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19th Apr 2020

The 11 unbreakable rules of cooking steak

You'd like it well-done? Get out.

Rich Cooper

If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen, but for the love of God do not leave your house

We’re all stuck inside at the moment, apart from our daily exercise slots and going to the shop for essentials. Essentials includes food, and food plus time equals refining your cooking skills.

If you’re a meat eater, one of life’s most simple joys is a steak. Marbled, with just the right amount of fat on the edge, the steak truly is the Cadillac of meat cuts. A steak is not just any old lump of meat, it deserves your respect. It deserves attention.

Here are the 11 rules you should follow to make sure your steak is as good as it can possibly be.

1. Buy a decent cut of meat


Photo: Maggie Osterberg

If you buy a shitty steak, you’re going to eat a shitty steak. Unless you’re particularly well-to-do, you’re not going to be eating steak regularly; it’s an indulgence, and one worth spending a bit of extra money on.

That said, a good steak doesn’t have to cost the earth. If you’re serious about eating a good piece of meat and are up for exploring some of the lesser-known cuts, you need to talk to a butcher.

They’re something of a high street rarity these days, but you should be able to track down a butcher somewhere in your town. These people have a wealth of expertiese at your disposal, from selecting a good cut to advising you on the best way to cook it, so go in and ask.

If you’re buying from a supermarket (and there’s no in-store butcher), try to aim for a steak about one inch thick and with a healthy fat content – we’re not eating steak to live longer, y’know.

2. Pat down your steak with kitchen towel before cooking


Photo: @Couterne

You want to get rid of the extra moisture on your steak so that it sears rather than steams, and if it’s been sitting in the fridge for a bit, it’s likely to be pretty moist (sorry for saying ‘moist’ there… and again there). Grab a couple of sheets of kitchen towel and pat the steak down before slapping it on the heat; it’s a little thing but will make a difference to the overall product. Marginal gains, people.

In addition to patting down the meat, the accepted wisdom is to leave the steak out at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, the theory being that the closer the steak is to its final cooking temperature, the more evenly it will cook. This has been disputed, but it won’t do any harm if you’re only leaving it for 20 minutes or so. Up to you.

3. Do not trim the fat off


Photo: @ed_whitt

Fat is very important for two reasons. Firstly, it’s what makes a steak nice and juicy; it helps stop the meat from from drying out and sticking to the pan. Secondly, fat is flavour. Fat is what makes food delicious, and you’d be mad to cut it off. If you don’t like eating the fat, by all means leave it on the plate, but don’t cut it off before cooking. Fat is protection. Fat is flavour. Fat is everything.

4. Oil the meat, not the pan


Photo: @dtaylor5633

If you’re using oil, that is. A nice, fatty piece of steak shouldn’t need much greasing, but if you are using oil, lightly brush the steak with a small amount, rather than pouring it into the pan. This ensures a nice, even coating, helps the seasoning stick to the steak and means you won’t have a pan of hot oil spitting in your face.

There’s no point using extra-virgin olive oil for cooking steak, or cooking anything, really. Heating extra-virgin olive oil spoils the taste of both the oil and whatever you’re cooking in it, so just use ordinary olive oil. If you’re feeling particularly indulgent, drop a nice blob of butter into the pan once the steak is underway and use it to baste the meat.

5. Generously season the meat before cooking


Photo: @mandkbutchers

You don’t need to do a lot to a steak, but as with all cooking, seasoning is absolutely crucial. We’re talking big pinches of salt and pepper rubbed into the flesh, more than you think you need, because inevitably some of the seasoning will come loose in the pan.

The better quality seasoning you use, the tastier your steak will be, and the bigger the grain, the better. Kosher salt is a good alternative to table salt, and freshly ground pepper will always be preferable to pre-ground, no matter what you’re cooking.

6. Make sure the pan is hot hot hot


Photo: Naotake Murayama

A hot hot hot pan is crucial for getting a nice crust around your steak. We’re not cooking eggs or making a lovely stew – ‘low’ and ‘slow’ are two words we don’t want to hear right now. The pan should be starting to smoke before you even think about introducing the meat to it, and always remember to lay the steak away from you so as to avoid getting an eyeful of spitting-hot fat.

7. Know your timings

Since you can’t see inside the steak to see how pink it is, you’re going to have to work off timings and touch to get your ideal steak. Of course there will be subtle variations depending on the heat of your pan and thickness of steak, but the table above will get you close enough to where you want to be.

If in doubt, three and a half minutes on each side should do the trick: your steak will be cooked enough to eat but not in danger of turning into leather.

8. Leave it the fuck alone


Photo: Pixabay

Don’t stick a fork in it, don’t cut it, don’t constantly flip it, don’t move it around the pan, don’t lift it up to peek at the underside, don’t squeeze it, don’t kiss it, don’t fist-bump it – just don’t touch it. You want to get a nice sear on your steak and a nice crunchy crust; you won’t achieve this if you’re constantly pulling the steak away from the surface of the pan.

You should only touch the steak twice while it’s cooking: once to turn it over and once to remove it from the pan. Too much interfering will mess up your steak’s crust and dislodge those vital juices, so again, leave it the fuck alone.

9. Well-done is not an option


Photo: @tinguins

Come on, man. That cow died to be on your plate, and you’re going to disgrace its memory by turning your steak into a piece of chewy leather? There’s the door, son.

10. Let it rest for five minutes before cutting into it


Photo: @DVanBFoods

This is crucial, perhaps the most crucial part of the cooking process. Once it’s out of the pan and on the chopping board, leave it be for at least five minutes. When it’s in the pan, the muscle fibres tighten up and the juices concentrate in the middle of the steak. We want a juicy, tender steak, not a chewy lump of meat, right?

Letting the steak rest gives the juices a chance to redistribute throughout the steak; if you cut too early, they’re just going to run off and go to waste. You can lightly wrap the steak in tin foil if you’re worried it’ll go cold, but even left uncovered the steak should retain its warmth. Besides, a juicy, tender steak is far more valuable than a piping hot one.

11. Serve it simply


Photo: @Me_and_Billy

The joy of eating steak is in the steak itself, so don’t over complicate it. If seasoned properly and cooked well, the juicy, tender meat should be enough of a pleasure on its own – don’t smother it in sauce or, heaven forbid, cheese.

The best way to eat steak is with a portion of fries and maybe a dollop of mustard or peppercorn sauce, but the flavour of the steak must be allowed to take centre stage. You don’t go to a show to see the support act, you’re there for the headliner, and tonight the main event is Steak: Live in Concert.