© John Kernick

The four-time James Beard Award-nominated chef has strong feelings about meat.

Maria Yagoda
October 17, 2017

In early 2018, Top Chef alum and Dallas restaurant personnage John Tesar will open a new location of his steakhouse, Knife, in Plano, Texas, with the addition of a butcher shop and casual burger stand. While the forthcoming venue’s astonishingly massive meat locker, which can hold up to 500 pieces of meat at a time, isn’t practical for a home kitchen, the average consumer can be smarter about how they buy meat, per Tesar, a leader in the dry-aging movement. Even if they don't have a meat locker to store it all. 

Here are Tesars tips for buying, cooking and ordering steaks that will make you really, really happy.

1. Avoid bogus labels.

“Any label on a meat that is not ‘Prime’ or ‘Choice,’ in my opinion, is made-up,” Tesar says. “As someone who loves meat and great steak, I feel that those should be the only two options.”

2. In fact, be skeptical, always.

“The only thing that guarantees a good product is trying it and ensuring it’s consistent; everything else could mislead you,” he says. “The only way to guarantee great steak are these three things: the correct feeding program, heritage and dry-aging process.” (Talking to your butcher also helps. Bonus points for asking more questions than you ever thought appropriate.)

Informing yourself on what, exactly, it is you’re buying is essential. “People go to the grocery store and don’t really know what they’re getting—they could be purchasing anything from a dairy cow to an ungraded cut of meat,” he says.

3. Privilege pan over grill.

Tesar feels that gas grills offer uneven preparations and cause steaks to lose their flavor, while cooking with a cast-iron pan is pretty much unbeatable.

“With the pan, meat is cooked properly and guarantees the ability to create the correct maillard,” he says. “I’m a huge advocate for bringing meat-cooking back to the pan; it allows for a controlled cook and locks in all the delicious flavors steak-lovers are looking for when preparing their meat.”

4. Get into dry aging.

Even if you’re not dry-aging the steaks yourself, figure out what kind of dry-aged steaks you like by, well, eating a lot of them. At a restaurant like Knife, you can order steaks as you fine wines; guests can choose 45, 60, 90, 120, 150 and 240-day dry aged cuts nightly.

“With opening our first Knife location, we’ve noticed more and more of a demand for longer aged steak,” Tesar says. “Guests started demanding specific day-aged steak, so with our forthcoming Knife location at The Shops at Willow Bend, I decided that I wanted to have all the dry-aged selections available nightly.”

To put it simply, dry-aging steak involves hanging meat in a dry room for a period ranging from days to months to years. As moisture evaporates and enzymes break down muscle fibers, a deep and complicated flavor develops. Tesar and chef Adam Perry Lang are continuing to perfect the process. “We have found the key is aging meat in a cold temperate and low-humidity to develop a white mold, as well as extending the period of time in which it’s aged,” he says.

5. Be a little obsessive.

Using 44 Farms and Heartbrand Beef, Tesar has discovered what, precisely, makes a steak so delicious—it’s “animal husbandry, tracking their genetics, using 100% Black Angus and feeding both animals the same feed all the way throughout the process, without using dehydrated.”

Good recipes, like this one, also help.