Recently, we discussed how to choose the perfect steak, taking into account tenderness, flavor, texture, and price. Once you know what type of steak you want, however, there are a few more considerations before you arrive at that perfect, mouthwatering dinner you’re looking for. Simply grabbing a filet tenderloin in a white Styrofoam package does not guarantee a good steak. This part of the process requires a few questions and a little bit of practice to get just right; let us start you off with some pointers.
The aging of a steak has a dramatic effect on the quality and is one of the reasons why steak is so expensive. It tenderizes the meat by letting enzymes break down the meat’s structure and concentrates flavor. Ask your local butcher about how the steaks were aged. The first distinction is dry vs. wet aging. Wet aging means that the beef is aged in vacuum packs, which is faster but produces differences in flavor as the meat is sitting in its own blood. Dry aging using a Dry-Aging Chamber is preferred in most cases, and you want meat that is aged around 21-28 days, possibly even more for sirloins, Over-aging can occur, however, especially in tenderloin where your steak will virtually melt when they hit your grill.
Those little white flecks of fat you can see in a raw steak? They can be very beneficial for quality, since as a steak cooks that fat melts into the meat around it and creates the juice that you see running out when you cut into a steak. You want lots of little white flecks, but there is a point where too many or too thick marbling can just lead to a fatty or gristle-filled steak. Recognizing good marbling isn’t always a perfect science. In the steaks below you can see one striploin with light marbling, but the marbles are too thick, whereas the other has a ton of small marbles.
To further the flavor, tenderness, and juiciness of your steak, throw it in a marinade for 1-24 hours. There are 3 fundamental ingredients in every steak marinade: salt, pepper, and acid. The salt could be table salt, sea salt, or soy sauce. Pepper could be cayenne or black pepper. And acid can be anything from red wine, white vinegar or lime juice. Adding extra oil or sugar to a marinade can be done as well, although then you will affect how a steak cooks, with any oil causing smoke in the grill and sugars caramelizing and even blackening the outside of the meat.
Now that you have a perfectly chosen, aged, and marinated steak, it’s time to seal the deal. Warm-up your grill to its hottest possible temperature, and sear both sides of the steak for about a minute, which tightens the outside of the steak, locking in the juices. If your grill gets really hot(over 500), you may then want to turn it down to about 350-400 to finish up. Flip about every 5 minutes, taking care to criss-cross grill marks on each side. Everyone likes their steak cooked a little bit differently, and there are tricks to knowing how long to take. I usually watch a clock, knowing that 10 minutes is medium-rare, 15 medium, and 20 medium-well. Feeling the steak with your finger is usually a better test, however. This video gives a nice little trick to compare the steak to the softness of your hand. The third way to test doneness is the actual cut a steak open. If you do this discreetly it is certainly the most effective way. The middle of the steak will tell you how done it is:
- rare – cool in the middle and red all the way through
- medium rare – warm in the middle and a band of red through the middle, pink to the edges
- medium-hot center, pink most of the way across
- medium well – just a hint of pink left
- well – no red or pink, but just barely
To really finish the steak nicely, let it sit for 5 minutes under aluminum foil and the juice will sink into the meat of the steak. Enjoy!