Learning to cook a perfect steak is as essential to becoming a Real Adult™ as learning how to do your laundry without turning your socks pink or calling in sick without over-doing it. The difference being, with steak, you’re doing something more important than, you know, not looking like a bonehead or getting fired. A good steak will charm people and win you influence. It lends you an illusion of being skillful, bearing good taste, and having an appreciation for pleasure. In short; a perfect steak will get you laid.
The first step towards steak perfection is picking the right meat— and that starts at going to reputable butcher. If you live in Chicago, the Butcher and Larder is the best choice for all of your meat needs. The staff is kind and knowledgeable, prices are appropriate, and their stock is delicious and ethically sourced. For folks outside of the area, Whole Foods and Costco (yes, that Costco) are great options outside of your local, reputable butcher, for properly handled meat that came from humanely handled cattle.
There are a lot of important sounding titles in the meat department—but the only one we really want you to pay attention to is Grass Fed. Buy grass fed everything, whenever possible. It is infinitely more nutrient-dense, and can sometimes indicate a better quality of life for the animals. More important than either of those factors: Grass Fed Beef Tastes Really Fucking Good. Meatier, savory-er, better-er; the way that beef should taste. Grass fed beef is leaner, with about the same fat-content as a boneless chicken breast, and has a better distribution of higher quality fat. The smaller fat deposits are more consistently spread through the meat and that gives you a better tasting bite of beef with a finer texture, with more actual meat per ounce. What fat that is present is lower in cholesterol and generally better for you, loaded with Omega-3 and vitamin E.
The cut of steak matters, but not that much, and is largely a matter of budget and preference. Because they have a fat distribution we’re into, a lot of flavor, and a relatively low price point, we’re going to suggest you go with a New York Strip. They also, conveniently, serve two people and since we’re trying to get you laid, that’s probably a good idea.
Beef should be a healthy deep pink (not neon red) with evenly distributed flecks and wiggles of pure white fat. A brown or purple hazed meat or pinkish fat, are not good signs and should be avoided. Whenever possible, buy your steak the same day that you plan to prepare it. While beef can be stored for really long periods of time, your fridge isn’t the ideal environment and can introduce some funky flavors to the meat. Steak shouldn’t smell like much of anything and it should look fairly dry. While juicy meat is your goal in a cooked steak, if you see liquid at this stage it can mean a couple of not so tasty things. It can be a sign that the meat is old, improperly cut, or otherwise mishandled. Perhaps worse, slick coatings and pools of juice can indicate that the meat has been treated with weird plumping chemicals that artificially inflate the weight (and the price) and make everything taste like butts.
- One Steak. Preferably New York Strip. Ideally about an inch and a half thick. Grass Fed.
- One well-seasoned Cast Iron Skillet. Non-Negotiable.
- Oil of Your Choice, with a High Smoke Point (Peanut, Canola, Vegetable. NOT Olive. Not Butter).
- Paper Towels.
- Tin Foil.
Before you’re ready to cook, place your Steak in a cool place on your counter to bring it up to room temperature. This will shorten your cooking time and lessen the thermal shock once it hits the hot pan, creating a more tender steak that holds onto its juices better. Obviously be careful when you’re leaving raw meat out of refrigeration. Use the parts of your brain not decayed by collegiate alcohol consumption and make good decisions; keep it in its original packaging, put it on a deep plate to catch any leaks, keep it away from animals, and stay around to make sure things don’t go horribly awry.
Once you’re ready to get cooking, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Place your Cast Iron Skillet on your range, over a high flame. Add the Oil, continue heating until it is decidedly Hot and just starting to smoke. Thoroughly dry your Steak with a Paper Towel. This will help us get a better crust on the outside of the steak. Liberally Salt one side of the Steak and immediately place it into your very hot skillet, salted side down.
Cook the Steak on that first side for two minutes without even thinking about touching anything. No pressing, no turning, no peaking. Just as your two minutes are coming to a close, carefully use a Paper Towel to dry off the top of the Steak. Once dried, liberally Salt and immediately flip into a new, un-Steaked, area of the pan. Continue to cook on the stove top for about 30 seconds, and move things into the oven.
Continue cooking the Steak in the oven for 7-10 minutes. 7 minutes, for most steaks, will be a rare to medium-rare, 10 minutes will give you a juicy well-done. We went with eight minutes for the steak pictured and got a perfect medium—solid pink all the way through and juicy as a motherfucker. Lots of snobs will say the perfect steak is medium-rare. We think that the perfect steak is however the fuck you want to eat it.
After cooking in the oven, immediately move your Steak from the pan to a cutting board or plate. Cover it with Tin Foil to keep it warm, and let the Steak rest for at least 5 minutes to let the fibers relax and redistribute the juices. Once rested, slice it against the grain and serve. We like it with super Mid-Western fixins, like giant baked potatoes and green beans, but this perfectly seasoned piece of meat is the kind of luxurious ingredient that makes a brownbag lunch feel more special. It’s great on a salad and is really good cold.