Perfecting the art of cooking a steak to one’s preferred temperature, however, can be a lengthy, sometimes frustrating process. Thankfully, with a little practice and a few techniques, you’ll be searing and grilling up delectable steaks in no time!
First, let’s discuss what we mean when we talk about a steak’s temperature, or doneness. When we talk about red meat like steak (in any of its cuts: rib-eye, NY strip, t-bone, tenderloin, shank, skirt, porterhouse, or any of the others), we first have to figure out how you or your dining companions might like it cooked.
The most common degrees of doneness are: Rare, Medium-Rare, Medium, Medium-Well, and Well Done. Each of these is a step closer to being fully cooked.
Rare will have a seared outer layer, with a deep red center. Medium-Rare will have a mostly pink center. Medium has very little to no pink in the center. Medium-Well has no pink in the center but is still somewhat tender to the touch, and Well Done has absolutely no pink and is the most firm of all temperatures to the touch.
Most anyone who has been educated on food safety will acknowledge that the stated temperature a piece of red meat like beef must reach to be safely consumed is 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the temperature a Medium-Well or Well Done steak will achieve, which means that cooking a steak to anything less does include a certain level of risk that the consumer is knowingly taking.
As long as you have chosen a reputable, clean place to purchase your meat, there should be little in the way of concern for your safety when consuming meat that has not been cooked to 165F.
So now that you know the different degrees of doneness, how do you know when your steak has reached that level? The easiest and most reliable way is one that merely involves your own hand, and sense of touch.
Take one hand and make a circle with your index finger and thumb. Press the index finger of your other hand to the pad of your palm, directly below the thumb of the hand making the circle. The soft pad of this area gives the same sensation as a steak that is Medium-Rare.
The way your palm feels is how the steak should feel when pressed lightly with your index finger as it cooks. Rare will be even softer than Medium-Rare, having quite a lot of give to them.
Now that we have covered the different temperatures, and how to gauge those levels, it’s time to delve into actually cooking the steak!
The grill is an excellent choice, and will lend a good amount of smoky flavor and char texture to your steak.
It’s important to keep the heat of your grill fairly consistent throughout the time that you’re cooking. This is easily maintained with a gas grill, and can be learned with little practice on a charcoal grill. Once you know the “personality” of your grill, cooking a consistent steak will be easy.
To make a steak look like the professionals, you’ll want the all-important “grill marks,” which will create that nice checkerboard pattern on your steak. To do this, place your steak down on a diagonal angle, tilting it against the up-and-down orientation of the grill’s metal rows at close to a 45 degree angle.
Leave your steak alone for several minutes, the thicker the cut of meat, the longer you’ll need to leave it alone! After enough time to where the meat will easily come away from the grill, rotate your steak 90 degrees, but do not flip it over yet! Leave the steak for another few minutes (a few less than the first time around, though), and only then should you flip it. Repeat this process with the other side if you like, to ensure that no matter which way it ends up on the plate, it will have nice grill marks.
Remember, practice makes perfect, and you might not get it right on your first try!
Secondly, we have the frying pan and oven.
Preheat your oven to 375, and get an oven-safe, heavy-bottomed frying pan ready to go on the rangetop over medium-high heat with a small amount of oil in it. You’ll want an oil with a high smoke-point.
When the surface of the oil starts to shimmer, it’s ready for the steak! Carefully lay the steak into the pan. Use caution, ensuring you only use a small amount of oil so there are no accidents! Sear the steak in the pan for several minutes, again noting that the thicker the cut, the longer each step will take.
Once there is a good sear on one side, flip the steak (carefully!), and immediately place into your preheated oven. Let the steak cook in the oven and check on it occasionally. Remember your techniques for checking doneness, and make sure to wrap the handle of the pan in a towel when removing!
Lastly, we can discuss marinades and/or seasoning your steak. These will come down to a personal preference, and there are thousands upon thousands of recipes for marinades and rubs. Only experience and experimentation will give you results you enjoy when it comes to these. Personal taste will account for which ones you like or do not. Typically, however, a good marinade can help with the tenderness of your steak, so they are absolutely worth investigating.
Armed with this knowledge, and a good attitude about perfecting your craft over time and with practice, you’ll be making incredible, perfectly-cooked steaks in no time!