Get to know the cuts, which are sold under many different names. Tenderloin, also known as filet, is boneless and is the most expensive; strip, also known as New York, is boneless and has real beef flavour; T-bone and porterhouse, which are similar, have a large bone; rib steak (with a bone) and rib eye (boneless) are fattier, with rich flavour; and top sirloin is leaner and less expensive.
Determine how tender you like your steak. The most tender cuts come from the part of the animal that gets the least exercise. From most tender to least tender: tenderloin, strip, porterhouse and T-bone, rib, top sirloin.
Prime beef has the most marbling, or fat within the meat, but is found mainly in restaurants, rarely in grocery stores. Choice, with good levels of marbling, is juicy and tender, and the most widely available. Select tends to be leaner and less flavourful, and dries out more easily.
Check with your butcher to find out if the meat has been aged, which tenderizes and mellows the flavour.
Allow at least 4 oz. of steak per serving – double or triple that for hungry eaters, or if the steak contains a bone.
Know your cuts.
In order to cook a steak properly, you must first understand what type of steak you have in front of you. This knowledge is vital because each cut requires a different method of cooking. You wouldn’t cook a 1½-inch thick Filet Mignon in the same manner that you’d cook a ½-inch thick Top Sirloin. Learning your cuts and understanding the desirable traits of each, is the first key to preparing a great steak.
Generally speaking, the one common denominator to look for within all cuts of beef is marbling distribution. Marbling is the white fat that you see in all cuts of beef. Some cuts, such as Rib Eye, will naturally have more marbling than others. Just keep in mind that a substantial amount of evenly distributed marbling is a good thing. If you don’t want much animal fat in your diet, then eat something other than steak. To avoid fat in steak is to avoid steak altogether.
Know your method of cooking.
There are many methods of preparing steak. From broiling to grilling, there is no singularly ideal cooking method for all steaks. However, there are ideal methods for various cuts.
With the 1½-inch Filet Mignon, it’s probably a better idea to pan-sear and then finish in a hot oven, rather than grill over open flame. Why? By pan-searing, you’ll produce a nice brown crust on the outside of your filet that is not quite as achievable through the use of an oven . But if you were to attempt to finish the 1½-inch steak over the stove, that desirable crust will burn before the inside of the steak is cooked through. The evenly distributed heat of an oven will not burn your steak until well after it has cooked through.
If you must cook your 1½-inch filet over open flame, do yourself a favour and transfer it to an oven once the outside of the steak has been seared. See, there is no perfect method. But you must understand each method in order to achieve desirable results.
Always allow your steak to approach room-temperature prior to cooking.
I cannot overstate how important this step is in achieving a perfectly cooked steak. Depending upon ambient temperature, always remove your steak from the refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes prior to the time you plan to actually cook it.
The reason for this is rather simple: The colder the steak, the longer it takes to reach the desired serving temperature. An ideal steak will arrive on your plate as evenly cooked as possible. Now if you had an immersion circulator, this would be easily achievable. Sadly, most of us do not have an immersion circulator sitting in our kitchen. The best way to cook a steak as evenly as possible is to slowly raise the internal temperature prior to exposing the outside of the steak to a hot pan, oven or grill.
Season your steak to enhance its natural flavour rather than to mask it.
A great cut of beef is naturally flavourful, and all it really needs to enhance that inherent flavour is a little salt and pepper. I find kosher salt to be the best choice for most meats in general, and fresh cracked pepper is always a better choice than the stale stuff that comes out of a shaker. There’s nothing wrong with adding in a few other ingredients, but I’d advise that you choose those ingredients based on their ability to complement the flavour of beef, rather than mask it. Quality blue cheeses accomplish this very well.
During cooking, never touch your steak other than to turn it.
We’ve all seen it. The person in charge of the grill at a barbecue, standing there poking the steaks with a fork as if he’s accomplishing anything other than ruining the texture of the meat.
Don’t be that guy.
Needlessly moving your steaks around on the grill or in the pan does nothing for you. All it does is guarantee that your steaks will turn out to be lacking in flavour and ideal texture.
In order to achieve maximum flavour accumulation, the steak must remain undisturbed for a long enough period of time to allow a maillard reaction to occur. Simply put, a maillard reaction is a process that allows meat to brown. It won’t happen if you continually fiddle with your steak. So leave it alone until it’s had a chance to brown, and then turn it over and leave it alone for another extended period of time. And never, ever, poke your steak with a fork while it’s cooking. Always use tongs or a spatula when turning your steak.
Always allow your steak to rest for at least 10 minutes after cooking.
Much like step 3, I just can’t overstate how important it is to allow your steak to rest prior to cutting into it. Why go through all that work to cook the perfect steak, only to ruin it by cutting into it while it’s steaming hot? By cutting into a still-hot steak, you effectively allow a substantial amount of its internal moisture to escape in the form of steam and tangible juice. The same moisture that you worked so hard to trap and protect. This will result in a steak that is undesirably dry.
When allowed to rest, a hot steak will retain the majority of its moisture. It’s that simple.
When cutting your steak, always cut across the grain.
If you cut your steak with the grain, it will be noticeably tougher to chew than it would be had you cut across the grain. The reason for this is that by cutting with the grain, you allow the natural fibres of the meat to remain intact. You’ll wind up with a mouth full of still-intact meat fibres, which can be tough for the teeth to break down for further digestion. When you cut across the grain, you immediately break all those tough to chew fibres into small pieces, thereby making each bite as tender as possible.