Because it involves timing, temperature, and seasoning, cooking a steak is a great test of your culinary skills. And there's a lot on the line because a good cut of meat isn't cheap. Which means getting it wrong is a blow to your taste buds, your ego, and your pocketbook.
Cooking the perfect steak might not be the easiest thing in the world, but with practice, you can master it. Here's how to cook the perfect steak every time.
1. Choose the Right Cut of Meat
The first step in cooking a perfect steak is choosing the right cut of meat. That means a tender cut with plenty of marbling. What makes a cut of meat tender? If it comes from a part of the cow that doesn't get much exercise, it will be tender. Also, some cuts naturally have more connective tissue than others, which makes them hard to chew.
Therefore, the best cuts of beef for making the perfect steak will come from less-exercised parts of the cow and have little connective tissue. By and large, we're talking about cuts from the rib, short loin and tenderloin primal cuts. Examples include the ribeye steak, tenderloin steak (i.e. filet mignon), T-bone steak, Porterhouse steak and New York strip steak.
Read more about choosing the best cut of meat: What is the Best Steak?
2. Prep the Steak for the Grill
Getting a steak ready to grill involves seasoning it and letting it get to the right temperature.
The issue with temperature is that a cold steak will take longer to grill than a steak that's closer to room temperature. And longer cooking time makes a steak tougher. So it's never a good idea to grill a cold steak. What I like to do is take the steak out of the fridge about 20 minutes before I plan to cook it.
As for seasoning, the best way to season a steak is with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finally, I like to brush a little bit of clarified butter onto a steak before I grill it. This adds flavor and helps prevent the steak from sticking to the grill.
Here are two articles that go into more depth:
3. Grill the Steak
Grilling is the best way to cook a steak. That's because a grill gets really hot which in turn means the steak cooks quickly. While there are alternatives to grilling, the goal is to cook the steak at a high temperature for a short amount of time, and grilling achieves that goal perfectly. The best way to grill a steak is to get the grill very hot and then place your prepped steak on the grill and don't touch it. After about three minutes, flip it over.
Very important: Don't use a fork or a skewer or any other puncture-y kinds of tools to flip the steak. You don't want to poke any holes in the steak because its juices will leak out.
The only tool you should use for turning a steak is a pair of tongs. A long set of tongs (like these) is good so that you don't burn your hands.
Once you've flipped the steak, grill it for another two minutes or so, depending on how thick it is and how hot your grill is. A perfect medium-rare steak will be pink (not red) on the inside and between 130° and 140° F. But don't poke it with a thermometer or cut into it to see what color it is. You'll just let all the juices leak out.
To test how done a steak is, just press the center of the steak with your thumb. If it feels soft or jelly-like, it isn't done yet. When the center of a steak just springs back when you press it, that's perfectly medium rare. Remember, it should spring back. If it's just firm and hard, you've overcooked it.
Here's a pair of articles that explain more about grilling a steak:
4. Let the Steak Rest
There's one more step in cooking the perfect steak, and fortunately, it's a really easy step because it involves doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes. A steak needs to rest for a few minutes, in a warm place, before you cut into it.
The reason we do this is to ensure that the steak is as juicy as possible. If you cut into a steak too soon, all the juices will spill out. But wait a few minutes and those juices will settle into the steak. A good rule of thumb is to rest a steak for about five minutes for every inch of thickness.
For more detail, check out this article: Resting a Steak.