Steak 101

For many home cooks, there's nothing more intimidating to cook than a good steak. Especially since some steaks can be a pricier selection, it's understandable that you might have some anxiety about ruining a beautiful steak. We've put together some of our best tips for getting a delicious steak every time (but keep in mind that these tips can vary based on what cut you're cooking! Don't be afraid to do a little research before you light up the grill).

On The Grill

Tip #1: If your butcher has done their job well, you shouldn't have much excess hard, white fat on the outside of your steak. However, if you do see some, go ahead and trim it back to about 1/8", in order to reduce potential flare-ups.

"Remember: fat = flavor, but no one wants to chew on a hunk of it. Unless you're into that. We're not here to judge."

Tip #2: For a beautiful crust on the outside of your steak, make sure the outside has been dried. Simply pat both sides with a paper towel to soak up any outer moisture. It won't seem like you're doing anything here, but trust us — it makes all the difference. The exception to this rule is if your steak has been marinated, in which case it's okay for some of the marinade to remain on the outside of your steak.

Tip #3: How you choose to season your steak is up to you — some people enjoy creating unique spice blends and rubs, while others are salt-and-pepper-only-purists. We recommend seasoning both sides of your steak with salt because it brings out the natural flavors in the beef.

Tip #4: Make sure your grill is at a nice high heat before placing your steaks on. This helps to prevent sticking and gives the outside of your steak those picture-perfect grill marks. The crust you'll achieve from the high heat of your grill is key to knowing when it's time to turn the steaks. If you wiggle your steaks and they don't release easily, leave them alone until they do. Once the first side is cooked, flip and brown the second side for about two or three minutes.

Tip #5: Once you've achieved a nice color on both sides of your steak, move them to a cooler area of your grill to finish cooking. The length of time they spend there will vary depending on your preferred degree of doneness. This is where an instant-read thermometer comes in handy: rare steaks should be pulled when the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees; medium-rare should be pulled at 125, medium at 135, and medium-well at 145.

"We believe steaks taste best when they still have color in the center, but if you disagree, cook them to your heart's content. Just make sure you have really sharp knives (and teeth) for serving. Kidding. Kind of."

Tip #6: When your steaks are finished cooking, it's very important to let them rest before serving. This allows the flavorful juices inside the steak to redistribute and prevents a dry piece of meat. Simply place your steaks on a plate and tent with foil for at least five minutes, then you'll be ready to enjoy!

On The Stove

Tip #1: Just like when you're cooking steaks on the grill, you want to make sure that you pat your meat dry before cooking. Blot the steaks with paper towels, then season with salt, pepper, or your favorite dry rub or seasoning combination.

Tip #2: You'll achieve the best results if you use a cast-iron skillet to cook your steaks on the stove, but any skillet will do. To get the perfect sear on the outside of your pan-fried steak, you'll want to select a cooking oil with a high smoke point. Vegetable oil is a great choice. Pour a tablespoon or so of oil into your skillet, then heat it over medium high heat. You'll know the pan is ready when you see a few wisps of smoke rising from the oil.

Tip #3: It's best to not move your steaks until the first side has had a chance to form a beautiful crust on the outside. You'll know when the crust has formed because the steak will lift off the pan with almost no resistance. Flip your steaks, then cook a few minutes more, until you have reached your desired doneness. Rare steaks should be pulled when the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees; medium-rare should be pulled at 125, medium at 135, and medium-well at 145.

Tip #4: Resting your meat is a crucial step to a well-prepared steak. While your steak rests, it gives the juices within a chance to redistribute and maintain a lovely juiciness. Once your steaks have finished cooking, you'll transfer them to a plate and tent them loosely with foil. After they've rested for about five minutes, they'll be ready to serve.

Tip #5: Some people enjoy basting their steaks with herbs and butter while cooking (a method of melting butter alongside your steak, then continually spooning the butter over the meat to accelerate cooking and impart rich flavor), others like to serve them with a cheese or herb crust (where the both sides of the steak are pressed into flavorful accents such as horseradish or parmesan cheese, then seared), and some prefer to create a compound butter that is dolloped on top of a still-warm steak for extra flavor.

"No matter your preference, you'll notice a vast improvement in your steak when you select a fine cut of meat and take some time to learn about your preferred preparation."

Common Mis-steaks (see what we did there?)

Is there anything more heartbreaking than spending time and money to prepare a beautiful steak, only to end up with something dry, chewy, or off-color? Here are a few quick tricks to avoiding common mis-steaks.

Mis-steak #1: Your steak turns out pale and wet. Steaks that are cooked when wet have a hard time developing color. Instead, you'll be left with a lifeless, gray hunk of beef. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: DRY THE OUTSIDE OF YOUR STEAK.

Mis-steak #2: Your steak has a fine outside crust, but it's still raw on the inside. While a high heat is crucial for developing a beautiful outer crust, you need to finish your steak over a lower temperature in order to make sure the meat is properly cooked. If you cook your steak over high heat from start to finish, the outside will burn before the interior can reach the proper temperature. On the flip side, cooking your steak on a low heat for a long time can result in a tough, chewy, overcooked piece of meat.

Mis-steak #3: Your steak is dry. If you followed our instructions from #2, and established a nice sear and finished your steak over lower heat, but still have a dry steak — you may have committed another common steak crime. Did you use a fork to turn your steak? Did you poke-poke-poke at the meat as it was cooking? Whoops. Puncturing your meat repeatedly as it cooks is a recipe for a dry, chewy steak. The juice within the meat will pour out through any holes, so only turn your meat with tongs or a spatula.

Mis-steak #4: You selected the wrong cut. Just because a piece of beef is labeled "steak," doesn't always mean it's a tender cut that's good for grilling. You can usually be safe with a cut of beef taken from the loin or rib primal, but it's always best to check with your friendly neighborhood butcher if you're unsure. Also, check out our primer on Beef Primals to learn where different steaks come from.

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