beautiful crispy crust.

Touch it

After four minutes on the second side, you can touch it. Notice I didn’t say move it. Don’t move it! But you can touch it. By touching the meat, you can tell a general level of doneness. This has never failed me with steak. It’s slightly different with other meats but with steak it tends to be right on.

If you push your thumb and your fingers together lightly, the section of muscle right below the thumb feels almost identical to a steak at different levels of doneness.

Ooops = Med-well to well done.

Ooops = Med-well to well done.

This is because as it cooks, the proteins in the meat tighten and the fat melts away. If you poke a well done steak it will feel like Arnold’s flexed bicep.

Rest it

After you pull this off the heat, let it rest for five minutes before chopping into it. This will let the juices redistribute through the meat.

Very important to rest.

Very important to rest.

Then serve it up! I served these with some of the tarragon compound butter I made a few weeks ago.

Meat and potatoes.

Meat and potatoes.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, there are a lot of ways to cook steak. This is one of them that I think is very accessible to most people and results in a perfectly cooked steak time and time again.

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22 comments on “One Way to Cook a Steak

  1. mmmm, looks perfect. I didn't know the relax-in-the-oven trick – thanks! I have a cast-iron pan with ridges that I like very much for steak, and I pour a little bit of good bourbon over the steak right at the end, which makes it sizzle and taste fabulous.

  2. 'I’m a complete purist when it comes to this. If you have a quality cut of meat, all it needs is salt and pepper.' Totally agree. Looks excellent.

  3. Nick, you are a home chef of the highest quality. My hubby cooks the steak in a different way that produces a steak that is melt in your mouth tender. He lays the steak on the cook top while the oven is heating up. Then he uses a 10 inch cast iron skillet with a little olive oil, once it is smoking hot he places the steak in itand immedialtely turns the heat under it down to about the 5 setting on the knob. Cooks it for about 4 minutes on each side for slightly medium rare for me, and he likes it more rare than I do.

  4. great post… i have a charcoal grill, but when I'm cooking for myself, I don't have the time. And I've got the iron skillet. Now I know what to do.

    Speaking of 'high heat' in restaurants: a while back, I was trying to sear tuna and I couldn't get the stove top anywhere near hot enough, so I had the idea to dump half a bag of charcoal in the weber, and then rested the iron skillet way down deep in the coals. Even though I am probably not the first person to try this, I would like to think I am the first person to refer to it as "vulcan-frying" a tuna steak.

    (To test if the skillet was hot, I dribbled a little beer into the skillet. The liquid pulled itself into a little ball and bounced around the skillet, looking like mercury. Not sure why that happens.)

    Anyway the tuna turned out good. It was smoky as hell when we put the steak on, but it didn't stick like I was afraid it would. To maneuver the tuna around, I needed an oven mitt, a really long spatula (like 24"), and tinted goggles (kidding about the tinted goggles). <1minute per side, and it came off looking like restaurant quality… raw on the inside with a ring of spicy goodness all the way around.

  5. Judging from the marbling on that steak (prime) and knowing your geographical location, I surmise that somebody's been shopping at Wagshals. :-)

    This is the ONLY way to cook a quality piece of meat like you got your hands on there above – I posted the method with some similarly ridiculous prime bone-in rib steaks we got from there last month – all excellent info to share with the cooking public at large.

  6. I forgot to mention,

    If you are really looking for blisteringly high heat, try grape seed oil which smokes at about 450F, whereas butter does at a more modest 350F (clarified butter would be good here too, but it's expensive and/or a pain in the arse for the casual home cook). It will help with the quality of the sear and lessen the chances of sending the smoke alarms off inside the kitchen.

    Here is a link to the smoke point of various fats on wikipedia:

    Smoke Points

  7. Wow! Excellent tips and additions everyone. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

    And yea Nick. I got the steak in this post from Wagshals. Nice call. :)

  8. I agree on all of your points, though using the oven to warm the steak was a new one to me, I will have to try it.

    Thanks, and great site. Just found it via TFIMB.

    -Jimmy

  9. i love the "oops" on the well-done picture of how to check for done-ness. i like my steak med-rare, and had to giggle when i read oops cuz well-done steak is as bad as burnt toast.

    my bf likes well-done, so he will be cooking his own steak.

  10. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this blog. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s challenging to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and visual appearance. I must say you’ve done a very good job with this. Also, the blog loads very fast for me on Internet explorer. Exceptional Blog!

  11. I loved Spiderman but I just love Sam Rami so Im biased but I just thought Id say that the Watchmen was the biggest waste of three hours in my whole life. Its was really really really bad. I dont care what Ebert said, it sucked balls and a half.

  12. Quote: “They let it age (which can be reproduced at home, but that is a separate post)”

    Any chance you’d feel like doing that post on aging steaks at home, one of these days? You have a knack for laying out such projects in a way that’s both inspiring and comprehensive, and easy to follow as well. <3

    (If you've done it already, I apologize, please ignore this. I tried the search, came up with no results, but may have just picked the keywords poorly. ;))

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Heya! You are correct… that post has never happened. The real problem with doing it at home is having a consistently cool and humid environment. I haven’t really had the ambition yet to get a second fridge and rig it for humidity/temp controls. That is on my lifetime to-do list though.

      There are some shortcuts out there that seem to work although I’ve never personally tried them. There’s a whole very long chowhound convo on the subject actually.
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/380223

      If you try something out and get good results, let me know. I’ll do the same. :)

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