Beginner’s Guide to All Things Steak (and How to Cook a Steak)

Steaks are an iconic American classic. They’re considered to be one of the most delicious and rewarding meals that you could eat. However, the task of choosing and preparing a steak can be daunting, especially for those who have little experience with the cow. Which cut should I buy? What is marbling, and is there a difference between grass and grain-fed beef? Is there really a difference between bone-in and bone-out? Worry not – the science behind steaks isn’t as complicated as you would think. In this beginner’s guide to steak, I’ll answer all of your questions and show you how to cook a steak, step-by-step.

So, where do I even start?  I’ll cover some of the most commonly asked questions in regard to steaks, but I won’t go too far in-depth. For the more experienced home cook, I would suggest reading into one of our other blog posts. This article is more of a beginner’s guide to steaks, not a comprehensive lecture. 


Outline

What cut of steak should I buy?

What should I be looking for in a steak?

How can I tell the doneness of my steak?

What to serve with steaks

How to cook a steak

How to cook a steak FAQ’s


What cut of steak should I buy?

It is quintessential that you pick a steak that fits your taste and your mood. Cows are very large animals (around 2000 pounds) and have many different muscles. Each muscle varies in shape, size, and function. Thus, different cuts all cook up differently, and they all have different tastes and textures. Before you decide to search up “how to cook a steak”, you should probably scout your local butcher or grocery store to see what cuts of steaks they offer.

Here I have listed some of the most common cuts that you’ll run into. I also rated their flavor, tenderness, and price based on pan-searing alone (NOT other methods such as braising, Sous Vide, Reverse Sear, etc). Please understand that the ratings are simply what I think of the steaks when cooked in a pan.

As an aside, I want to mention that common “cuts” are actually the retail cuts (the names under which the meat is sold in a store). We will not be looking at “primal” cuts, which are the large sections that a cow is butchered into before being processed. For example – the tenderloin/filet mignon, porterhouse/T-bone, and the New York Strip (retail cuts) come from the loin section (primal cut) of the cow. 

Steak is mostly muscle. Marbling matters less than the cut of steak when you’re learning how to cook a steak.


Ratings

Note that a passing score for any criteria is a 3 out of 5.

Flavor (out of 5) – Palatability and depth of taste in terms of meatiness (beefiness) and richness. This represents how much I crave the steak and the degree to which it makes my mouth water.

1 = Poor (just sad)

2 = Subpar (mild or lean)

3 = Good (meaty)

4 = Great (beefy and buttery)

5 = Excellent (robust and ethereal)

Tenderness (out of 5) – Texture of the steak in terms of chewiness. This represents the degree of “softness”, or how easy a steak is to chew.

1 = Poor (leathery and rubbery like jerky)

2 = Subpar (tough)

3 = Good (a bit of chew)

4 = Great (soft)

5 = Excellent (melt-in-your-mouth)

Luxuriousness (out of 5) – A combination of flavor, texture, and juiciness. This represents how much I personally value a steak.

1 = Poor (avoid)

2 = Subpar (sad)

3 = Good (standard)

4 = Great (special)

5 = Excellent (heavenly)

Price (out of 5) – How expensive or costly a steak is. For all intents and purposes, prices are representative for USDA Choice (BMS 2) steaks.

$ = Under $5 per pound

$$ = $5-9 per pound

$$$ = $10-14 per pound

$$$$ = $15-19 per pound

$$$$$ = $20 per pound (or more)


Steak House Heroes: 

Sirloin

Credit: Carnivore Locavore (Flickr)

Other Names: Shortloin, Bottom Sirloin

Flavor: 3 out of 5

Tenderness: 3 out of 5

Price: $$

Luxuriousness: 3 out of 5

The sirloin steak is actually a misnomer – it is divided into two cuts (top and bottom sirloin). Steaks marketed as “sirloin” are bottom cuts. Sirloin steaks have a moderate beefy flavor and a firm, chewy (but not tough) texture. These are good as steaks, but can benefit from a marinade. 

New York Strip

Steak for Beginners

Other Names: Strip Steak, Top Sirloin, Kansas City Strip

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Tenderness: 4 out of 5

Price: $$$

Luxuriousness: 4 out of 5

The strip steak (top sirloin) is an iconic steak known for its moderate tenderness and strong, beefy flavor. It’s one of the most common steaks that you’ll find in the store and in restaurants. Strip Steaks are all-around great steaks with good marbling for individuals who enjoy a beefy-tasting steak but still want a bit of chew.

Ribeye

Other Names: Tomahawk, Delmonico, Scotch Filet, Entrecote, Prime Rib (Roast)

Flavor (eye): 3 out of 5

Tenderness (eye): 4 out of 5

Flavor (cap): 5 out of 5

Tenderness (cap): 5 out of 5

Price: $$$$

Luxuriousness: 5 out of 5

This steak is unique in that it’s actually made of two different cuts: the eye (center round) and the cap (spinalis). The ribeye is considered to be one of the finest cuts of steak on the cow – renowned for its smooth texture, generous marbling, and strong beefiness. The central eye is similar to that of a New York Strip, with slightly less flavor and slightly more tenderness.  However, the cap is considered one of the best cuts of the cow on the steak. It is melt-in-your-mouth tender and packs a mouth-load of buttery, beefy flavor. 

Tenderloin

Credit: stu_spivack (Flickr)

Other Names: Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand

Flavor: 2 out of 5

Tenderness: 5 out of 5

Price: $$$$$

Luxuriousness: 3 out of 5

This cut is considered to be one of the most upscale and prized steaks on the cow. While tenderloins (Filet Mignons) are widely known for its unparalleled tenderness, it does not pack the same flavor as many other steaks. Tenderloins do not have the same marbling, which explains the lack of flavor. They are one of the least active muscles in the cow, which explains its buttery smooth texture and mild taste.

Porterhouse

Other Names: T-Bone

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Tenderness: 4 out of 5

Price: $$$$

Luxuriousness: 4 out of 5

Like the ribeye, this steak is unique in that it is actually made up of two individual steaks (separated by a bone). The porterhouse is a cross-section of the New York Strip and the Tenderloin. The T-Bone steak is simply a smaller cut of the porterhouse. While two-steaks-in-one sounds great, the porterhouse is rather difficult to cook due to the fact that the New York Strip and the Tenderloin are so different. 


The Underdogs:

Picanha

Other Names: Top Sirloin Cap, Culotte, Rump Cap

Flavor: 5 out of 5

Tenderness: 4 out of 5

Price: $$/$$$

Luxuriousness: 4 out of 5

While popular in Brazil, this mouthwatering cut is often sold as a whole Top Sirloin Round or as a trimmed Culotte steak in the United States. Don’t let this dissuade you though – these steaks are well worth the effort of finding them. Picanha comes from the same cut as the New York Strip, but it isn’t the same steak. It’s tender with a slight chew and a strong, beefy flavor that rivals the profile of the New York Strip. Picanha also has a generous fat cap to make up for a lack of intramuscular marbling, so I like to think of it as a cross between a New York Strip and a Ribeye Cap. These are one of the best cuts of steak that the cow has to offer. 

Tri-Tip

Credit: Cory Doctorow (Flickr)

Other Names: Santa Maria Steak, Newport Steak

Flavor: 3 out of 5

Tenderness: 3 out of 5

Price: $$

Luxuriousness: 3 out of 5

Known for its triangular shape, the Tri-Tip steak is a relatively inexpensive cut with a firm texture and a mild taste. However, these steaks can be very juicy when cooked properly. It’s best to season them with a thick rub and smoke/BBQ them until they’re cooked to no more than medium-rare. The tri-tip should really only be smoked or BBQ’ed. Serve by slicing against the grain.

Flat Iron

Other Names: Butler’s Steak, Oyster Blade, Patio Steak, Lifter Steak, Shoulder Top Blade

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Tenderness: 4 out of 5

Price: $$

Luxuriousness: 3 out of 5

The flat iron is a cut of steak taken from the shoulder (chuck) of the cow. This steak offers a strong, beefy flavor that can rival strip steaks. However, it often suffers a firm, chewy texture if the membrane is not removed properly. When prepared and cooked properly, the flat iron offers great flavor and a slight chew that is reminiscent of a New York Strip. While well-marbled and strong in taste, it falls short of the ribeye. It is also relatively thin and more difficult to cook. 

Chuck Eye

Other Names: Budget ribeye

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Tenderness: 3 out of 5

Price: $$

Luxuriousness: 3 out of 5

Despite what its name suggests, the chuck eye steak should not be mistaken for the chuck roast. This cut of steak is generally well-marbled and inexpensive. It has a moderately beefy but extremely buttery flavor profile but suffers from a slight chew. Additionally, you must trim this steak and remove any excess gristle or sinew. I think of Chuck Eye steaks as the poor man’s ribeye or the budget ribeye. Be sure not to mix the two up though – they look rather similar.


Butcher’s Cuts:

Hanger Steak

Credit: stu_spivack (Flickr)

Other Names: Butcher’s Steak, Fajitas Arracheras, Bistro Steak, Onglet

Flavor: 5 out of 5

Tenderness: 3 out of 5

Price: $$$

Luxuriousness: 3 out of 5

Hanger steaks are so good that butchers would hide them from customers and take them home. They’re inexpensive and known for their (almost) robust beefy punch and unique minerality. While fleshy, tender, and juicy, these steaks are very thin and easy to overcook. I personally prefer this over the skirt steak and the flank steak. The hanger steak makes up for its chew with one of the best flavor profiles of any steak. They should be marinated and should be cooked until they’re no more than medium. 

Skirt Steak

Credit: stu_spivack (Flickr)

Other Names: Fajita, Roumanian Strip, Churrasco (misnomer)

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Tenderness: 3 out of 5

Price: $$$

Luxuriousness: 3 out of 5

The skirt steak is very similar to the hanger in that it’s thin and inexpensive. These steaks have a distinct chew and a rich, buttery taste and a robust beefiness. Many people place this steak in-between the hanger and the flank steak. It’s a great pick but is often shadowed by the other butcher steaks. Because the skirt steak is so thin, you’ll want to cook it very quickly and avoid cooking it past medium. They are best after being marinated.

Flank Steak

Other Names: Bib Steak, Sobrebarriga

Taste: 3 out of 5

Tenderness: 3 out of 5

Price: $$

Luxuriousness: 3 out of 5 (barely)

Personally speaking, this is one of my least favorite steaks. However, many others prefer this over the skirt and hanger steaks. The flank steak has a beefy flavor and a firm, chewy texture. Even when cooked to a proper medium-rare, these steaks can come out dry, tough, and flavorless. You must marinate them to tenderize the muscle and add flavor. Additionally, these steaks are best sliced thinly against the grain and served with a strong jus or glaze to make up for the texture and flavor. Flank is also used in fajitas or stir-fry.


Overall Rankings

Taste

Ribeye Cap = Picanha > New York Strip = Sirloin = Flat Iron = Skirt = Hanger > Ribeye Eye > Tri-Tip = Flank > Tenderloin 

Tenderness

Tenderloin > Ribeye Cap > Picanha > New York Strip > Sirloin = Ribeye Eye = Tri-Tip > Skirt = Hanger > Flank

Juiciness (Fattiness/Marbling)

Ribeye Cap = Picanha > New York Strip > Sirloin = Flat Iron = Tri-Tip > Skirt = Hanger = Ribeye Eye > Flank = Tenderloin 

Note: Porterhouse is not mentioned since you get both the New York Strip and the Tenderloin.


What should I be looking for in a steak?

This is a difficult question to answer since it depends on the steak that you choose. For example, you’ll want a ribeye steak cut from the front, as the ribeye cap will be larger. However, there will be no difference between a front vs back cut of a New York Strip. Some steaks also benefit from extra intramuscular fat (marbling), while others don’t need it. Before you learn how to cook a steak, it’s important that you choose a steak that best suits the occasion.


Marbling (Grade of Beef)

Comparative Guide for Beef Marbling Systems

When it comes to meat, the word “marbling” refers to the intramuscular streaks of fat. In other words, “marbling” refers to the amount of white fat that you can find within the lean sections of a cut of meat. Increased marbling in a cut of steak adds flavor and tenderness, so you generally want to look for a steak with a lot of fat within the muscle. Marbling does not account for the fat found on the surface of a steak (e.g. the strip of fat in a New York Strip) – it only refers to the fat surrounded by muscle. For all intents and purposes, the fat found as marbling is what provides decadence to a steak. However, significant fat caps (e.g. picanha) can compromise for the lack of intramuscular marbling.

Generally speaking, the more marbling a steak contains, the more tender and better-tasting a steak is. With this in mind, you must be aware that there are exceptions to this rule. Some cuts of beef are riddled with tough connective tissue (such as chuck, brisket, and short rib). While both of these cuts are intensely marbled and offer excellent flavor, they are tough unless you grind them up or cook them low and slow for a long period of time to break the collagen down. If you’re not sure, do your research first and stick to the steaks that I’ve documented.


How to determine your steak’s marbling

Another important thing to know is that you want to compare the marbling of similar cuts of steak. As mentioned before, different steaks have different compositions. For example, the tenderloin lacks marbling but it’s still the most tender cut from a cow. While the Hanger steak doesn’t have much marbling, its strong flavor profile rivals that of a New York Strip. Chuck roasts and short ribs have abundant marbling, yet they’re still tough and sinewy when cooked as steaks. However, a well-marbled New York Strip always is better-tasting and more tender than a poorly-marbled New York Strip. It’s only fair to compare two of the same cuts of steak.

The simplest way to differentiate marbling between steaks would be to look at it. Which one of these has more marbling? (Hint: it’s the second one). 

Another way would be to look at the grading label itself. Different countries use different grading systems, but the universal standard is the Beef Marble Score (BMS). The BMS system ranks steaks from 0 (no marbling) to 12 (extreme marbling) and is the easiest way to compare regional grading standards. 


Popular Beef Grading Systems

In the United States of America, we commonly recognize three different grades of beef: USDA Select (BMS 1), USDA Choice (BMS 2), and USDA Prime (BMS 3-5+). Angus beef, while not a beef grade (it’s a type of cow), is generally USDA Choice. The USA also sells “Wagyu” steaks (mentioned under the Japanese grading system), which are generally rated with a BMS of 5+ (better than USDA Prime).

The Australian beef grading system is known as the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) and is not widely used. A BMS of 0 equates to an MSA of 100-200, while a BMS of 9 equates to an MSA of 1100+ (the maximum score).

The Japanese beef grading system is the most detailed, as it accounts for both the yield grade (how much steak you can get from a cow) and the quality grade (marbling, color/brightness, texture, and fat quality). Japan is known for its Wagyu steaks, which can reach a Beef Marble Score (BMS) of 12 (the maximum possible score). It’s a very complicated system, so here is a brief (but not 100% accurate) overview of their grading system:

Yield:

A – Fullblood Wagyu, high yield

B – Crossbreed Wagyu, moderate yield

C- Angus or common cattle, low yield

Quality:

5: Highest marbling, best quality

4: High marbling, excellent quality

3: Moderate marbling, great quality

2: Good marbling, good quality

1: Little to no marbling, decent quality

For example:

A5 = BMS 8-12

A4 = BMS 6-7

A3 = BMS 3-5

A2 = BMS 2

A1 = BMS 1

Verdict: You should be looking for steaks with good intramuscular marbling. USDA Choice is good, USDA Prime is better, and Wagyu is the best. Try to avoid USDA Select Steaks or anything under a BMS of 2. Note that most wagyu steaks outside of Japan are actually crosses between wagyu cattle and Angus cattle.


Thickness

More often than not, you want to buy a cut of steak that is at least 1 inch thick (1.5+ inches is better). Thin steaks can generally become tough and dry because they’re so easy to overcook. A thick steak can stay on the heat for a longer amount of time and still blush pink in the center. The thickness of a steak is especially important when you’re trying to sear the surface and develop a beautiful crust. This may be rather difficult if you have a thin steak that shouldn’t cook for too long. Besides, thicker bites of steak are more satisfying than thin ribbons.

Verdict: Purchase a steak that is at least 1 inch thick. Aim for more (1.5+ inches) if you can. 


Bone in vs. Bone out

The idea behind bones giving your steak more flavor is nothing more than a myth. It has been proven that bones do not add flavor. Additionally, cooking a bone-in steak can be extremely difficult if you’re cooking with a flat heated surface (e.g. a pan), as meat tends to shrink behind the bone when it is cooked. This prevents the meat from making contact with the pan, and you end up steaming your steak instead of cooking it. 

However, bones are advantageous in two ways: They insulate heat, and they’re fun to chew on. Insulation of your steak helps it stay warm and distribute heat longer during the resting period. Plus, you get to gnaw on the little scraps of meat after you’re done eating. If you do decide to cook a bone-in steak, it is recommended that you use an open flame (e.g. a grill). 

Verdict: Bones do not add flavor, and they’re difficult to cook indoors. Only get a bone in steak if you plan on grilling.


Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed

Grass-fed steaks come from cows that eat (mostly) a natural diet of grass for their entire lives, hence the name. Grain-fed steaks come from (you guessed it) cows that eat mostly a diet of corn or soy (or both) for the later part of their lives. Corn and soy help fatten up cows very quickly. 

Grass-fed cows are generally leaner and have unique yellow, chewy fat. These steaks tend to have a gamey, beefy taste with hints of grass (it’s not as weird as you would think). On the other hand, grain-fed cows are generally juicier and have white, creamy fat. These steaks are slightly less intense but still have a rich, beefy taste with hints of sweetness. 

It all comes down to personal preference, but most people (including myself) prefer grain-fed steaks. Their grass-fed counterparts are still great but tend to be more of an acquired taste. 

Verdict: Grass fed steaks have more of a chew and a gamey, beefy flavor profile. Grain fed steaks are tender and have a rich, sweet, beefy flavor profile. Most people (including myself) prefer grain fed steaks.


Wet-Aging and Dry-Aging

Beef aging refers to a process of preparing steaks for consumption. It has nothing to do with the actual age of the cow. The main goal of this process is to break down connective tissue, which leaves you with improved tenderness and juiciness. Whether they’re dry-aged or wet-aged, these steaks are superior to their fresh counterparts.

Dry-aged steaks are hung up or placed on a rack to dry (under controlled conditions) for several weeks. This process takes place in an open environment that allows the meat dries out and leaves a more concentrated and unique nutty, sharp flavor. These steaks are also easier to sear and cook because of their lower moisture content. Additionally, these steaks are generally very moist because the low moisture content prevents them from drying out during the cooking process.

Wet-aged steaks are vacuum-packed in bags and placed in the same controlled conditions as the dry-aged steaks for several weeks. The only difference is that this steak never dries out. Wet-aged steaks lack the concentrated beefiness of dry-aged steaks, but they develop a slightly metallic/mineral taste (in a good way).

Verdict: Most people prefer dry-aged steaks over wet-aged steaks and wet-aged steaks over fresh steaks.


How can I tell the doneness of my steak?

This is probably the most difficult question to answer. You’ll need to know how to cook a steak, and how to cook it to no more than medium. Unfortunately, consistency comes with experience. As I have mentioned before, all steaks are different. This means that they all cook differently and feel different. Steaks with generous marbling will never really firm up, while steaks with little marbling will almost always feel firm.

If you don’t want to invest in any special equipment, you can use your sense of touch through the “Hand-Doneness Test”. Feeling your steak by feel is a terrible way to judge doneness. Different steaks feel different (depending on the muscle type and fat content), and everyone’s hand/cheeks/body feels different.

To start, loosely touch your thumb to any of the fingers listed below. Poke the meaty part of your thumb, and compare it to the feel of your steak.

Additionally, you can use timing to cook a steak. Note that this is for the cook time PER SIDE.


If you wish to invest in inexpensive equipment, I would suggest purchasing a digital probe thermometer and measuring the core temperature of a steak. Here is a steak-doneness temperature guide:

Insert your thermometer probe at an angle into the thickest part of your steak and measure the lowest temperature. Remember that your steak will continue to cook as it rests. Take your steak out of the pan about 5 degrees Fahrenheit lower than what you’re aiming for.

For the perfect steak, I would invest some money into a Sous Vide machine or look into the Reverse Sear Method (the topic of another blog post). 


What should I serve with my steak?

Steaks are traditionally served with a vegetable side and a starch side. The most classic steakhouse accompaniments are creamed spinach and crispy potatoes with a glass of red wine. Particularly, you want at least one acidic component to cut through the richness and fattiness of the meal.

Please understand that I’m here to teach you how to cook a steak. You can find other recipes in the “experimental” section, but it’ll take a little time.

Here are some common vegetables and how I like to serve them:

Asparagus (lemon-parmesan with chili)

Broccoli (lemon-parmesan with chili)

Corn (grilled with butter)

Onions (sauteed)

Mushrooms (sauteed with tarragon and sweet vinegar)

Brussel sprouts (with bacon, of course)

Peppers (grilled)

Green beans (grainy mustard, roasted)

Zucchini (butter, lemon)

Side salad (vinaigrette)

Here are some common starches and how I like to serve them:

Baked potatoes 

Crispy potatoes (oven fries)

French fries (steak-cut)

Mashed potatoes

Scalloped potatoes

Garlic bread 

Drinks that pair with steak:

Dry red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon)

Whiskey (your choice)

White Wine (oak-aged)

Cranberry Juice

Pomegranate Juice

Grapefruit Juice

Tart Cherry Juice

Water/Seltzer (with lemon/lime)

Desserts that pair with steak:

Pie a la mode (something tart like strawberry-rhubarb)

Key Lime / Lemon Meringue Pie

Cheesecake (especially strawberry/raspberry)

Berries with Creme Anglaise 

Creme Brulee

Fresh Fruit

Molten Chocolate Cake

Panna Cotta

Tiramisu (my choice)


What steak sauce should I use?

Steak served with a bordelaise sauce

You do not use store-bought steak sauce on a good steak. Commercial steak sauces mask a lot that the steak has to offer. You lose the beefiness, the creamy fat, the intricate seasoning, and the decadent crust. However, you are free to make your own pan sauce. You can find plenty of recipes online, but I tend to eat the steak without any sauces. I finish my steaks with a herb-blue cheese compound butter.

Admittedly, there are four acceptable classic steak sauces:

Bordelaise (red wine reduction usually made with demi-glace)

Bearnaise (herb-infused white wine sauce, similar to hollandaise)

Peppercorn/au poivre (creamy, made with brandy/cognac and peppercorns)

Sauce Diane (similar to peppercorn, but heavy on mushrooms)

Verdict: You shouldn’t need a steak sauce. If you want one, make your own pan sauce. Finish the steak with a compound butter, and you’ll be all set for a great meal.


How to cook a steak like a steakhouse:

Unfortunately, there are just as many ways to cook a steak as there are types of steak out there. Note that you do not need to let the steak come up to room temperature. 

Traditional Steakhouse Method (with thermometer):

  1. Purchase a proper thick steak with good marbling
  2. Remove the steak from the fridge and pat dry
  3. Lightly coat in an oil with a high smoke point
  4. Season liberally with coarse salt and cracked pepper
  5. Add high smoke point oil to pan until the bottom is coated
  6. Heat pan with max heat until oil visibly smokes and shimmers (don’t forget to turn your exhaust fan)
  7. Lay steak away into pan away from you
  8. Sear for 30 seconds
  9. Flip and sear for 30 seconds
  10. Continue to flip your steak, searing for 30 seconds at a time, until the core temperature is 10°F lower than your desired cook
  11. Add butter and aromatics
  12. Continue to flip and sear while basting until core temperature is 5°F lower than your desired cook
  13. Remove steak from the pan
  14. Spoon the flavored butter over the steak
  15. Rest for at least 5 minutes
  16. Finish with salt and pepper to taste

Traditional Steakhouse Method (without thermometer):

  1. Purchase a proper thick steak with good marbling
  2. Remove the steak from the fridge and pat dry
  3. Lightly coat in an oil with a high smoke point
  4. Season liberally with coarse salt and cracked pepper
  5. Add high smoke point oil to pan until the bottom is coated
  6. Heat pan with max heat until oil visibly smokes and shimmers (don’t forget to turn your exhaust fan)
  7. Lay steak away into pan away from you
  8. Sear for 3 minutes on one side
  9. Flip, add butter and aromatics to the pan
  10. Sear for 3 minutes while basting the steak
  11. Remove steak from the pan
  12. Spoon the flavored butter over the steak
  13. Rest for at least 5 minutes
  14. Finish with salt and pepper to taste

How to cook a steak (my personal method):

I prefer a front-end ribeye cut or a nice slab of picanha, and I believe that a good steak deserves respect. Thus, I cook my steaks Sous-Vide and sear them on a charcoal grill, but that’s beside the point of this article. My preferred method of cooking a steak in a pan is similar to the simplified method. Even then, I prefer cooking my steak on a grill. I don’t cut my steak until I eat it because I find pleasure in letting the knife glide across the cut before every bite. Please note that following these instructions will result in a rare steak.

  1. Season your steak with salt the 12-24 hours before and place it on a wire rack to refrigerate
  2. Remove your steak from the fridge and pat dry
  3. Add vegetable oil into cast iron pan (skip this if you’re using a grill)
  4. Add salt (sparse),  pepper, chopped rosemary and thyme, butter, minced garlic to a plate
  5. Heat pan or grill at max heat (the oil in your pan should visibly smoke and shimmer)
  6. Pat your steak dry again
  7. Lay steak onto the cooking surface away from you
  8. Cook on one side for 2 minutes
    1. Blowtorch side facing up to dry it out (optional)
  9. Flip and cook on the other side for 2 minutes
    1. Blowtorch cooked side to brown it more (optional)
  10. Flip again and cook for an additional 10 seconds per side
  11. Remove steak from the pan
  12. Rest on top of the plate with seasonings for at least 5 minutes
  13. Flip steak, smother in juices and seasoning
  14. Flip again, finish with more cracked pepper and flake salt
  15. Squeeze a few drops of fresh lime juice on top
  16. Serve as-is

I’ll teach you how to cook a steak sous-vide, reverse sear, on a grill, or whatever in other blog posts.


How to cook a steak FAQ’s:

What if I want to grill my steak?

You follow the same instructions as the traditional method, but instead of a pan, you use a grill. Make sure that the grill is hot enough to sear the steak. You don’t want to just steam it. Leave the seasoning for the end. Bonus points if you use charcoal instead of propane.

Do I need any special equipment? 

The only things that you really need are a heavy pan, tongs, and a sharp knife. Part of knowing how to cook a steak is using the right equipment. It is essential that you use a heavy pan (cast iron or carbon steel) if you decide to cook a steak indoors. Nonstick skillets tend to warp and become damaged at high heats, and they aren’t good for searing steaks. 

What does “high smoke point” mean?

Oils with high smoke points can be heated up more (usually past 400°F) and not burn, which render them excellent for searing steaks. Examples of high smoke point oils are vegetable, canola, peanut, grapeseed, and sunflower oils. Unfortunately, oils with low smoke points (such as butter, shortening, lard, and extra virgin olive oils) taste great but burn easily at higher temperatures.

Does it really matter which method I follow?

I haven’t really noticed much of a difference. Steaks are easy to cook, and these two pan-frying methods give comparable results. While I like the traditional method, I like the simplified method even more. Less waste, less cleanup, and more distributed flavors.

Do I need to rest my steak?

Yes. Resting your steak helps warm up the very center, as heat travels from hot to cool. Consequently, a hot steak also loses its moisture very quickly, and slicing into one will leave you with a tough, dry steak. 

How long do I rest my steak?

For a quick-and-dirty steak recipe, I rest it for a minimum of 5 minutes. The general rule-of-thumb is to rest it at least half the time, if not equal to the time, that you cooked it. 

How should I slice my steak?

Slicing the steak against the grain on the final cut before it enters your mouth will give you the most tender bite possible. If you’re slicing for presentation purposes, slice the steak with the grain into 1-inch thick strips so that whoever eats it will slice it against the grain.

What if I don’t have any herbs or garlic?

To be completely honest, you don’t need anything other than salt. However, I highly recommend at least adding the cracked pepper, garlic, and herbs.

Will burned meat give me cancer?

Not if you eat it in moderation. The danger behind grilling steaks occurs when fat drips into the flame and combusts. This creates smoke filled with substances called “Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons”, which are carcinogenic. Thus, you should be fine as long as you cook over open flames for no more than 2-3 times a week.

What do you mean by searing and not boiling/steaming your steak?

There’s a chemical reaction called the “Maillard Reaction” in which amino acids and sugars basically caramelize. This makes foods look “brown” and gives them a deep, rich, intense flavor. It’s the same reaction that makes marshmallows golden when you roast them over a fire. You can only achieve this reaction if you sear your steak at a high temperature for enough time. Your steak should turn a deep golden-brown and look crispy. If your steak is grey, then the heat isn’t high enough (or you didn’t leave it on for long enough). The oil/cooking surface should be around 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit to properly sear a steak.

How can I tell if the heat is high enough?

Your oil should smoke vigorously. When you place the steak down onto the grill, you should hear a crisp, audible sizzling sound (imagine the sound water makes when it hits a super hot pan).

How many times should I flip my steak?

It’s personal preference. I like to give each side one long, hard sear, so I only flip my steak once. Plus, I’m lazy. Some people like to flip their steaks every minute to ensure an even cook, but I don’t think that it matters after basting and resting your steak.

When should I season my steak?

Again, personal preference. Many people recommend seasoning before you cook so that you can help the salt work its way into the middle of the steak. I find that it doesn’t make much of a difference. Plus, salt draws out water, and water is the enemy of a good sear. I season my steak at the very end with a generous sprinkle of flake salt.

What salt should I use?

It doesn’t really matter, as long as you don’t put too much or too little. I prefer coarse salts because the grains don’t dissolve (I can see how much I have). Coarse salts also give you an extra crunch when you bite into them.

Should I be worried about bacteria like E. coli?

Unlike chicken meat, bacteria only live on the surface of steaks. A quick sear is all you need to ensure that your steak is perfectly safe to eat. Unfortunately, the reason why E. coli is such a health hazard in ground beef is because you mix surface contaminants into the center of the patty. 


Conclusion

Before you go search up “how to cook a steak”, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. The art behind cooking is a perfect steak is a simple one, but you’ll need to make a few choices first. Like anything in the culinary arts, it all comes down to trial-and-error and repeated practice. If you’re serious about the art of the perfect steak, I highly recommend you check out my other articles. 

Do you have any questions, comments, or concerns? Leave me a comment below!


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