It seems like everyone has his or her own method for how to end up with the perfect steak. You can grill them, oven broil them, or even pan-fry them: the choice is yours. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a myriad of different answers on how to cook a perfect steak.
Some of the issues that arise have to do with the type of steak to use, what you marinate or season it with, the best method to use, whether you should salt it before or after, and for how long you should let it cook. We’ll address these issues here.
Cuts of Steaks
If you imagine you’re looking at a cow from the side, the portion of meat directly behind the head (at the shoulder) is called the chuck. This is where most slow-cooked roast cuts will come from, as well as some inexpensive top blade steaks.
A little further back you’ll find some of the most tender cuts of meat, such as rib steaks, short loin steaks, and sirloin.
Short Loin Steaks
If the short loin steaks you buy have the bone in, they’re called shell steaks. If the bone is out they are called New York strip, Kansas City strip, strip steak, or even sirloin strip steak.
Another cut that comes from this area is the tenderloin, which is then cut into the chateaubriand and filet mignon.
The last types of cut that come from the short loin are the t-bone and the porterhouse. The t-bone is made up of meat from the top loin on one side of the bone, and meat from the tenderloin on the other, while the porterhouse is really just a t-bone with a larger piece of the tenderloin attached to it.
The sirloin area of a cow is the hip. These types of steaks are usually thin, large, and moderately tender. Famous cuts from here are top sirloins and tri-tips. You can also get round-bone, wedge-bone, flat-bone, and pin-bone steaks from here.
From just below the hip, on the cow’s belly, is the flank area. This is where flank steaks come from. This type of steak needs to be cooked to rare quickly and sliced thinly against the grain for the best flavor.
Marinades and Seasonings
Whether you marinate your steak has to do with if it is a grilling steak or a marinating steak. Either type can be grilled, but the marinating steak needs to – you guessed it – be marinated first to help with tenderness. Marinating steaks are usually from the short plate and flank sections while the best grilling steaks are from the loin, sirloin, or rib sections.
If you go with marinating steaks, they do best in an acidic liquid for up to 24 hours. Additionally, this type of steak should be grilled to medium at the most to avoid toughness.
The best steaks need only salt and pepper for seasoning, although you can make a pan sauce, compound butter, or delicious spice rub if you want to kick it up a notch.
There are several ways to know how cooked a steak is; some people cut into them, although that isn’t really recommended. Instead, you can do the press test or check with a meat thermometer. A thermometer is the most accurate way, obviously. You can also cook it a certain amount of time per side according to thickness depending on how cooked you want it.
The press test requires you to press the center of the steak with your finger. A rare steak will be quite soft. Medium-rare will have some resistance but still lots of give. Medium steak is firm but still has some give in the center. Finally, a well-done steak feels very firm.
If you’re using a thermometer, cook to between 115 and 120F for an extra-rare or “blue” rare steak, 125 to 130F for a rare steak, between 130 and 140F for a medium-rare steak, between 140 and 150F for a medium steak, between 150 and 155 for a medium-well steak, and to between 160 and 212 for a well-done steak.
Generally, the best flavor comes when you cook a steak to medium-rare, medium, or medium-well.
Cooking Time Per Side (Grilling)
Thickness Med-Rare Medium Med-Well
1/2 to 3/4” 3-4 min 4-5 min 5-6 min
1” 5-6 min 5-7 min 7-8 min
1 1/2” 9-10 min 10-14 min 14-16 min
2” 11-14 min 14-18 min 18-20 min
Everyone knows how to grill a steak, right? It’s pretty much a given. We’re going to tell you how to use an oven instead. This is great in the event that the weather is too bad to grill outside, you run out of propane for your BBQ, or someone steals your BBQ. Seriously – it happens.
- Approximately 1lb of steak (ribeye, t-bone, or other tender grilling steak) for every two people (1 1/2 – 2” thick)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Oil (avocado, olive, or melted tallow or lard will work)
- Cast iron skillet large enough to hold the steak
- High-heat oven mitt
- Take the steak out of the package and blot dry with a paper towel. Let it come to room temperature.
- Turn your oven on to Broil and place the top rack between six and eight inches below the burner. Put your cast iron pan under the broiler as the oven warms up.
- Brush about two tablespoons of oil on the steak and then season with salt and pepper. Pat the steak so the seasoning sticks.
- Turn one of your burners on to high.
- Remove the cast iron pan from the oven and place it on the hot burner. Let it heat for a minute then place the steak onto the pan. It should hiss and sizzle immediately.
- Flip after 30 seconds and repeat on the second side.
- Turn off the burner and place the cast iron pan into the oven. Cook the steak for two minutes per side for medium-rare; add one to two minutes per side if you prefer it closer to medium.
- Take the pan from the oven and immediately remove the steak to a large plate. Tent with aluminum foil and let it rest for about five minutes.
- Cut the steak against the grain and fan the pieces out on each serving plate. Serve immediately with a nice salad and a great bottle of wine.
To Salt Before Or After?
If you’re going to salt before you cook, either do it at least 40 minutes before you cook the steak, or directly before you put it on the pan to sear. If you do it between 10 and 30 minutes or so before you cook, the juices that the salt causes to come from within the steak will ruin the sear and just lower the temperature of your pan.
There’s really no reason to salt after you cook the steak; the point is to have it seared or cooked into the surface of the steak.