I know this isn’t about writing or movies. I’m not sorry. Because some of you need help.
The estimable and dapper BenDavid Grabinski (NOT a Jew, if you could believe such a thing) honored me tonight with this Twitter:
“Every time I cook a steak I refer to an email @DrGMLaTulippe sent me years ago. The man knows what he is doing.”
Now, aside from the fact that he is categorically incorrect about the state of my manhood (which, in reality, does not exist), he is right about one thing: I know a tried-and-true method of cooking perfect-to-near-perfect steaks. It’s a method they use in restaurants all over the world, it’s simple as all hell, and it takes very little time and practice to get right. And even if you DON’T get it right, your steak will still up better than it does normally. Because right now, you’re probably cooking like an asshole.
Before we get started: if you want to cook a terrific steak on an outdoor grill, some of this info is going to be different. The prep and stuff would be exactly the same, while the actual techniques would be tweaked. But I want to say this: if your two options are your stove/oven and a propane grill, go with the stove/oven option every single time. Every. Single. Time. Propane drools. Charcoal rules. My opinion entirely, but for a steak this is really no contest. So remember: oven/stove. Always.
OK? OK. So let’s light this candle, eh? To do that, go to the store. Your mission starts well before you even get into your kitchen.
HOW TO PICK YOUR STEAK: LEAN MEAT IS YOUR ENEMY!
A facet of grilling that far, FAR too many people ignore: you have to pick the right cut of beef, and it’s not necessary to spend a ton of money to get good stuff.
For now, stick with these cuts: Sirloin, New York strip, Ribeye, Filet, Porterhouse. There are others that work, but these are the most reasonably priced and most readily available. Ignore flank, chuck, blade, etc. Those are all stewing meats and, though cheap, will be far too tough to grill. Also, if possible, buy your steak bone-in – meaning the beef is still naturally attached to the bone. Cooking on the bone helps keep the meat tender. That in mind, avoid T-bones. There, you’re paying for too MUCH bone weight.
And ah, yes, the weight: for all of these except the filet, which you can get as small as 4oz and still be OK, get a steak that’s at LEAST 6oz, and preferably 8oz-16oz. You have a better chance of cooking your meat to the temperature desired the thicker it is; the smaller it is and you’re more likely to cook it too well-done. Also, try to find meat that’s at least 1.5-2 inches thick, for the same reasons I just listed. Can’t eat it all? That’s why we have refrigerators and leftovers, genius.
This next thing is arguably the most important in the whole process, so listen up, jerk:
LEAN MEAT IS YOUR ENEMY.
Hey, that looks good, doesn’t it? NO. NO. YOU STOP. BAD READER! BAD! Steaks NEED some fat to cook, or you’re going to end up with dry, flavorless meat. And that sucks. If you’re afraid of ingesting any fat whatsoever, do not eat steaks. Go buy quinoa or tofu or some other shit like that. Steaks are not for you. Also, get the fuck out of my blog.
This is more like it:
In fact, you can do with even a little MORE fat (which in steaks is called “marbling”) than this, but this is good enough. Again, the fat not only flavors your meat, but it creates wonderful meat juices and makes getting the right temperature much, much easier. For God’s sake, it’s going to taste better! Why are you arguing with me? Is it bad for you? If you eat three of these a day for ten years, yes, you will die of the most spectacular heart attack you can imagine. Your arteries will burst out of your chest and strangle you while everyone you love and cherish watches. Otherwise, you’re fine.
Now, while you’re at the store, you also want to pick up either olive oil or butter – real butter, no Margarine (which is like a BILLION times worse for you than red meat) – some sea salt in a grinder, and peppercorns in a grinder. I prefer butter to olive oil, but I’ll discuss the prep for both. And I can’t stress this enough: NO PRE-GROUND SALT OR PEPPER, AND NO TABLE SALT. Sea salt. Grinder. Peppercorns. Grinder. This will enhance the flavor of your steak. If you just use the pre-powdered junk, it’s not going to be nearly as good.
OK, got all that? Buy these things. And then go home.
PREP: THERE’S NOT MUCH TO DO, SO PAY ATTENTION
So one of two things is going to happen: you’re going to cook your steak now, or you’re going to cook it later.
If you’re planning on cooking later, take a couple steps now to make your life easier. First, take the steak out of the plastic you probably bought it in. Get some paper towels. Pat both sides of the steak dry; this will help it sear better later. When you’re done with that, put it on a paper plate. Get out your salt and pepper. Dust the steak with the salt. What does dusting mean, you ask? Get salt all over the steak, but for God’s sake, do NOT coat it. A liberal amount of salt will go a long way. Now, put your pepper on. Same thing, though you can use a little more pepper than salt. I like to. And you should like what I like, all the time. Pat the meat to dig the seasoning in a bit. Repeat this on the other side. Then slide it in a freezer bag and put it in the fridge.
A note: hold your grinders about six t0 eight inches above the meats while you’re seasoning. This allows some air to get in between the individual grains of salt/pepper, and you’ll get a more even season on your steak. See how helpful I am?
The point here is that the longer the seasoning is on the meat, the more flavorful it will be. You don’t have to do this, and your steak won’t be wrecked if you don’t, but if you leave it overnight with the seasoning on, good things will happen. Food! Also, eventually you can experiment with rubs and marinades. But trust me on this: salt and pepper is all you will ever absolutely need, and my bet is you’ll always prefer just those ingredients.
When you ARE ready to cook your steak, take it out and let it sit on your counter, in its freezer bag, for at least an hour or two. Why? Throwing a cold steak on a hot pan (more on this in a second) will earn you a cold pan, which means your steak will not cook through properly. Which is a problem, even if you’re going for medium-rare. You will end up with a scorched outside and a cold inside. Kind of like if Jennifer Lopez got trapped in a chemical fire (fingers crossed).
If you ARE going to cook your steak right away, do all the seasoning above as I instructed. If you’re going to use olive oil, drizzle a little on each side BEFORE you season and rub it in, coating the meat. Why would one use olive oil? It will help your meat not get TOO stuck to your pan, and it’ll give it a little extra fat to cook in. Because, as we’ve discussed, fats are your friends!
Is that all done? You are an incredible talent. Now, go get yourself an oven-safe skillet big enough to fit your steak comfortably. Once you’ve done that, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Why 350 degrees? I’m glad you didn’t ask! This is one major thing that people don’t get about cooking: cooking on the highest heat all the time is a great way to ruin your food. Did you notice there are different temperature settings on your cooktop? They’re there for a reason. Celebrate that. In the oven, 350 is the perfect temperature to cook ANY kind of steak quickly and properly without fucking up the outside and leaving the inside raw.
So…you know, go do that.
JESUS CHRIST, WILL YOU COOK THE GODDAMNED THING ALREADY?
Once the little dinging-thing goes off for the oven and it’s heated to 350, put your frying pan on the stove. Turn the burner to HI and – and this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT – let the pan sit there and get hot for five minutes. This is CRUCIAL because you want to put a nice char on your steak, and if the pan isn’t hot enough, you won’t get one. If you used olive oil, you’re good to go. If you’re using butter, drop half a tablespoon of it onto the pan about thirty seconds before you put your steak on.
Now…well, you know…put your steak on. And then – and again, THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT – don’t touch it for a minute and a half. Once that minute and a half passes, flip the steak over. Congratulations, you have now created a delicious crust on your steak that is, again, delicious, and will also help seal in all the vital juices that are going to build inside your meat (pornographic, sorry) while it cooks in the oven.
Speaking of the oven – let’s put the steak in THERE now! Flip the steak once more back to the first side you seared. Take the frying pan off the burner and slide it in the oven. The next part here is tricky, and this is where almost all of your trial and error is going to come from. IN GENERAL: for a two-inch-thick steak, 3-3.5 minutes per side will get you medium-rare; 4 minutes per side will get you medium; 4.5 minutes per side will get you medium-well. IN GENERAL: most of you will enjoy your steak cooked LESS and opposed to cooked MORE. But play around with it. Judge it. And not to get sexual in here, but when you take it out to flip it, TOUCH YOUR MEAT. If it’s super-soft, it’s rare. If it’s super-springy, it’s well done. Find the happy medium there.
Once your steak has cooked to your liking, take it out of the oven and place it on a plate. Whatever you do, DO NOT CUT INTO IT RIGHT AWAY. Let all those juices redistribute and soak back into the meat. Yes, your steak will cool down a bit, but an aggressively-warm steak is a trillion times better than a hot steak that’s about to dry out on you. So once it’s on the plate, cover it VERY loosely with a piece of tin foil and walk away for five minutes.
Is the five minutes up? No? WALK AWAY. Fucking hell, did you listen to ANYTHING I just said?
Is the five minutes up? Yes? Then eat your damn steak, you jackal.
I hope this helps. I know it was long (if you’ve ever been here before or know me I can’t write concisely for shit) but it’s better if you understand WHY you’re doing what you’re doing so you don’t develop a bad habit and think it’s OK. It’s not. It is NOT OK.
Also, you’re welcome.
FINALLY someone clarifies sea salt vs table salt! Can’t tell you how many bbq’s I’ve been to where the steak was ruined because of that one little oversight. A good sear, the right seasoning, and overnight marinating if possible are all anyone needs. Could not agree more. Well done sir. (pun not intended at first but it looks good in there so now I’m keeping it)
OMG, I’m so hungry. I’m going to do this @ the end of this week with 2 fat ribeyes. What would you suggest if I have no cast iron pan? Can I heat a cookie sheet in the oven while it’s preheating and transport the steak after I sear both sides on the stove? Also, if I want to add fresh minced garlic to the meat, would I do it before the pan sear or after I transport it? Thank you in advance!!
You can really use any kind of oven-safe skillet or pan. I don’t use cast-iron for steaks because I like each successive steak to take on its own flavor, not absorb that of others. I don’t like transferring from one pan to another at ANY point because a big part of the flavor comes from the meat cooking its own juices. As far as the garlic, feel free to add that at the outset.
Thank you so much for the tips! Very nice of you to take them time and I can’t wait to try this!!
Spot-on with the prep, and I use kosher salt as opposed to sea.
But I’m sorry sir. This will NOT taste as good without a cast-iron skillet pan. You only need one pan, it sears, traps flavors, and cooks meat better than any other pan, and most chefs swear by it.
Patently untrue, I’m afraid. Though you absolutely CAN use an iron skillet and it WILL lend some terrific flavors depending on what you’ve used it for in the past, it’s not always recommended. In most restaurants where steaks are pan-seared, chefs use regular ol’ metal pans. And as iron skillets are cost-prohibitive for many, they are a perfectly wonderful tools.
In fact, unless you’ve only cooked steak in the skillet, you can impart flavors into the beef that detract from its flavor. I use my irons often, but rarely for steak.
Sorry, sir. Your opinion on the film Her is exactly right. But you’re dead on inaccurate here. Batali, Thomas Keller, Ruth Chris, and the food network’s Alton Brown, when not straight grilling, all advocate a cast iron skillet for steak–and unless you’re not cleaning the pan properly, the steak’s flavor mixing with anything else isn’t a factor.
But like movie opinions, i appreciate the debate, respect your passion, and agree to disagree.
Let’s break this down very quickly:
1. The article you linked says nothing about “advocating” a cast-iron skillet – it just mentions using one for this recipe. As I said the first time, using an one is a matter of preference, but far from the end-all on the subject. If Batali and Keller “advocate” using one at home…again, it’s merely a suggestion. CIS are very rarely used in restaurants for steak. This is for several reasons: a) they take quite a long time to heat properly, which is prohibitive when you’re cooking to order and a pain to keep consistent from dish to dish; b) they’re cumbersome to move about the kitchen; c) cleaning them is a laborious process and cannot be done in between each food item. The point being: if they’re good enough for use in the vast majority of restaurants, they’re good enough to use at home. And with a lot less time and effort.
2. You can’t have it both ways – you don’t get to claim that “it traps flavors”, which is correct, and then turn about and say, “…unless you’re not cleaning the pan properly, the steak’s flavor mixing with anything else isn’t a factor.” The fact is that the flavors DO begin to mix, however slightly, and if you have a really good piece of meat, you might want to let the beef speak for itself and not be informed by anything other than salt and pepper. In that case, a cast-iron skillet will actually be a hindrance. In fact, it’s the main reason (of several) that I don’t use one myself.
3. Once again, I mention the cost-prohibitiveness for some people.
4. Again, the notion I push back against most is the one stated as, “This will NOT taste as good without a cast-iron skillet pan.” That’s just dumb. If you prefer the skillet, but all means, use it. But to suggest the pan has more to do with the flavor than the prep and the selection of the steak is just idiotic. I rarely use my own skillet (actually, I have two) because a regular metal pan works just fine, as taught to me by a trained chef who now oversees all of Scott Conant’s restaurants. So, once again: if you prefer a cast-iron skillet, have at it. It’s a great tool. But pretending a piece of meat JUST WILL NOT TASTE AS GOOD in any regular pan is just preposterous and, frankly, a little amateurish.
Lol! Someone’s riled up.
No one is pretending, sir, and you can call it amateurish and preposterous if that makes you feel better, but it’s an opinion, a firmly gone held not just held by me, but by those in the trade. Here’s a more emphatic article stating as such from GQ.
I get it, absolutists are no fun. It’s like screenwriters who rail against voice-over or flashblacks. That said, maybe we could have a healthier debate if we refrain from calling people’s opinions dumb.
As you said, no one likes an absolutist. And you can keep linking to articles if you want, but the fact of the matter remains: if it’s your preference, it’s a fine one, and it’s not one I’d even argue. However, when you claim it’s the “only” way to do it and then keep trying to argue it against someone who knows better, you make yourself look foolish. And you are, and continue to be, quite wrong to boot.
So stick to your guns if you must, but I’ll continue to call dumb statements dumb when they are indeed dumb, and yours was as dumb as possible.
Longtime listener, first time caller: the one part that’s not clear to me is when you talk about “3-3.5 minutes per side will get you medium-rare; 4 minutes per side will get you medium; 4.5 minutes per side will get you medium-well”. Are you saying that you need to flip the steak once it’s in the oven? Like 4 minutes one side, then flip it, and 4 minutes with the other side up? Please clarify for my steak-cooking needs, thanks!
Yes, sorry to not make that clear! You want to flip it once through the oven cycle, if for no other reason than it helps the juices redistribute more easily. And don’t forget – you’ll have to adjust those times slightly depending on the thickness of your steak 🙂