Steak is the king of meats when cooked right. There are some tricks that can make inexpensive steaks taste expensive since it is usually costly so it is important to avoid mistakes when making steak. It is especially true when you consider options like filet mignon cuts from tenderloin, New York strips, or thick-cut ribeye. You can also find more expensive options when you go from regular beef to grass-fed beef, huge bone-in steaks, tomahawk steaks, or dry-aged specialty cuts from your butcher shop.
What’s the best way to cook a steak?
Steak cooked to a medium-rare temperature is worth its great value. It is, however, easy to make mistakes when making steaks. But don’t worry! There are a few ways to keep your steak from becoming a tough, dry, and unappetizing piece of meat. Learn how to cook steak like a steakhouse restaurant as you read on.
Usual Mistakes When Making Steak
1. Buying the wrong kind of steak
The first step to eating a great steak is buying it. It’s easy to spend a lot on trendy cuts like New York strip or tenderloin, but with some knowledge, you’ll be able to find other parts of the cow that are just as delicious without paying a premium price. Therefore, if you don’t want steak but are concerned about the cost, consider throwing on a hanger steak, tri-tip, or one of those on the grill instead. They may take a bit more attention to cook properly because they have more connective tissue, and are naturally tougher. However, if you put in the effort, you won’t regret it.
2. Choosing a lean cut of meat when buying steak
Most people will choose lean meat over fatty if they have to choose between the two. This is understandable if you are trying to reduce calories. Otherwise, you might be better off purchasing a smaller, fattier cut of meat. This is because fat adds flavor and juiciness to the streak, particularly if the fat is “marbled” throughout.
Good marbling is a sign of high-quality meat, and it is something USDA inspectors consider when rating the meat. The USDA will rate meat with a uniform distribution of fine marbling as “Prime.” This rating is for the highest quality cuts, which are usually sold in hotels and restaurants. The next rating is “Choice,” which means the steak has good quality but is less marbling. Then finally, “Select,” which means they have leaner cuts with less flavor. Choosing to buy meat below the “Select” rating will leave you with generic, store-brand, plastic-wrapped meats. While they may offer some financial benefits, it will likely result in a loss of flavor.
3. Buying your steak at the wrong place
Although the USDA rating system can be a quick way to find a good piece of cow meat, it is not able to replace years of experience in helping you get the best value for your money. This is not to suggest that you should struggle through many hit-and-miss meals before you have the opportunity to experience a great meal. Therefore, rather than looking for a USDA label, and trying to determine which farm is more authentic, or poking through the cellophane to see the meat, you can talk to someone to help you find the cut that best suits your needs.
Butcher shops, farmers’ markets, and occasionally a supermarket with an actual in-house butcher (not just a teenager in a bloody apron) are good places to look. They can offer advice beyond just flavor and price. They can also provide information about the origin of the meat, such as the breed, where it was raised, whether it was grass-fed or corn-fed, etc. This will allow you to go home knowing exactly what you are about to cook, and not just accepting prepackaged fiction which can conceal a host of ethical and culinary sins.
4. Warming Up Steak
If you bought a steak on Monday, and plan to eat it on Wednesday, then in the meantime, it is still sitting patiently in the fridge. Therefore, you need to take it to room temperature when it is time to cook it. The same works for the other animal products in your fridge or freezer. Bringing the meat to room temperature may improve your chances of getting the right results with meats like fish and chicken, which needs to be cooked thoroughly for safety or evenly. However, steak is a slice of meat that doesn’t need to be cooked evenly or thoroughly, so it works in your favor to start the cooking process with it cold.
Temperature Mistakes When Making Steak
No matter how you prefer your steak to turn out, the exterior of your steak should be dark brown and lightly charred. If you also prefer the inside to be medium-rare, you need to cook the steak using the standard practice of dropping it on an incredibly hot grill or pan for a few minutes. This will sear the outside to a beautiful crisp without letting heat penetrate the interior if done correctly. For a rare steak, it may only take one minute per side to cook, depending on its thickness. The internal temperature of a rare steak is approximately 125°F. Therefore, if you cook it at room temperature (about 72°F), the grill will only need to heat it up to 53° to reach your achieved temperature. However, if you take the steak in the refrigerator at 35°F, then the grill needs to raise the internal temperature up 90° to reach the same result. This accomplishes two things: the additional time needed to cook the steak to your desired temperature is easier; it allows more time for the Maillard reaction to take effect, which transforms amino acids and sugars at high temperatures to create the delicious grilled flavor that you are imagining.
Therefore, fear not if you suddenly feel the need to cook steaks for dinner, but you only have frozen steaks. Steaks cooked straight from the freezer are better than steaks that thawed before cooking since the steaks retained more moisture and are less overcooked. However, the process works best if the steak is frozen in a particular way. So, you might still think it is a good idea to plan ahead and cook the steaks directly from the butcher.
Texture Mistakes When Making Steak
Two ways that your steak can get wet: it comes out of its package with the natural, glistening steak runoff of myoglobin and water; you rinse it under the tap water. However, rinsing meat is a bad idea. While you may think you are removing harmful bacteria, and making the planet safer for your children, in reality, you are spreading it all around your kitchen, and into areas, you wouldn’t think of cleaning with bleach. You can also take the USDA’s word on it if you are still unsure.
You won’t need to rinse your meat anymore, so there’s only the myoglobin left. These myoglobin, which looks almost like blood, are not a problem. They can, however, become an obstacle for the Maillard reaction if they are on the steak when you put it on the grill. The Maillard reaction kicks in at around 300°, and this is easy to achieve with most grills. But if the steak’s surface is still wet when you begin cooking it, the temperature of the steak will stay at 212° until the water boils off. Only then will it rise above the 300° threshold needed for delicious flavor. However, because the steak will also be cooking at 212° while it is boiling in the water, there won’t be enough time to make the flavor before it dries out. So, give your steak a few good blots using a paper towel prior to cooking to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
Seasoning Mistakes When Making Steak
You should always season your steaks before cooking them. But are you putting enough? Perhaps you just give the steaks a light dusting and call it good. Although the light sprinkling appeared to be just right on the meat’s surface, you completely failed to account for the majority of the meat, which is beneath the surface. Therefore, you should season your steak with a generous amount of kosher salt and pepper, and rub it on the surface of the meat. Don’t worry, salt and pepper are fine.
However, you can go further if you feel adventurous. There are many ways to make steak rubs and marinades that will get your mouth watering. But you can simply add garlic powder and onion powder to the salt and pepper as a simple one, to begin with. Also, keep in mind that exotic marinades and rubs can overpower the subtle flavors of the meat. Even if you have a limited amount of meat, a clever rub can make a big difference in your meals.
Cooking Pan Mistakes When Making Steak
Steak is an ingredient that benefits from fast, high-heat cooking. This is not a problem if you are cooking on the grill outside. However, you need to make sure that the pans you have can withstand the heat when you bring your cooking indoors. Remember that nonstick pans are not recommended for cooking steaks. Good Housekeeping states that heating a Teflon-coated pan can cause the coating to emit toxic chemicals. Even though you don’t notice it, the Teflon coating begins to degrade at the molecular level and releases potentially carcinogenic gasses into the air.
Furthermore, nonstick pans can’t be used in the oven, and you may have to use one to cook thick steaks. It’s better to use a pan capable of searing that can also be used in an oven, like cast iron or stainless steel. These pans are able to withstand high heat temperatures, both in the oven and on the stovetop. They also hold heat well, so you can get a consistent sear.
Oil Mistakes When Making Steak
If you are cooking a few steaks that will cost you most of your daily wage, then you want to make sure they taste great and use extra virgin olive oil. But, that’s the way to do it! Although extra virgin olive oil is the best for several cooking methods, it’s not compatible for high heat cooking. It will burn and leave awful flavors in its wake if you throw it on a grill at 500°. Extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point of approximately 325°, and butter has a higher smoke point of approximately 350°. The oil will smoke if you use either of these, or any oil with a similar smoke point. Furthermore, apart from the bad flavors that the oil may leave behind, the smoke can contain toxic chemicals. It can also leave carcinogenic compounds on the steak.
Peanut oil, extra-light olive oil, and canola oil are better choices for grilling or frying steaks. All of these oils have smoke points greater than 400°. Usually, the oil’s smoke point is higher if it has lighter color. Moreover, oils that are highly refined withstand high temperatures better since the refining process strips several of the combustible compounds. The right oil can make your steaks taste better, and you won’t have to turn your house into an enormous meat smoker when you fry steaks inside in the middle of winter.
Not getting a great sear on steak
It is not true that serving a streak with perfect grill marks is the best way to do it. While grill marks are beautiful, they don’t guarantee that the steak tastes as good. It’s better to not use grill marks, and instead get a hard sear on the steak. The outside of the steak will brown and caramelize when exposed to high heat because of the Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars. This gives you a beautifully crispy crust and hundreds of flavor compounds that makes the steak more delicious.
Cast-iron skillets are the best choice for this sear. These pans are not designed with gaps, like a grill grate, so the entire surface of the steak is exposed to heat evenly. However, before adding oil to the skillet, let it heat up until it reaches smoking hot. Then, let the steak cook for 3-4 minutes without stirring, and flip it over to sear the other side. If you are using a grill and you want to get a better sear, move the steak around to expose the surface to the grill grates more. Furthermore, it is recommended to reduce the heat to medium-low, and flip the steak every minute until it reaches the desired internal temperature.
Don’t touch the steak
Common knowledge suggests that you need to throw the steak on the grill, then flip the steak halfway through cooking. It would be difficult to claim this method isn’t effective, as a million delicious steaks have been prepared this way. However, it’s not the best method, even if it does work. This is a way to avoid removing the steak unnecessarily from the heat. But, according to the Food Lab, additional flipping may be what it needs. Flipping the steak often actually helps cook it evenly. The few seconds of cooling allows excess heat to escape and helps prevent the meat near the surface of the steak from being overcooked. Moreover, the meat will cook faster because there is enough heat loss to not cause the temperature to drop far enough for it to stop cooking. Therefore, flipping the meat every 30 seconds successfully simulates cooking the meat from both sides simultaneously, and this can reduce cooking times.
The Food Lab acknowledges that although this technique has some advantages, it does not change the flavor in comparison from the single flip method. So, if you are engaged in an interesting conversation, or would prefer to give your attention to a particular dinner guest rather than a cooking hunk of beef, you can revert to the original method. However, flipping is a great way to cook faster, or it can be an excuse to stop paying attention to a dinner guest for a while.
Use the poke test to decide if your steak is done
The poke test is a method that you may have heard of if you have ever spoken to someone about how to cook steak. This method is simply poking the meat with your finger to tell if a steak is rare or well-done. Then, you compare the squishiness of the steak to different parts of your hands, face, or whatever. This method also avoids puncturing the steak with an instant-read thermometer and releasing any juices.
However, there are two problems with this. First, the temperature difference between a medium-rare and a rare steak is less than 10°. It takes a lot of experience to judge the level of doneness with your finger. Therefore, even an occasional griller will not be able to do it accurately. Second, a steak is not a water balloon. A meat thermometer will release some juice but, unless you have cooked the steak very dry, it won’t show any liquid loss. So, using a decent meat thermometer is the only way for an average steak-flinger to accurately tell if the steak is medium. Also, a meat thermometer is a great tool, and it will make your guests think you’re a professional. They don’t really want you poking their food with your fingers prior to serving it on their plates.
Not finishing steak in the oven
For steaks less than an inch thick, you can skip this step. However, the oven is a fantastic way to cook thick steaks. A steak cooked on a direct heat grill or in a preheated skillet will cook from the outside than in. It caramelizes the exterior while the heat gradually creeps towards its center. But it takes time to cook thick steaks all the way through, so you may end up burning the exterior before the inside of the meat is cooked. Also, the steak won’t cook evenly if seared on the stovetop because the meat is only exposed to heat from the bottom.
Instead, you can use the oven’s overall heat to cook your steak. But you still need to do a hard-and-fast sear on the steaks for 3 to 4 minutes on each side to get that beautiful crust. Then, bake it in a 450°F oven for 10 minutes. The pan will be hot enough to sear the second side, and the oven’s gentle heat will cook the steak while keeping it juicy and tender. Use a probe thermometer to check the temperature, and know exactly when to remove the steak from the oven.
The best way to get dry and tasteless steaks is to overcook them. Although it is common knowledge that some prefer their steaks well-done, you might want to reconsider. Why is an overcooked steak so terrible? Amazing Ribs explains that meat becomes dry as it cooks due to chemical and physical reactions inside the meat. The connective tissue and muscle fibers contract, squeezing out the moisture, and the proteins start to denature. This makes the meat dry and tough. So, the meat is no longer moist enough to taste juicy, and the fibers have become tough, at 155°F.
Using a thermometer is the best way to make sure your steak doesn’t overcook. You can simply probe the meat to check its internal temperature. However, you can cook an inexpensive steak, like rump or round steak, if you are cooking for someone who prefers well-done meat. They won’t be able to enjoy the taste of the quality of expensive meat, so it’s best to just save money on steaks.
Mistakes in resting the steak
Steak is a delicious dish, and it’s easy to want to eat it right away once it’s removed from the heat. But this is a mistake. When meat is cooked, its fibers shrink, and any water that they have is pushed out into the spaces between. The greater the heat the meat reaches, the greater the effect. You should not cut into the meat right away after it has been removed from the grill. Otherwise, much of the liquid that is responsible for the juiciness will run out onto your plate. But, if you wrap the meat in foil, and allow it to rest for 10 to 15, the meat fibers will relax and some of the juices will get soaked back in.
Cooking a high-quality steak may be a stressful experience. You will have to deal with all the heat, spitting oils, charring meat, and quick cook times. Therefore, if you don’t allow yourself to relax, sip wine, and anticipate the delights that will come, you will turn the opportunity to eat like royalty into nothing more than a medieval cook simulator.
Mistakes When Slicing Steak Incorrectly
Even if you follow all the steps correctly, it is possible to make a mistake with your steak. Fortunately, this mistake can be avoided if you pay close attention to certain details. This is due to something called the grain, long muscle fibers found in meat that run parallel to one another. So, if you slick with the grain, you’ll find yourself with a lot of long muscle fibers, which can be difficult to chew. Therefore, even if your steak was perfectly cooked, it will still taste chewy.
Instead, place your knife perpendicular to the grain. You need to form a “T” with all those fine lines. Then slice against the grain, this method will shorten the muscle fibers, and make them easier to chew. This will result in a more tender-tasting steak. However, sometimes it can be difficult to identify the grain when it appears to change directions. It may be necessary to change directions halfway through the cutting of the steak. But it will pay off when you get to enjoy a bite.