Day 1,841 – How to Cook a Steak

Oregon Vista

Over the years I have visited several “steakhouses” and/or meat-centric restaurants. Harris in San Francisco, Smith & Wollensky in Chicago, Laurelhurst Market here in Portland, Murray’s in Minneapolis, Smithfield’s in Ashland, plus a wide variety of chain and chef-driven places here and there where the thought of a nicely prepared strip or a ribeye or, hardly ever in the US, bavette, sounded like a good idea. With the exception of Murray’s of Minneapolis and Smithfield’s of Ashland, every single experience has been lackluster.

An uncooked ribeye steak

In all fairness, some of the blame lies with me since it was only within the past ten years or so I’ve become ballsy and knowledgeable enough to order a steak prepared the way I prefer and say it like I mean it, so I got whatever the grill guy working at the time considered “rare to medium-rare.” I bring this up now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, because last night I managed to prepare the best steak in memory. And for a fleeting moment during dinner, all seemed ok with the world.

Recently the whole artisan-craft beef scene has grown from a handful of hyper-local producers to national purveyors like Crowd Cow and dozens of others. They all promise the finest meat, seafood, and game products the world has ever seen. Crowd Cow seems to have made a name for themselves selling what is arguably the rarest and most expensive beef on the planet. I say good, I support local producers and embrace the notion of “eat less, eat better” when it comes to beef.

But even with supermarket quality beef, it’s possible, actually pretty easy, to prepare a steak that will taste the way the lizard part of our brains say red meat ought to taste. This is based nearly 100% on J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT‘s seminal piece in Serious Eats “The Food Lab: The Reverse Sear Is the Best Way to Cook a Steak, Period” which you need to read. I’ve added some bits and pieces I’ve cobbled together, but this is almost entirely Kenji’s show.

  1. Know your tools. Do you have a good meat thermometer? Does your oven run hot? Does it suck at keeping a lower temp like 250°F? Do you have a toaster oven that holds temps better? What about your frying pan? Cast iron? Triple-ply stainless? This technique suffers if you only have a thin aluminum pan.
  2. Choose a good-looking steak at least 1 1/2 inches thick. This process works great with rib steaks since they’ve got more fat and are more forgiving to cook.
  3. Let the meat come to room temperature. There’s still disagreement on this step, but I try to include it where time permits.
  4. Season generously with salt and pepper. Don’t go nuts, but do go heavy. Do not use “JoeBob’s Steakhouse Shake-on” spiced salt or similar “steakhouse” flavorings.
  5. Let the oven preheat longer than you think is needed.
  6. Let the frying pan preheat longer than you think is needed.
  7. Check the meat’s temperature several times while in the oven. This is especially important if you’ve chosen a leaner cut of meat.
  8. Go light with the oil in the frying pan, go generous with the butter. Unsalted butter, right?
  9. After searing the first side and flipping the steak baste the steak with the butter/oil in the pan tilting the pan as needed, but keeping it over the heat.
  10. Have all your side dishes ready to plate before you move the steak from the oven to the frying pan. I keep the sides in my big oven on low, I use my toaster oven for slow-cooking the steak. I plate my sides while the steak is resting after coming out of the pan.
Ribeye steak in frying pan