Cooking the perfect steak sounds simple – you put it in a pan, you cook it, then you take it out. Couldn’t be easier, right? The truth is, though, that even experienced cooks can have trouble cooking a perfect steak.
Although cooking steak doesn’t require any fancy preparation, specialised equipment or carefully guarded sauce recipes, certain guidelines have to be followed. The tips below will help you cook great steak every time.
Preparing Your Steak
The first rule to follow is to allow your steak to reach room temperature before cooking it. If your steak has been stored in the fridge, take it out at least an hour prior to cooking.
Although your aim when cooking a steak is to seal in moisture, you don’t want your meat cooking in a wet environment. Excess moisture around the steak will cause it to steam rather fry. Steam will toughen the meat and prevent it from searing properly. Remove excess moisture by patting your steak dry with a paper towel.
Many steak recipes suggest seasoning the steak before you cook it. This is fine for pepper, but salt will draw moisture from your steak even before it begins to cook, drying and toughening the meat. While you won’t ruin a steak by pre-salting it, salting during or after the cooking process is preferable.
Heating the Pan
Use a heavy frying pan or griddle. Place this pan over a high heat and allow it to get hot before adding your steak. You can check that you pan is properly hot by flicking a few drops of water onto it – if they evaporate almost instantly the pan is hot enough. Alternatively, if you place oil in the pan it should reach a temperature where it begins to smoke.
Cooking the Steak
Once your pan is properly hot, either rub your steak with oil or place a small amount of oil in the pan – you don’t need a lot of oil when cooking steak. Now lie your steak in the pan and allow the underside to sear. You can check the searing progress by lifting the edge of the meat slightly with a pair of tongs.
When the underside is nicely seared i.e. when some caramelisation has occurred and patches of dark brown crust have formed, turn the steak and cook the other side.
Note: when cooking a steak it is essential to leave it alone as much as possible – don’t prod it, poke it, stab it or constantly turn it over. If you stick a fork in it, for instance, what you are actually doing is a) damaging the meat fibres and b) allowing precious internal moisture to escape. Always use tongs to turn your meat.
How long you cook the first side of your steak before turning, and then how long you cook the second side depends on how well done you like your meat to be. Knowing exactly when to turn and when to remove your steak is partly a matter of experience, but the following tips will help.
- Medium-rare – turn when juice first begins to appear on the surface of the steak. Cook the second side until juice just begins to appear. The steak should feel soft when pressed.
- Medium – turn when juice has begun to pool on the surface. Cook until juice has pooled on the second side. The steak should feel bouncy when pressed.
- Well-done – turn when juice has pooled on the surface. Cook the second side until juice has pooled and the steak feels firm when pressed.
A medium-rare steak will take about 3 minutes each side; a medium steak about 4 minutes each side; a well-done steak about 5-6 minutes each side.
One of the most important steps in cooking a steak, and one which is often neglected, is that of allowing the meat to rest before it is served. When meat cooks, the muscle fibres tighten. When you rest your meat you allow these fibres to relax again. The result is a steak that is far more tender than if it was served immediately.
After you take your steak out of the pan, place it on a rack over a plate, loosely cover with tin foil and place in a pre-heated low oven (approx. 50˚C) for 10 minutes before serving. If you don’t have a rack you can place the steak straight on a plate. A rack, though, stops the meat sitting in its own juice and preserves the crunchy seared crust on the underside of the steak.
Knowing how to cook steak is really just a matter of following the simple rules of heating your pan properly, using a small amount of oil, turning at the right time, and allowing the meat to rest. Once you’ve had a little practice, you’ll cook perfect steak every time.
To learn more about cooking steak check out this video.