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Expert Guide

Steak Tips from the Pros

Steak Tips from the Pros

Tim Love's Grilled Texas Rib Eye Photo © Cedric Angeles

When it comes to cooking meat, give me a pot roast or pork shoulder and I’m golden: I’m plenty comfortable with a lovely long, slow braise. But when it comes cooking a steak, I’ve always been a little timid. No longer! Researching our America’s Best New Steakhouse Recipes story for our February issue was the ultimate crash course in how—and how not—to cook steak, and chatting with some of America’s best meat cooks banished my fears. We could have dedicated a whole issue to the art of steak cookery. Instead, here, a few of my favorite tips shared by some of the extraordinary chefs from the story:

ON SEASONING

Grant Achatz, Alinea and Next; Chicago: “Use a lot of salt. Everybody underseasons meat. Meat is like an avocado if you’re making guacamole, or mashed potatoes. They take a tremendous amount of salt before they actually become well seasoned.”

ON CHOOSING YOUR WEAPON: GRILL OR PAN

Michael White, Costata; New York City: “A cast-iron pan is your best friend when you cook steak at home because it retains heat well. When you initially put the meat into a hot cast-iron skillet, you’ll get really nice caramelization.”

Achatz: “How I cook steak at home depends on the season. During the warm months, I use my half-melted Weber grill outside, which burns real hardwood, not charcoal. And when I say melted, I mean the heat gets so hot the plastic handles have succumbed to the state of melted candles and the belly of the grill is warped. During the winter, when it is unbearable to be outside in Chicago, I sear the meat in a cast-iron pan. I leave the pan on the burner full blast for an hour, as hot as I can get it. Even with the front door open and the hood fan on, when the steak hits the pan it’s only a matter of time before the smoke detector goes off: That is a sign the pan is almost hot enough.”

ON BEING TOO TOUCHY-FEELY

Marc Forgione, American Cut; New York City: “I try not to be the chef when I go to a friend’s house for a barbecue, but I can’t stand it when guys flip the steak a hundred times to get the flames to come up. You should only touch the steak three or four times the whole time you’re cooking it, whether it’s on the grill or in a pan. There’s a lot of juice in there that you don’t want to mess with.”

Tim Love, Queenie’s; Denton, Texas: “Cooking steaks is really easy, and that’s what makes it so hard. It’s three movements: You put it on the grill, you flip it and you take it off the grill. That’s it.”

ON KNOWING WHEN IT’S DONE

John Gorham, Tasty n Alder; Portland, Oregon: “Use your thermometer, and know how to calibrate it. There’s no shame in a thermometer at all. People will tell you about the trick of testing a steak’s doneness by pressing on it and comparing it to the firmness of the flesh of your hand, but all steaks have different muscle fibers, so it doesn’t always work.”

ON SERVING STEAK AT A PARTY

Love: “Sear the steaks on the grill or in your cast-iron pan until they’re slightly more rare than you want them, and then let them rest at room temperature for up to three or four hours. When you’re ready to eat, put them on the top rack in your grill and shut the lid, or pop them in the oven at 450 degrees for just a minute or two, and they’ll be ready to serve, right at the temperature where you want them.”

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