How to Make the Best Steaks
Few foods are as enticing as a perfectly cooked steak. In this guide we cover common supermarket cuts of steak, our all-time favorite steak recipes, as well as the cooking techniques and gear you’ll need to know to make steaks the right way, everytime.
We walk you though the key techniques you’ll need to make any of our steak recipes.
Making a Perfect Grilled Steak
1. TRIM STEAKS
To keep flare-ups to a minimum, use a sharp knife to trim any hard, white fat from the perimeter of the steaks. Leave no more than 1/8 inch of fat.
2. PAT DRY
Pat both sides of the steaks dry with paper towels—the first step to a beautiful crust, which is the hallmark of a perfect grilled steak.
3. SALT AND RUB
Next, rub the steaks on both sides with a mixture of equal parts salt and moisture-absorbing cornstarch. The salt both seasons the steak and draws moisture to the surface.
4. STASH IN FREEZER
Freeze the steaks, uncovered, for 30 minutes. The moisture drawn out by the salt evaporates in the dry environment of the freezer. Drier surface = better crust = better steak.
5. HEAT GRILL GRATE
Preheat the grill to keep the steaks from sticking. For gas, turn all the burners to high, then cover. For charcoal, place the grate over the hot hot coals and heat, cover, for five minutes.
6. CLEAN GRILL GRATE
Before you start cooking, use a grill brush to scrape off any stuck-on food from the grill. Grilling on a grate encrusted with the remnants of last night's dinner is like cooking in a dirty pan.
7. OIL GRILL GRATE
Oiling the grill grate also prevents the steaks from sticking. Dip a wad of paper towels in vegetable oil, grab the wad with grill tongs, and then brush the grate.
8. START ON HOT SIDE
Sear the steaks on the hot side of the grill, undisturbed, for two to three minutes. If you're grilling a porterhouse or T-bone, place the tenderloin side nearer the cool side of the grill.
9. FLIP AFTER BROWNING
Don't move the steaks before the crust has formed. Give the steaks a wiggle: If they don't release easily, leave them alone until the do. Brown the second side for another two or three minutes.
10. MOVE TO COOL SIDE
Once the steaks are well browned on both sides, slide them to the cool side of the grill and continue cooking until they reach your preferred degree of doneness.
11. CHECK DONENESS
Insert an instant-read-thermometer into the side of the steaks. Take them off the grill at 120 degrees for rare, 125 for medium-rare, and 135 for medium.
12. GIVE IT A REST
Put the steaks on a plate, cover loosely with foil, and let them rest for five minutes to let the flavorful juices redistribute; if you slice the steaks right away, some juices will run out.
Making a Perfect Pan-Seared Steak
This simple pan-searing technique produces perfect steaks—everytime.
Browning steaks develops flavor and is a crucial step, and dry steaks brown better than wet steaks. Blot the steak dry with paper towels just before putting it on the skillet. And season the steak right before cooking. That way the salt can flavor the food without drawing out moisture, which would inhibit browning.
HEAT OIL & BROWN STEAKS
Pour a tablespoon of vegetable oil into your skillet and heat the pan over medium high heat until you see wisps of smoke. Don’t use olive oil, as it has a lower smoke point and will start to burn before your pan is hot enough to cook your steaks.
Brown the steaks on the first side for about four minutes or so. Don’t move the steaks until they have chance for the crust to form. You’ll know a crust has formed because the steak will lift off the pan with little to no resistance. Flip the steaks over and continue to cook to desired doneness, 4 to 6 minutes longer.
TRANSFER TO PLATE
Transfer the steaks to a clean plate, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. While the steaks rest, the proteins within it will relax and do a better job of holding onto the steak’s precious juices.
Making a Perfect Pan Sauce
A pan sauce—made with just a handful of ingredients and in a matter of minutes—can look and taste nearly as rich as a classic, labor-intensive French sauce. The base of a pan sauce is the fond, or browned bits, clinging to the bottom of the skillet after sautéing or searing meat, poultry, or fish. Once the food is removed from the skillet, aromatics such as minced shallots can be sautéed; then, in a process called deglazing, liquid—usually wine, homemade stock (or canned broth), or broth—is added and the fond is scraped up. The liquid is simmered and reduced to concentrate flavors, thickened and, in a final (sometimes optional) step, the reduction is enriched and slightly thickened by whisking in butter.
Common Steak Pitfalls
Few things are more frustrating than anticipating a nicely browned, juicy steak only to find yourself gnawing at a dried-out, pale, or flavorless one.
WET AND PALE
Dry it! Steak that is put on the grill when its exterior is wet never will develop color.
CRUSTY BUT RAW
Steaks need to finish over gentle heat to cook through properly. Cooked over high heat from start to finish, the steak will burn on the outside before the inside is cooked.
BURNT AND DRY
To take the adventure out of grilling, use an instant-read thermometer to check the steak's temperature. Or else you might end up with steak like this.
When is Your Steak Done?
What’s the best way to check a steak for doneness?
Judging whether red meat is done is not an exact science, even with an instant-read thermometer. That’s because as meat rests, the temperature continues to climb. Hold the steak with tongs and insert the thermometer through the side of the meat. Use the temperatures below to know when to take your steak off the grill. Let the cooked steaks rest on a platter—covered loosely with foil to keep them warm—for 5 minutes so the juices can distribute evenly.
Pull the Steak: 120 degrees
Serving Temperature: 125 degrees
Pull the Steak: 125 degrees
Serving Temperature: 130 degrees
Pull the Steak: 135 degrees
Serving Temperature: 140 degrees
What You'll Need When Making Steaks
Although there are several techniques for judging the doneness of your steak, only one is 100% reliable. That’s taking its temperature directly. We use an instant-read thermometer. You can probe different parts of the steak quickly, and know exactly when to pull the meat off the fire.
We prefer skillets with a traditional, rather than nonstick, surface precisely because we want our steaks to adhere slightly, in order to create the caramelized, browned bits called fond that are the foundation for great flavor in many of our steak recipes. We usually reach for a 12-inch skillet, which can fit several steaks comfortably.
A good set of tongs should feel like an extension of your hand. While our favorite model allows us to lift, flip, turn and rotate steak easily, it’s also easy to clean and collapses for simple storage. While cooking steaks, testers were most comfortable with tongs that had handle lengths of 12 inches or longer—anything less brought their hands a little too close to the heat.
After cooking any steak, it is critical to give it time to rest. This gives the juices inside the meat time to redistribute. Slicing a steak immediately after cooking is the easiest way to turn your steak dry, as most of the meat’s flavorful juices will end up on the cutting board. As you rest your steak, we suggest loosely tenting it with aluminum foil. This helps keep the steak warm as it rests, while preserving the outer crust.
Top dollar may buy top quality steak knives, but there are reasonably priced steak knives that perform quite well. During out testing of steak knives, we also found that serrated edges—designed to tackle tough meat—actually make jagged tears in the steak and are unnecessary if your straight-edged knife is sharp.
A Great Steak Doesn't Need Much
Salt is a flavor enhancer and is a critical ingredient for making the perfect steak. But what kind of salt is best? We like kosher salt (which has larger crystals than table salt) for cooking, and save sea salt (or other mineral-rich salts) to be used at the dinner table for sprinkling on individual slices of cooked steak.
Since fresh ground pepper is one of the main attractions in many of our steak recipes, choosing a superior peppercorn can make a difference. We tried different samples to find which one did the best job of enhancing—and not distracting from— the flavor of our steaks. Tasters praised our winning peppercorns for their “fruity, pungent, really complex berrylike flavors.”
Our Favorite Steak Recipes
We usually rely on a hot skillet or the grill for putting a crusty sear on steaks, but an oven’s broiler can do the job just as well. However, it took some tests to perfect our technique. For example, we needed to develop a way to prevent the steak’s grease from burning and smoking out the entire kitchen.
Texans are passionate about chicken-fried steak. The dish is a cheap steak pounded to tenderness, coated, fried, and served with a peppery cream gravy. We score the meat to help tenderize it, pound it flat, and even go as far as pounding seasoned flour into the chicken fried steak to make an ultra-crunchy coating that stayed put.
Filet mignon is a tender cut of beef, but its lean nature means it can be short on flavor. Wrapping a slice of rich, smoky bacon around the steak is an easy way to add flavor and moisture. But the combination of bacon and high heat can be a recipe for disaster.
Most flank steak recipes marinate the steak before grilling. But we skip the marinade; it never really added much to the meat. Applying a sauce to the steak after grilling lends more flavor than any marinade we tried.
The sweet-and-tangy bite of onions brings out the best in good steaks. But getting great onion flavor quickly means taking a few shortcuts. We brown the onions quickly, and then simmer them in a balsamic vinegar and brown sugar mixture. The trick produces nearly identical results to slow cooking, and makes for onions that pair perfectly with our steaks.
A great steak is always a crowd-pleaser. And a great steak that’s a cinch to make is even better. For our pepper-crusted steak, we coat the steak with crushed peppercorns before we sear it.
Many supermarkets sell stuffed flank steaks designed for grilling. The steaks are butterflied and then rolled up with a breadcrumb-based filling and tied tight. We like the concept; we just wanted to improve its execution. It was important to flavor the stuffing with assertive ingredients, and binding the stuffed steaks tight with butcher’s twine ensured they stayed round when cooked (and prevented ingredients from falling out of the steak).
A popular preparation at restaurants and with backyard barbecuers is to get steaks “drunk” in a potent marinade of soy sauce, Worcestershire, garlic, and of course, liquor. To achieve a super-flavorful steak that didn’t require calling for a designated driver, we turned to loose-grained steaks, like the flank steak, that could absorb more marinade.
Why buy a bottled steak sauce from the supermarket when you probably have the ingredients for a quick homemade steak sauce already in your pantry. Our sauce goes great with rib-eye steaks, but strip steaks or filet mignon work equally well.
Perfect steaks are salty, sizzling, almost singed on the outside, and juicy, red, and buttery within. In order to achieve this crust, the steaks’ exterior must be dry. After trying numerous drying-out methods, including salting and aging, we considered the freezer. The freezer’s intensely dry environment sufficiently dehydrated the steaks’ exteriors, and since we were only freezing them for a short time, the interiors remained tender and juicy.