The Isle of Wight Meat Co.’s guide to cooking steaks.
Before we get started we must emphasise that it will not matter how precise you are with the cooking if the quality of the steak is not up to scratch. Find a good trusted supplier, preferably a local one and if it is direct from a farm even better. Rump, Sirloin & Ribeye should be dry-aged for an absolute minimum of 28 days, we tend to like ours between the 40-60 day mark. Finally seek out some of the more interesting cuts – Onglet being a firm favourite here on the farm.
So here goes, our 10 tips for cooking the perfect steak…
1. Understand the Cut
There is no definitive way to cook a steak. Each cut is different and needs treating individually. As a rule of thumb, the fattier the cut, the more heat it can take. For example a ribeye is a relatively fatty cut so needs to be taken to medium rare, even medium on a double cut, to break down the fatty tissue. Otherwise it is a rather unpleasant, chewy affair. Fillet however is incredibly lean and perfect for a rare (even blue) finish, but anything past medium-rare you will begin to lose it’s wonderful tender properties and would be better to switch to something like rump.
These are our recommended finishes for some of our favourite steaks:
- Fillet: Rare (Blue if to your taste)
- Sirloin: Rare/Medium-Rare
- Rump: Medium-Rare/Medium
- Ribeye/Cote de Boeuf: Medium-Rare/Medium
- Bavette: Rare/Medium-Rare
- Onglet: Rare (anymore and it becomes inedible)
- T-Bone/Porterhouse: Rare (tricky steak to cook as the sirloin and fillet components ideally need slightly different treatments, so we would stick with rare to protect the fillet)
If you like your steak closer to medium-well or well-done then make sure you choose a steak with plenty of fat running through it, it will help it retain some of the moisture.
2. It’s all about the Thickness
The thicker the better. If it is for more than one go for a double-cut steak (at least 4cm thick) and share, it is much easier to achieve an even, jucier finish. However you will need to sear and then finish in the oven, or reverse sear (start in the oven and finish on the grill).
3. Room Temperature
Taking a steak straight from the fridge and putting it on the grill risks and uneven cook, to achieve a nice even finish you want to bring it up to room temperature first. Somewhere between 20mins to an hour, depending on the thickness.
4. Season, Season, Season (but avoid the pepper until resting)
As the steak is coming up to room temperature, give it a generous seasoning on all sides, including any pockets of fat. But hold off with the pepper until it is ready to rest, it will burn and leave a bitterness to the crust.
5. Moisture & Heat
When a steak is seared it browns the surface, this effect is known as the Maillard reaction, and without boring you with the science (see link here) it is great because it helps form new flavour compounds, improving the flavour as well as adding texture. For this to happen the steak needs to reach 160-180°C on the surface. If the steak surface is moist it will slow or prevent this process from occurring. So ensure the steak is dry and your cooking surface is smoking hot before starting the sear.
6. Flat Bottomed Pan
Griddle pans with grooves are a no-no. They may look great for instagram posts but they do nothing in terms of imparting flavour into the meat. You end up with bitter charred lines and grey (with no Maillard) in-between. Stick to a flat heavy-based frying pan to get that all-over even Maillard crust.
7. Keep it Moving
There had (and maybe still is) a school of thought that argued turning once was enough. However if you want an even Maillard reaction on the surface it is best to keep them moving, turning regularly. And make sure you sear the sides during the process, especially any fat covering.
8. Gauging the Finish
The traditional method of gauging the finish on the steak is to measure the firmness, seasoned pro’s will simply press the steak and know, but as a rough guide you can match the firmness to part of your hand. Find the area of flesh around the thumb joint (known as the Thenar), hold your index finger and thump tip-to-tip and press down on the Thenar – this is the firmness of a rare steak. Switch the index finger with your middle finger and you have medium rare, ring finger and thumb = medium and so on.
The downside to this technique is that our hands and steaks vary. So if you want the perfect steak every time the best solution is to use a digital thermometer. We recommend the Meater, a wireless thermometer with suporting app. so far everything it has cooked has been perfect. But a cheaper version from Hurst’s will delivery the same results.
Finish temperatures are as follows:
- Blue: <40°C
- Rare: 40-50°C
- Medium-Rare: 55-60°C
- Medium: 60-65°C
- Medium-Well: 65-70°C
- Well-done: >70°C
As the steak rests it will continue to cook, so whip them out/off 2-3°C below your target temperature.
9. Rest, Rest, Rest
After cooking the steak needs time to allow the moisture to redistribute evenly. If you cut into it straight away a lot of the retained moisture will seep out and leave you with a rather dry steak. It also allows the residual heat to finish the cooking process. Depending on the thickness rest for up to 20mins (with a loose covering of foil).
10. The Cut
The tenderness of your steak is not just down to how you cook it, it’s also down to how you cut it. To serve (especially with thicker steaks) cut into slices across the grain, this shortens the muscle fibres and makes chewing much easier.
So to summarise, to cook the perfect steak there is no one size fits all approach. Each cut needs its own evaluation and cooking process to suit. Type of cut, thickness, ageing time/process and fat marbling are all factors. But in short go extra thick, at room temperature, season well, ensure a good all-over sear and don’t forget the rest.