How to Cook Steak like a Grownup

Steak and red wine.  There is no culinary pairing more classic and revered than a well cooked, tender slab of beef paired with a strong, full bodied red wine.  If, like me, you are tired of dropping a c-note on dinner for two at any halfway respectable steakhouse, then you need to learn how to cook a steak like a real adult.  Seriously, this needs to be a mandatory life skill.  Do they still teach cursive penmanship in school?  Because that sh*t is useless and needs to be replaced with Steak Cooking 101.

Seriously, this needs to be a mandatory life skill. 

Here are my basic tips for mastering a great steak:

Step 1:  The Skillet – People always underestimate the importance of having the right equipment.  It doesn’t matter if you have a $500 piece of prime-aged Wagyu, if you’re using a $10 hand-me-down frying pan, that steak might as well be hamburger meat.  In this case, cast-iron is king.  I live in a tiny apartment with a stovetop burner that has the heating power of 3 BIC lighters.  A thin pan simply will not retain enough heat necessary for a hard sear, which is essential for a great steak.  Cast-iron is thick and if you let it sit for a few minutes over a flame, that skillet will get hot enough to sear a crust onto an ice cube.

Step 2: Know Your Meat – The 3 best grades of meat in descending order: Prime, Choice, and Select.  Higher grade = more fat marbling, more fat = more flavor.  Choice is usually the best bang for your buck and easier to acquire than Prime.  The 4 most popular cuts are the New York Strip (aka top sirloin), Filet Mignon (aka tenderloin), T-bone (NY Strip + Filet Mignon), and Ribeye (aka Delmonico).  Finally, the girth of your meat matters (Ha!).  The thicker the steak, the more room for error you’ll have with cooking temperatures, so around 1.5 inches is ideal.

You’re not an animal, take time to do this right.

Step 3: The Prep – Let your steak rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes prior to cooking.  Otherwise you’ll end up with a hot crust and a cold center.  You’re not an animal, take time to do this right.  When ready, set your hottest burner on high and let your cast iron pan sit on the flame for a solid 5 minutes.  You want that thing to get blisteringly hot.  Meanwhile, cover your steak on both sides with a liberal dose of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.  Most of the seasoning will come off during cooking, so be GENEROUS.

Step 4: Initial Sear – Once your skillet is scorching (you may see a little smoke which is normal), cover the bottom surface of your skillet with a layer of canola or other vegetable oil.  Do not use fancy olive oil.  Olive oil has a low smoke point and is terrible for high heat cooking.  Now gently place your steak in the center of the skillet.  If you don’t get slightly aroused by the sound and smell of sizzling meat, you and I will never be friends.

Step 5: Constant Flip Method – After about 2-3 minutes, take a peek at the underside of your steak.  If it’s crusty and golden brown to black, then it’s time to flip.  Another 2-3 minutes and your steak should now be perfectly seared on both sides.  This is the point where restaurants would use an oven broiler to finish the steak, but I prefer the constant flip method.  Lower the heat to medium.  You can add a chunk of butter, some thyme, and a few cloves of garlic now if you want to get fancy, but it’s not necessary.  Every 45 seconds or so, flip the meat onto the other side.  Carefully prod the meat with your finger after each flip to check for doneness.  A medium rare to medium steak will have a bit of give at first touch but be slightly firm when you exert more force.  Honestly, doneness involves some experience and lots of trial and error.  The good news is that even your screw-ups will be delicious, so keep cooking!

There is no culinary pairing more classic and revered than a well cooked, tender slab of beef paired with a strong, full bodied red wine.

Step 6: Rest Your Meat! – Once you’re satisfied with the doneness, move your steak to a plate or cutting board and let it rest.  That hard earned sear on your steak is meant to seal in the meat juices.  The last thing you want is to cut into it while the steak is hot and release all that savory goodness.  Let rest for at least 5 minutes. 

In the meantime, open up a red wine.  I prefer a full-bodied cabernet or zinfandel, but any of your favorite reds will also work perfectly.  Finally, remember that cooking is like wine tasting.  Not everything you try will be good, but if you open up enough bottles, you’re bound to find a few things you love.  I know a certain wine club that can help here!

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