October 18, 2002
The Perfect Steak

I'm not sure, I guess it comes from having a dad who could do amazing things with meat, fire, and spices, but I've always considered the ability to cook a steak a hallmark of being a "true guy". Being able to create something edible from a raw hunk of meat speaks to the caveman deep inside me.

It took a surprisingly long time for me to even consider trying. We grilled constantly at home, but it was always something the grownups did. When I was in college it just never occurred to me, and by the time I moved out here I didn't have access to a grill. Once I did finally get access to grills, they were these gross "common area" cheapies that couldn't cook things evenly if you dropped them in hot lava.

It was only after I got Alton Brown's book (I'm Just Here for the Food) that I discovered you didn't actually need a grill to cook a good steak. You just needed the right kind of pan.

Since then it's taken about nine months of alternating between shoe leather and something almost still mooing for me to stumble onto the right combination. It turned out to be a real b*tch for me to get "medium rare" (the only way to eat a good steak. If you haven't, try asking for "medium" just once. Guarantee you'll never go back!) with any consistency. I know there must be a million different ways to do this, and I'm sure you guys (and gals) all have different ones, but in the interest of helping other "not-quite-guys" out there, here's mine:

Note: Vegetarians or Vegans should just not click through... it gets pretty graphic in there. :)

The Perfect UnGrilled Steak Scott-style:
What you need:

  • Steak. Well, duh. It's surprisingly hard sometimes to find a good cut. We've settled on sirloin fillets, but New York strips are just as nice. If you can't find a good place to buy meat, there are always mail order places. Regardless, try to find something that isn't super-expensive, because if you're anything like me you'll probably mess it up a few times before you get it just right.
  • A 12" Lodge cast iron skillet. Well, OK, it doesn't have to be a Lodge, but they're the last remaining foundry in the US doing this sort of thing, so why not? At less than $30, it's the first, best, most useful "new" pan in my collection.
  • An oven
  • A cookie sheet or other flat metal thing you can stick inside said oven. The skillet will do (very little hurts a cast iron skillet, trust me on this), but I haven't actually tried it that way yet.
  • Kosher salt (it'll be where the sugar and stuff is)
  • A full pepper grinder
  • A baking rack. Failing this, get some chopsticks or skewers and place them across a dinner plate.
  • Kitchen tongs
  • A splatter guard (optional, but it helps keep the stove clean over time... looks like a monstrous metal flyswatter)

How I do it:

  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Farenheit (~150 C) and leave it there for at least 20 minutes
  • While this is happening, take your steak out of the fridge (or FULLY THAW IT, or better yet just pull it out of the grocery sack), unpack it, pat it dry, and leave it sitting on a plate for 30 minutes. This gets the meat closer to room temperature, which makes for a better sear.
  • After it's done sitting, get a heavy pinch of kosher salt (about 1/2 tablespoon) and sprinkle it on one side of the meat. Take your pepper grinder and grind out just enough pepper to completely dust the side (about 1/4 tablespoon).
  • Rub the salt and pepper into the meat until it disappears. Really rub!
  • Flip the steak over, repeat. Do it to all the slabs you have.
  • Leave the steak sitting for 5 minutes. This pulls some of the juices to the surface and again makes for a better sear.
  • Place the skillet on the large BACK burner (to better control the smoke) and pre-heat it on high for about 2 minutes, or until it just begins to smoke. It's more important that the pan is just starting to smoke than it is for 2 minutes to come or go.
  • Take the steak(s) one at a time and lay them down on the skillet gently. DO NOT MOVE THEM AFTER THEY HIT THE PAN. This interferes with searing. Be sure to place them in such a way you'll have room for all of them.
  • Leave them alone. Do not press, cut or otherwise squeeze them for two minutes. Dinking with them at this point just pushes out the juices.
  • Flip the steaks, and again leave them alone for two minutes
  • Remove the steaks from the skillet, place them on the cookie sheet, and stick them in the oven for 5 minutes.
  • At the end of 5 minutes comes the tricky part. At this point you probably still have very rare, but nicely seared, steaks. What you have to do is judge the done-ness without cutting the meat. If you cut it, the juices will all go out and you'll end up with shoe leather no matter what you do. You judge it by how firm it is. How firm is firm? After years of watching Iron Chef, I managed to get one, and one thing only, out of it (other than the fact that the Japanese eat the weirdest stuff), a guide to steak done-ness:
    • If the steak is as firm as the side of your cheek, it's rare
    • If it's as firm as the side of your nose, it's medium
    • If it's as firm as the tip of your nose, it's well done
    • If it looks like a roof shingle, it's ready for Pat and Cindy

    (well, Ok, I made that last bit up, but you get the picture). Anyway, you'll probably need to put it back in for 3-10 minutes more. I keep pulling mine out and checking every two minutes or so. This is why you leave the oven on for so long before you start... all this opening and closing makes it lose a lot of heat, and by letting it sit the walls get hot enough to help retain said heat.

  • Once you think they're done, remove them from the oven and place them on your rack (real or created) for 5 minutes. This lets the meat settle and finish, and really improves the flavor.
  • Get out the sauces and serve!

Again, this is how I do it. There are probably some grill aficionados out there somewhere spitting beer over how I do it. If ya gots a better way, please put it in by commenting below. Also, if you have any neat rubs or spices you think would work well be sure to let me know about them too. I'm always up for new ideas!


Posted by scott at October 18, 2002 05:50 PM

eMail this entry!

When you were home and your dad was grilling all that wonderful stuff you would not touch meat except maybe a hamberger, ketsup only. LOL
A perfect steak needs no sauce. You dad could BBQ the best ribs in the world. I do not eat roof shingles however I do not want my steak to moo or move. Medium well it is.

Posted by: Pat Johnson on October 18, 2002 06:29 PM

I forgot - watch out for mail order steak companies even those whose name you recognize. By the time you pay shipping you could go local and find something better. I think Swan is one you can trust.

Posted by: Pat on October 18, 2002 06:33 PM

Shhhhh! I want steak, have no grill, and am broke. Unless you plan on inviting me over for some foor.....well, please....have mercy!

Posted by: Da Goddess on October 18, 2002 07:09 PM

REAL men eat their steaks rare! They also get off their asses and buy a grill! The ONLY way for a man to be a man is to grill big hunks o' meat on the barbecue!

BTW: they have indoor, tabletop grills that are ALMOST as good as a nice outdoor gas grill (although a pain in the ass, charcoal is better for big hunks 'o meat, though....)

As for recipes, my wife marinades them, I cook them. I used to have a few tricks, but I've been spoiled.... family life is too hectic lately for creativity.. we use bottles lately... A1 makes awesome meat marinades, as do a few others...

Posted by: Jim S on October 18, 2002 10:36 PM

I do aggree that Lodge cast iron skillets are a godsend.

My ex-bf joe's mother had cast iron skillets and she'd make us eggs for breakfast in them, and i always thought it would be good to have one to make perfect eggs.

I picked one up in Greenport, LI for $8.50. It's the 8" variety.

It's my favorite kitchen utensil yet. Far better then that pain in the ass george forman grill or my tupperware chopper machine. Bleh.


Posted by: melbernai on October 19, 2002 12:40 PM

I don't make eggs in mine, I make bacon. Actually, I don't think I've ever made eggs in mine. I think Ellen did once, when she mixed bacon grease in with the eggs.

I have a way-to-expensive all-clad no-stick pan for my eggs now, but I'ma bacon-makin' fool with that lodge. A wee bit of crisco to make sure nothing sticks and you're good to go. You can hear your arteries harden as you eat, but why not?!?

Posted by: scott on October 19, 2002 08:55 PM

Okay, was I the only one touching my face for texture as I read that last part?

I love my Lodge pan. I too have the smaller 8" version -- someday I'll have a big one. :) I make eggs in mine, too. Hey, and I'm told the side benefit to that is that the iron from the pan leaches out into the food. Free iron! Good for us female types.

Posted by: jessajune on October 22, 2002 04:38 PM

As I write this I am noshing on a bit of meat prepared exactly as you described above (right down to the chopsticks!).

Marry me?

Posted by: Shari on December 16, 2002 08:47 PM


Unfortunately being married to an Italian princess means that, were I to take you up on that offer, we'd both end up at the bottom of the nearest deep river after something... unfortunate... had happened to us! :)

Posted by: scott on December 16, 2002 09:18 PM

Being an Italian Princepessa (complete with sceptre, tiara, jewel-encrusted garlic press and linguini bikini (!) I understand completely *smile* Love your site :)

Posted by: Shari on December 18, 2002 05:12 PM

Eat steak, eat steak eat a big ol' steer
Eat steak, eat steak do we have one dear?
Eat beef, eat beef it's a mighty good food
It's a grade A meal when I'm in the mood.

Cowpokes'll come from a near and far
When you throw a few rib-eyes on the fire
Roberto Duran ate two before a fight
'Cause it gave a lot of mighty men a lot of mighty might

Eat steak, eat steak eat a big ol' steer
Eat steak, eat steak do we have one dear?
Eat beef, eat beef it's a mighty good food
It's a grade A meal when I'm in the mood.

Eat meat, eat meat, filet mignon
Eat meat, eat meat, ear it all day long
Eat a few T-bones till you get your fill
Eat a new york cut, hot off the grill

Eat steak, eat steak eat a big ol' steer
Eat steak, eat steak do we have one dear?
Eat beef, eat beef it's a mighty good food
It's a grade A meal when I'm in the mood.

Eat a cow, eat a cow 'cuase it's good for you
Eat a cow, eat a cow it's the thing that goes "Mooooo"

Look at all the cows in the slaughterhouse yeard
Gotta hit'em in the head, gotta hit'em real hard
First you gotta clean'em then the butcher cuts'em up
Throws it on a scale throws an eyeball in a cup

Saw a big Brangus Steer standing right over there
So I rustled up a fire cooked him medium rare
Bar-B-Q'ed his brisket, a roasted his rump
Fed my dog that ol' Brangus Steer's hump

Eat steak, eat steak eat a big ol' steer
Eat steak, eat steak do we have one dear?
Eat beef, eat beef it's a mighty good food
It's a grade A meal when I'm in the mood.

- Reverend Horton Heat

Posted by: pre-heating on May 30, 2004 06:52 PM

well I think you have done a good job of explaining a almost classical technique. If grilling in a pan one should cook with about a table spoon of olive oil mixed in with a table spoon unsalted butter, per steal in the pan. Always remember not to crowd your meet. The oil will keep the butter from burning, and butter is butter (pure happiness). So while cooking the steak I like to spoon the oil over the steak constantly. This will get you a world class sear along with the other things mentioned. It will also give you a seal that will keep liquid from escaping a.k.a a juicer steak. Also the grill is not the only option and a electric grill would be a travesty to use. Also once you go over a medium doneness you might as well went to Applebees. Last comment if you like this with your average rib eye/ Delmonico you will love it with the dried aged steak even more. (takes much longet to cook though.

Posted by: Joseph Chambers on December 10, 2009 02:27 PM
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