Add some sizzle to your steak

Cooking steak is a bit like politics, it tends to bring out some strong opinions.

Frankly, I’ve been avoiding writing about tips for cooking steak, because I already know someone, somewhere will be annoyed with my advice, however well-meaning. 

But because I am a foolhardy person, I’m going to hand out some instructions. Feel free to add your own.

Start with the steak

Choose your steak wisely. Here’s my guide, but if you want to practise your steak cooking, a good place to start is a Scotch fillet or porterhouse. Both have good levels of fat that will be a bit more forgiving, unlike a lean steak, and aren’t too expensive, say like an eye fillet or Wagyu.

Before you cook

Take it out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before cooking. Pat it dry and season it with salt and pepper to taste. Meat loves salt and salt loves meat. As well as flavour, salt will help to develop a crust. 

Some like it hot

If you are cooking in a pan, flavour your oil first. Heat a dozen thyme stalks for a minute or two and toss in some garlic slices right at the end. Don’t leave the garlic in too long or it will turn bitter. 

Use an oil with a high smoke point. What’s that you ask? I could go into a lot of detail, but I prefer not to be boring, so basically it means it will handle heat better. Suitable oils include canola, soybean, peanut, avocado and safflower.

I know we love and cherish our olive oil, but it’s not great for steaks. As well as a low smoke point, it can add a strong ‘oily’ flavour you don’t really need. 

If you are using a grill, make sure it is cleaned and well oiled. Little pieces of gunk will stick on your steak and pull chunks off it otherwise. 

Use a meat thermometer

I can tell how cooked my steak is by poking it, if it’s got quite a bit of give, it’s medium rare, but I wouldn’t recommend this for guests or the squeamish. 

If you are fussy about how ‘done’ you like your steak cooked, it’s a good idea to invest in a meat thermometer.  Most are under $50 and you can buy some for under $15. There’s no rocket science involved, just poke it into the middle and read the temperature.

The following is a guide to how ‘done’ your steak will be. 

  • rare: 45-50°C
  • medium rare: 55-60°C
  • medium: 60-65°C
  • medium well: 66-69°C
  • well done: 70-75°C

Turning controversy

Typically, in the past it was recommended to only turn your steak once, but that advice is being left behind a bit. If you like a steak with a bit of crust, turning it a few times will help develop that delicious crunch. 

Use tongs to turn. Anything with a prong will puncture the meat and you will lose some of those yummo juices. 

If you are cooking in a pan, don’t crowd it, leave your steaks proud and alone. For a standard 27cm-30cm pan I wouldn’t have more than three, and two or one would be best. Otherwise, the steak will ‘stew’ in their juices and be a bit soggy. Great for curries, not so much for steak. 

Let it rest

Rest your steak off the grill or pan for at least seven minutes. Science helps here. Cooling the steak down a bit redistributes the juices back through the steak, so they aren’t immediately released when you slice into it, and you have a less juicy steak. 

This one is a bit controversial because people tend to overdo it and their steak goes cold. 

Don’t fuss around putting a timer on and when your time’s up then plating it up. 

You need to start timing the rest period from the moment you take it off the grill to when you sit down to eat it. Anything else and you are in danger of a cold, grim steak. 

Gourmands look away now. I like my steak hot, hot, hot, so I don’t even bother resting. If the juices flow out, then I mop them up with chips. It’s the Australian way. 

And always cut against the grain of the steak. Basically, if the long fibres go one way, you cut the other way. Since muscle fibres can be on the tough side, slicing through them will make the beef more tender.

While I have given all these tips, steaks are a bit like appreciating art – if you like it, then that’s the right way to eat it. 

Do you like steak? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments section below.

Also read: Spare Ribs with Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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