How to cook steak

Here are 20 simple steps to cook a great steak.

  1. Buy good steak. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it must be good. You want to select a piece of meat that has as much marbling as possible. Marbling is formed by lines of fat inside the meat. This fat dissolves during the cooking process and makes it awesome. Aged steaks are great. You should read up about dry aging if you’re interested.
  2. Don’t freeze it. Unless you have a blast freezer you’re going to be damaging the steak when you freeze it. As the cells freeze the ice inside them expands and eventually breaks the cells open. When you cook the steak all that moisture disappears.
  3. If you must freeze steak then make sure you defrost it gently and completely. Ice crystals inside the steak will evaporate and you’ll be boiling your steak from the inside out. I’d advise at least 5 hours outside the fridge to completely defrost a steak.
  4. Get the steak out of the fridge an hour before you want to cook it. Take it out of whatever packaging it is in, dab it dry and then leave it on a plate exposed to the air.
  5. Turn on your hotplate and start getting your pan or griddle pan hot. A griddle pan is ideal for steak because it allows the moisture to evaporate with steaming the meat. You want it to be as hot as humanly possible. If you can’t smell hot metal then it isn’t hot enough. Even on gas I leave the griddle pan on the flame for at least 10 minutes.
  6. Once you’ve let it temper (reach room temperature), dry the steak with a kitchen towel again. This removes any moisture from the outside of the steak. 
  7. Oil your steak. This will require you to get your hands oily. Massage the oil into the meat. While olive oil is fine, it does have a lower smoke temperature than sunflower oil, so sunflower oil is usually best.
  8. While your hands are oily, sprinkle some salt and pepper on your steak. You want to do this at the very last minute otherwise the salt will start to leach the moisture out of the steak.
  9. Put your steaks in the pan, but don’t crowd them. If you crowd the pan you’ll notice an excess of liquid will build up around your steaks and you will now be boiling your steak. Not ideal.
  10. (At this point a small word of warning. If you’ve done this correctly you’ll now start to see a large amount of “smoke” come off the steak and start filling the kitchen with a hazy layer of “mist”. Open some windows  to evacuate the smoke. Similarly you’ll have covered your stove and surrounding surfaces with a splattering of tiny oil bubbles. Feel free to cover everything with newspaper to minimise cleanup)
  11. Leave your steaks exactly as you placed them in the pan. Do not touch them, do not flip them. Do not talk about “sealing in the juices” because that’s been proven rubbish.
  12. Watch the side of the steak. You’ll start to see the line of “cooked” steak start rising from the bottom.  Wait until the line of “cooked” is half way up the side of the steak. Depending on how hot your pan is and how thick your meat is, this could take up to 5 minutes. Probably closer to 2 and a half minutes.
  13. Once the “cooked” line reaches the middle, flip the steak. If everything is going according to plan your steak should not be stuck and you should notice that the cooked side of the steak is nicely browned (we’ll brown it some more later). The steak is magically not-stuck because the Maillard reaction has caramelized the sugars, leaving the it perfectly brown but also not stuck to the pan.
  14. Watch the new “cooked” line rise until the two meet in the middle. This will take slightly less time than the first side did.
  15. Remove your steak and cover it with your favourite basting sauce. This can be anything from a home-made concoction of tomato sauce and chutney to a store bought steak sauce. “Lappies” sauce is my basting of choice, look for it in the Spar (the ones in the Northern Suburbs tend to be better at stocking it). I usually have my basting sauce ready on a plate and then use a spoon to make sure I cover it completely.
  16. Lift your steak out of the sauce, let any excess sauce drip off, and place it back in the hot pan. You are now cooking your meat to get the final temperature (rare, medium rare etc) and colour correct. If you leave it in the pan too long the sauce will burn, which is why we added the sauce at the end.
  17. Getting the “temperature” right is the hardest part of cooking a steak and the best advice I can give you now is to poke the meat with your finger to feel it and possibly use a meat thermometer. If your steaks are thick enough a meat thermometer pushed into the middle of the steak should hit between 54 to 56 degrees Celsius for medium rare. Medium rare feels deceptively soft. I usually cook my steaks for a minute each side after basting.
  18. It’s always better to under-do your steaks than overdo them. You can always put them back in the pan.
  19. Once you’re happy that your steaks are cooked (probably after being in the pan for between 5 and 8 minutes), take them out of the pan and place them on a room temperature plate to rest for at least 3 minutes.
  20. Serve your steaks on warm plates and enjoy.

A few pictures:

Amazingly marbled steak. Note the difference between the marbling and the sinew.
Beef Marbling Standards – Top left is bland, bottom right = Awesome
Kobe is 5-6, Japanese Wagyu is 9-10. I don’t think 12 is actually possible.
Steak “Temperatures” – Medium Rare is what most chefs believe is best.
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