It’s the age-old debate: What’s the best way to cook and season a steak? We consulted experts from butchers to chefs to food scientists and got some answers on how to become a true meat master.
Choosing the Steak
The butcher’s case can be overwhelming. Choosing the right cut and tenderness will help determine the quality of meat you’re cooking. The best first step is to find a quality, trustworthy butcher.
There are several main cuts that are grill worthy:
- Strip Steak – Tender and lean
- Tri-Tip Steak – Full flavor and mid-tender
- Top Sirloin Steak – High flavor and very juicy
- T-Bone Steak – High tenderness and satisfying flavor
- Ribeye Steak – Very juicy and generous marbling
- Filet Mignon – The most tender, lean
- Flat Iron Steak – Extremely tender and very flavorful
- Flank Steak – Best marinated and sliced thin
Which cut is right for your meal depends on what you’re preparing; however, all of these cuts can be stand-alone dishes. Ribeye steaks, for example, offer great plate coverage and presentation, while filet mignon works best with sturdy sides like mashed potatoes or French fries.
Tender cuts should have the following features:
- Fine meat grain
- Fewer muscle groups within the cut (a single muscle is best)
- Little connective tissue
- Lean to medium amount of fat marbling (depending on your preference)
When selecting tougher cuts, look for:
- Coarse muscle grain
- Lots of connective tissue
- Multiple muscle groups
- A good amount of fat
According to Joshua James Franklin, owner, and operating partner at Cardinal State Butchers, “First things first, find a butcher you like and make them your best friend. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll be able to serve you. When I’m looking for a cut of steak to choose from, I’ll consider a couple of things. The first is, how many people (and who) am I cooking for? If I’m cooking for a lot of folks, I’m going to want something affordable, versatile for different eaters, and with a good fat-to-lean ratio. In that situation, I’d choose bavette, which comes from the beef sirloin, also known as the sirloin flap. A whole bavette is about two and a half to three pounds and is killer on the grill. It’s a bit thicker than something like flank, which can lead to better cooking for someone who might want their steak on the rarer side. Is it date night? Maybe I’ll go all classic with a bone-in ribeye or New York strip. Our animals are all grass fed, so the complexity of their diet shows in the fat on these steaks. Bone-in steaks are better at keeping moisture, and these two offer a classic steakhouse vibe.”
Seasoning the Steak
Some would argue that steak shouldn’t be seasoned prior to hitting the grill (with the exception of flank steak), while others would claim that steak sauce, salt and pepper, or a combination of herbs is mandatory. How you season your steak is ultimately up to you, but here are a few classic options.
Salt & Pepper – Generously coat both sides of the steak with coarse salt and ground pepper. The steak should be fully covered with a visible layer. After you’ve finished cooking it, add a second lighter layer of large, flaky sea salt.
Classic Dry Rub – Mix the following ingredients together, then generously cover both sides of the steak and let sit for 40 minutes.
- 1.5 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Rosemary & Garlic – This is the perfect way to tame your steak’s flavor a little while adding layers of buttery, herbal goodness. Combine the ingredients into a paste, coat the steaks, and brush more on as you’re grilling.
- 2 or 3 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- A splash of white or red wine
“I’m a huge fan of a simple marinade. I smash a few garlic cloves, parsley, thyme and olive oil and let them all hang out for a few hours. A marinade is great for any steak cut. Season with just a little salt and freshly cracked black pepper before you grill,” says Julie Heins, Executive Chef at Secco.
Cooking the Steak
It’s the main event. Grilling, oven baking, or sous vide, which way is the best?
Grilling steaks is all about the preparation. Steaks should be seasoned and left out of the fridge to rest for about 20 minutes before being put on the grill. It’s also crucial that you preheat your grill and get it as hot as possible.
- Heat your grill to high. Place the steaks on the grill and cook until golden brown and slightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the steaks over and continue to grill 3 to 5 minutes for medium-rare (an internal temperature of 135 degrees F), 5 to 7 minutes for medium (140 degrees F), or 8 to 10 minutes for medium-well (150 degrees F).
- Transfer the steaks to a cutting board or platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
The sous vide method has become increasingly more accessible in the last few years thanks to better quality circulators becoming available. Sous vide uses heated water to cook the steak, without overcooking it. You simply set your temperature, put the steak into a sous vide bag, and let the circulator do the work.
“I love cooking steaks sous vide. Using this method, you’re guaranteed a consistently cooked steak, if you set the temperature to medium well, the entire steak will be cooked medium well. You can also prep the steaks u to an hour ahead of time and use tougher cuts of meat because the sous vide will tenderize the steak. One of my favorite methods is to bag the steak with butter, salt and pepper and herbs, and cook it to temperature, then finish it on the grill for a nice sear,” says Sean McGrath, Partner at MTM Food Group.
No matter which method you choose to cook your steak, following these expert tips will keep your guests asking for more.