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Steak 101: How To Cook The Perfect Steak

January 21, 2011

There are things we make at home – spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese, lasagna, stir fry, and apple pie. But then there are those things that we are sometimes scared of cooking – like roasting a whole turkey, grilling a leg of lamb, or making that perfect, restaurant quality steak. Sometimes it’s because ground beef is $3/lb and a steak is like $20/lb. It’s a lot more intimidating to cook a more expensive cut of meat – I get that. But fear no longer, for with this Steak 101 post, you’ll be full of all the tips and techniques you’ll need to make the perfect steak at home.

Eating a great steak doesn’t require a special occasion or an expense account. And to be honest, it’s a lot more affordable, and just as delicious. Let’s start with the basics. We will explore what steak to buy, how to season your steak, how to cook it, and how to serve it.

What Steak To Buy?

This is a question that can stump you immediately because the meat counter can be somewhat intimidating. Think about the steaks like this – there are expensive ones and inexpensive ones. Expensive steaks are the ones you’ll find at a steakhouse – beef tenderloin (aka filet mignon), ribeye (aka delmonico), NY strip (aka shell). They have lots of names and those names usually refer to a cut. For example, a ribeye with the bone in is called a “cowboy ribeye”. A NY strip steak with the bone in changes states to be called the Kansas City Strip. Then there is the Porterhouse and T-Bone, which have NY strip and filet – ah, the best of both worlds! Knowing what you are buying is important. The more trimmed a cut is, the more expensive it gets, because the butcher has done more work. So oftentimes, a bone in cut will be cheaper per pound, but do realize that the bone adds extra weight. All these cuts are usually $15/lb-$22/lb. Then there are the (relatively) inexpensive cuts (less than $15/lb). Some of my favorites are hanger steak (if you’ve had steak frites at a French restaurant, you ate this steak), flank steak, skirt steak (that’s what is in your beef fajitas), and tri tip steak (usually found in Southern California, done BBQ style).

Another factor to consider is that all steaks fall on a spectrum that gauges their flavor as well as their tenderness. Usually the most flavorful cuts are the least tender – we’re talking pot roast, short ribs, brisket, etc. These cuts, because they have a lot of fat (fat = flavor), take a very long time to cook. That’s why we put them in the slow cooker or on the BBQ for hours and hours. The most tender cut of beef, is of course the beef tenderloin or filet mignon. However, filet has little flavor because it is very lean. You want to have the perfect balance of flavor and tenderness. From my experience, that ideal cut is the RIBEYE STEAK. It is one of the most tender pieces of meat available and because it has a good amount (but not too much) fat, it has great flavor. With the bone or without the bone, this is my go to steak. If I’m at a steakhouse, I’m ordering it and if I’m at home cooking, this is what I buy more often than not.

Lastly, once you decide on the cut you want, you have to figure out size. I think an 18-20 oz steak can easily feed two people. Not everyone needs an entire steak. I do enjoy the thicker cuts more, because that ensures you can have a beautifully medium rare steak. Here’s a picture of how thick my steak was.

How to Prepare Your Steak

When learning to cook a steak, simplicity is your friend. Don’t worry about extravagant marinades, or dry rubs, or “steak seasoning”. Look, you are paying good money for this hunk o’ beef, so let’s try to actually taste it instead of masking the flavor with that 30 minute marinade bottle, ok?

First thing you want to do is get your steak up to room temperature. That means 30 minutes before you plan to cook, take the steak out of the fridge and season it liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. I use about two pinches of salt per side. My fingers are big, so I have a big pinch. You have a large chunk of meat, so you want to make sure you have enough seasoning.

Ah, it’s a thing of beauty. Make sure to season both sides of your steak. As Emeril always said, “I don’t like one-sided-tastin’ food!” That’s all I’m putting on my steak, by the way. A great piece of meat doesn’t need much more than this.

How to Cook Your Steak

We are going to cook this steak on the stove, for the whole time. It will take about 8-10 minutes from start to finish for medium rare. We are going to sear the steak until it’s nice and brown on one side, flip it over, and then baste it with butter until it’s done. This is how a lot of great steakhouses cook their steaks, and it’s a great technique called arroser, a French term meaning to baste.

Here’s the recipe part:

1 18-20 oz ribeye steak

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

2 tablespoons of butter

8 sprigs fresh thyme

2 cloves garlic

Get the heaviest pan you have over high heat. Cast iron pans are great, if you have one. Add a little bit of oil and coat the pan. When the oil just starts to smoke, lay in the steak and let it sear on one side for about 3 or 4 minutes, until it is nice and golden brown. Flip the steak, lower the heat to medium, and add the butter, thyme, and garlic cloves. Let the thyme and garlic infuse the flavor of the butter for about 10 seconds and then lay the herbs and garlic on top of the steak. Get a spoon, and tilt the pan slightly towards you so the fat pools in the bottom. With your spoon, baste the steaks constantly.

After the other side of the steak is brown, flip it over and continue to baste until an instant read thermometer registers 125 degrees in the thickest part of the steak, around 6-7 minutes.

Take the steak out of the pan and pour the remaining butter, herbs, and garlic over it onto a plate. Let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing so the juices can redistribute. Because you have just applied a lot of heat to the steak, if you sliced it now, all the hot juices would run over your cutting board, and you would have a dry steak. Letting it rest is key to get those juices back in the meat, resulting in a more tender and flavorful steak.

How to Serve Your Steak

If I am ever serving steak at home, I slice it before giving it to guests. You want to slice your steak across the grain because slicing it that way makes the meat more tender. If you slice it with the grain, the meat is slightly tough. If you look back at the picture of the seasoned steak, the grain runs vertically. So you want to cut the steak horizontally in beautiful thick slices. Serve with some perfect mashed potatoes.

You have now learned how to cook the perfect steak. Now get out and try it! And please share your thoughts.



13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2011 8:26 AM

    THANK you for posting this! I was always waiting for someone to come up with a detailed, but simple way of preparing steaks. That’s one food foray I have not gotten into yet. Plus, your pictures just made me drool all over my laptop. Thanks for posting this! I can’t wait to try it on my own!

  2. Geoff permalink
    January 21, 2011 9:34 AM

    Such an awesome post Vivek! I’m definitely going to try this one

  3. suneel permalink
    January 21, 2011 12:37 PM

    love it

  4. Amar permalink
    January 21, 2011 1:16 PM

    You know I’ve been waiting for this one! I’ll be trying it soon! Is it worth it in your opinion to buy USDA Prime?

    • January 21, 2011 2:32 PM

      Wrote this one just for you, Amar Kaka. USDA Prime is certainly worth it for special occasions and it’s some of the best beef you can buy. But a USDA Choice cut is more affordable and will still deliver a great steak.

      I think one of the techniques that really helps a Choice cut is salting the meat 30 minutes before you cook it, once you bring it out to the fridge. It’s kind of like “quick dry aging” because it draws out a lot of the water, thus intensifying the flavor and tenderness of the steak.

  5. January 22, 2011 7:25 PM

    I want that steak. It looks like the best steak ever!

  6. July 19, 2011 12:20 AM

    My husband cooks steaks the same way, with pan frying and always rib eyes. Everyone thinks the best steaks are done on the grill, but this is the secret and the real deal! Delicious!

  7. August 6, 2011 6:34 AM

    even though i’m only 14, i can cook perfect medium rare steak… lol; trust me. im a food junkie/ food blog stalker. LOL this seems like the most delicious steak ever, plus the mouthwatering pictures, lol. well anyways, i am gonna try this tomorrow since my mom bought some beastly prime rib eye ❤ 😀 thanks vivek!

  8. ralph buchanan permalink
    December 18, 2011 6:26 PM

    Looking coward to more info


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