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I love steaks so much, that I would like to get a green card and live in the States just to enjoy good steaks whenever I want.

When I try to cook a steak at home (I live in Italy), I almost ever get it burned outside and almost totally raw inside. Actually only a thin layer is cooked (or I should say carbonized).

If I try to lower the temperature of the grill pan, I get an extremely dried meat that resembles cork.

So, which are the basics for properly cooking a steak (say, to a medium-well grade)?

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27  
"raw inside" ain't necessarily bad... –  Shog9 Jul 9 '10 at 22:15
    
@Knives: not raw like a rare cooked steak. I mean really raw, totally uncooked, still cold, and so tough that you can't even cut it with the miracle blade. –  Lorenzo Jul 9 '10 at 22:25
2  
ah, sounds like you're starting out with cold meat then. That'll give you problems every time (well, for thicker cuts at least) –  Shog9 Jul 9 '10 at 22:26
    
@Knives: this is my suspect, too. I leave the meal out of the fridge for about 10-15 minutes, maybe it is not enough. –  Lorenzo Jul 9 '10 at 22:31
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Yeah, kick that up to a half hour and I think you'll be much happier with the results. Don't forget to rest the steaks for 10 min after cooking, too, particularly for thick cuts (see below). –  Owen S. Jul 10 '10 at 19:30

25 Answers 25

up vote 40 down vote accepted

You should be able to get a reasonable steak stovetop using a cast iron grill pan, if you have a strong enough exhaust. Oil the cast iron pan (with canola or such), then heat it very hot, until it starts to smoke. Make sure the meat is completely dry on the outside (wipe with a paper towel, water will prevent browning) and gently place in the pan. Leave it there for a minute or two (it'll smoke quite a bit!), rotate 90° to get the nice grill marks. Leave for another minute or two. Flip, and repeat for the other side.

It may splatter, have a splatter screen handy. It will smoke, quite a bit, make sure the exhaust is on high.

You will probably have a medium-rare steak now. Using a thinner cut will make it more well done (you can cut a thick steak in half with your chef's knife, making two thin steaks); so will plopping it in the oven (not sure if you want the oven before or after searing, I like 'em medium rare...).

Remember to let the meat rest for 5 minutes or so before serving.

Also, if your steaks are coming out ridiculously tough, you're probably using the wrong cut of meat, or some terrible grade. What cut are you using?

[edit: I should note that, in case it wasn't obvious, the burner should be up pretty high]

Edit by rumtscho There is a reason this answer specifies a cast iron pan. If you are limited in your cookware choice, pay attention to the maximum temperature your pan can tolerate. If you are using a non-stick pan, you have to go on medium heat and wait longer, else you'll damage the pan. (And sorry, but you can't get it as tasty as on high heat that way).

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About letting the steak rest, do you just put it on a cold plate? Wrap it in aluminium foil? –  phant0m 12 hours ago
    
@phant0m I use whatever is around. I usually use a plate if it's just one steak. Can also be a cutting board if I'm going to cut it for multiple servings. If I need it to take longer (e.g., to finish a side or sauce), tent it with foil. As long as you're not trying to rest it in the hot pan, it's probably fine. –  derobert 12 hours ago

You can use the rule of thumb method to measure the "doneness" of the steak:

Steak doneness

You loosely touch one of your fingers with your thumb depending on how well done you want it, and the tension of the muscle of your hand below the thumb will be the same as how the meat should feel when you press it.

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I like that one so much! However my problem is still that I get the steak carbonized outside and raw inside... I tried lowering the head but now I get a very dry steak :( –  Lorenzo Jul 31 '10 at 12:05
    
@Lorenzo - Coat the steak with olive oil before you apply the rub. The oil will help seal in the juiciness. Sear first, then cook over indirect heat. –  Doresoom Aug 12 '11 at 17:56
    
@lorenzo also make sure you rest the meat at least 5 min by taking it off the heat and putting it somewhere cool but somewhat covered. After a sear, there's enough heat in the outer layer of the steak to continue cooking the inside. Resting gives the meat time to redistribute that heat. –  Eric Hu Dec 29 '11 at 9:22
    
I've been using this technique for a while. I find that it fails quite often. The tenderness of a steak varies based on the cut (e.g. tenderloin vs ribeye), fat content, thickness. And it's really hard to directly compare it to a steak as well. –  Muz Nov 12 '13 at 12:06
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This isn't really a very reliable method. Peoples hands are different, cuts of meat are different, and it's really difficult (for me at least) to distinguish much of a difference between either. –  Ryan Elkins Feb 24 at 18:20

First, let the meat warm to about room temperature. This way you aren't trying to heat up a cold center. Personally I prefer to only cook each side once (meaning I only flip the meat over once). The actual temperature of your grill and the amount of time you cook it per side will depend on the thickness of the steak and how you want it done. Don't use a fork or knife to cut it open while it is grilling as this will let the juices out.

How to tell when a steak is done.

Also, I would argue that medium-well is not a properly cooked steak.

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Thanks for the answer. However I don't have a grill, can I cook it on a pan? Why medium-well is not properly cooked? –  Lorenzo Jul 9 '10 at 22:14
    
@Lorenzo: do you have a broiler? –  Shog9 Jul 9 '10 at 22:15
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At least as a stereotype, people (in the USA) that are serious about steak typically like it somewhere around medium-rare. –  GalacticCowboy Jul 9 '10 at 22:21
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@Lorenzo: you should consider it, though a good cast-iron skillet should do about as well as long as you can keep the temperature high. FWIW, it's not the lack of maillard that would worry me about cooking steak on teflon, it's the breakdown of the coating at the sort of temperatures you'd be wanting to cook at. When you throw the (room-temperature) meat on there, you want that sucker to be HOT! –  Shog9 Jul 9 '10 at 22:38
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+1 for the medium-well remark. :) –  John Robertson Feb 22 at 6:50

An important part of the process missed by the other answers is allowing the meat to rest for up to ten minutes before before serving (depending on size).

This is because at temperature the muscle fibres have tightened up and are unable to retain their juices. A steak straight off the heat and cut open will instantly lose all its juices.

If you allow the steak to cool for a few minutes then the muscle fibres relax, hold the juices better and you end up with a much juicer steak with more flavour.

Resting meat is a very important part of the cooking process.

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+1 another reason is that meat is a very poor conductor of heat, so while the outside could be cooked, the inside may still be rather cold. After taking it off the burner, the outside is cool, and so is the center, so the hottest part is the layer between the outside and the center. Since heat always travels from hot->cold, this means that 10 minutes after you take the steak off the burner, the center is still cooking! –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jul 10 '10 at 1:39
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+1, I let my steak rest for about 50% of the cooking time. So if I have a whole steak, I cook it in the oven, and let it rest for half the time it's been in the oven. In my opinion a steak don't have to be scolding hot, and it's better to let it rest a little longer then a little shorter. –  martiert Aug 6 '10 at 6:35

Here is the method I use for turning out a perfect steak every time.

  1. Pick a quality piece of meat that is approximately 1.5 inches thick.
  2. Let it sit on the counter-top for 30-45 minutes until it is roughly room temperature.
  3. Heat up a cast-iron skillet (or similar) to medium-high. Lightly coat the skillet with an oil that has a high smoke point (grapeseed or coconut oil).
  4. Preheat the oven to 500F. Also, put a cookie sheet in the oven during this step too (preferably one that can handle high heat without warping).
  5. I like to put a light rub of olive oil on the meat. Then I season it with salt & pepper or garlic salt & pepper (depending on mood).
  6. Use TONGS (not a fork) to put the steak into the skillet.
  7. Sear each side for 90 seconds. Don't go longer than this.
  8. Use the tongs to transfer the steak to the cookie sheet in the oven.
  9. Cook each side in the oven for 3 minutes.
  10. Place the steak on a plate, put a tablespoon of butter on top of it, and cover it with tin foil.
  11. Let it rest for 5-8 minutes.
  12. Steak should now be medium rare (about 135F at center). Serve.
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Great suggestion, this worked far better for me than a grill only method on very thick steaks. –  tonylo Sep 8 '10 at 0:18
    
+1 for grapeseed oil. –  Chris Cudmore Oct 20 '10 at 13:20

Here's how I grill a steak:

  1. Let it thaw completely before attempting to cook it.
  2. Set the grill to medium/high heat.
  3. Clean the grill by putting an onion on a skewer and using that to clean the bars. It adds flavor and gets the bars clean for a clean cook.
  4. For an average thickness steak, I throw it on the grill, close the cover, wait 6 minutes. (closing the cover is very important as it allows the steak to get enough heat.
  5. Check for grill marks on the bottom side, if they are there, flip.
  6. Grill for 6 minutes on the other side with the cover closed.
  7. Use a meat thermometer to check the temp of the meat. Medium is around 140 Fahrenheit (60 Celsius). Using thermometers makes cooking a science!
  8. Enjoy!

I left out any seasoning or marinating, because this is just how to COOK a steak, not flavor it.

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Great step-by-step approach with some additional helpful tips. –  JYelton Jul 9 '10 at 22:31
    
It looks a lot like my recipe, but I have a little variant: set the grill to high instead and cook one side 2 minutes (time it), turn 90 degree (this is purely for having nice grill marks), cook 2 minutes again, flip and cook 2 other minutes. For a 1 inch steak, it will be medium rare/medium. Change the times accordingly for your tastes: 1.5/1.5/2 for rather rare. –  ADB Jul 17 '10 at 13:35
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@number 7. Cooking is science for hungry people. –  Mechko Jul 21 '10 at 11:32
    
I completely agree with your first point. Steaks should be room temperature when placed on the grill. –  Doresoom Aug 12 '11 at 17:58

One thing restaurants commonly do that no one has mentioned yet is to grill the steak until it looks right on the outside, then stick it in the oven until it's "done". There's a good chance your grill is just too hot to get the steak perfect.

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But this is usually done only to have the meat served at a right temperature, having the dishes prepared in advance. That way you can serve the tables faster and not have people waiting. –  Alejandro Mezcua Jul 10 '10 at 6:06
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I wonder why no one mentioned this too. If you want to cook a thick medium steak this is your only option inside the kitchen. It turns out great without burning the outside of the steak. –  Recep Jul 14 '10 at 11:57
    
Sous vide oven steaks are excellent! Drawback is the time and oven temperature accuracy. Keep your steak in the oven at about 60-65 C for medium or medium-well, but keep it from going above 70 C or it starts to become well-done, tough, or dry. –  Muz Nov 12 '13 at 12:31

First, cooking on a very high heat is appropriate only if you want the meat browned on the outside but very rare ("almost totally raw", as the questioner puts it) on the inside. Since this is evidently not what the questioner wants, the first thing to do is to turn down the heat. This will take you a long way towards a great steak: salt both sides just before cooking, and fry on a medium heat in a pan with just a drop of oil. Time depends on thickness of the steak.

Second, as Ian Turner points out, turning frequently (once per minute is good) improves the evenness of cooking (and no, it does not dry out the meat). This is also mentioned in McGee's On Food and Cooking (p. 156), which everyone on this site should own. I find that to get good browning with this method you need a higher heat - and the turning means you don't get the burnt-on-the-outside-raw-on-the-inside problem.

Finally, always rest your meat - five minutes should do for a steak, 10 won't hurt in a warm environment. This evens out the internal temperature and hence evens out the "doneness".

You can test how well done it is either by cutting it open to see (the juice you lose is only local to the cut and won't affect the rest of the meat), or, after some experience, you can tell by touching and feeling how firm the meat it. It's worth practising this touch method.

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+1 I had to learn all these tips the hard way (figuring them out myself). Great answer! –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Mar 14 '13 at 22:49

One approach I've taken from Heston Blumenthal is to keep turning the steak every 20 or 30 seconds. That way the heat travels into the steak a bit more evenly.

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This is usually not a good idea as the meat will dry out. –  Alejandro Mezcua Jul 10 '10 at 6:04
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@Alejandro: You are wrong: cookingissues.com/2009/11/13/… –  Shalmanese Jul 17 '10 at 21:56
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His stated reason for doing this is to avoid the drying out. It seems to work although I have not done anything scientific. –  Ian Turner Jul 19 '10 at 11:01

So much differing advice - but I'll chip in with my combination (which contains much the same points as others)

1) Always allow the meat to warm to room temperature first

2) Always pat dry the meat (the same holds true for good roast meats too). This even applies if you've marinated the meat (a couple of hours lying in sliced garlic can be nice).

3) Optionally season with black pepper before grilling (season with salt after, if you want salt). I tend to lightly season each steak with a little oil and then grind over some pepper.

4) For a medium-well done steak Griddle for 2 minutes each side on a cast-iron griddle at insane-o-clock heat, then transfer to a warm oven for another 6-8 minutes.

(Personally, like many people here, my preference is for a medium-rare steak / black'n'blue - griddling and then simply resting the steak wrapped in foil or under a lid should be enough cooking for medium-rare).

5) Rest for as long as you can stand not eating it.

To be honest, I think that the actual cooking technique can vary (you can leave the meat on a grill rather than transfering to oven, but with a griddle it's quite easy to overcook the outside - if you're sticking on the stovetop a flat pan may be better).

The two key points are warming the meat first, and letting it rest after (as heat will continue to transfer from the outside to the middle, it actually continues to cook while resting).

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upvote for patting dry. I'm surprised none of the top voted comments don't have this. You will not get browning (flavor) on your meat if there's liquid on the outside. –  Eric Hu Dec 29 '11 at 9:19

A great steak only needs three things: high heat, garlic salt and black pepper. Heat is critical. Heat makes or breaks steak. If you want to make someone cry, give them a great piece of meat that hasn't been cooked with the right heat.

Here's how I like to cook steaks if you don't have access to a grill:

  • Buy great meat. I like to buy New York strips or Ribeyes from Costco, Whole Foods or the local butcher. You get what you pay for, so don't be cheap.
  • Preheat the oven to 425° F.
  • Heavily season both sides of the steak with garlic salt and some pepper. Remember, salt is good. Garlic is good. Pepper for taste.
  • Grab a grill pan (these are usually square and have ridges) or cast iron skillet, set on the stove and turn the burner just shy of high.
  • Once the pan is hot enough (run your fingers under the kitchen sink and flick water on the pan to test...it should sizzle away), throw your steaks on. After 3 mins, flip and cook for 2 mins on the other side. You want to get a nice sear on both sides.
  • Throw the pan (w/steak) in to the oven and cook for another 4 minutes or so. The best way to tell if a steak is done is to press on it with your finger. There is some trick about how to test for how done it is by doing the same with your finger and your palm, but that's just overthinking it. Medium rare (dark pink in the middle) is the way to cook a steak: the meat should be soft, but not spongy. If the meat is firm, game over. It might take you a few times before you get this down, but you will.
  • Pull the pan out, let the steak rest for 4-5 minutes while you prep up the rest of the meal and enjoy. Don't get too excited here, you need to let the steak rest so the juices will distribute and the meat will finish cooking.

Remember, the key here is to seal the meat to retain the juice. That's where the heat is critical - the sear will lock it in.

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1  
Searing doesn't actually keep in juices. This has been debunked.. but you can test it yourself. Sear one meat and not another and compare the juices. It still tastes great, so a lot of people sear the steak after it's cooked. –  Muz Nov 12 '13 at 13:27

Here is a usefull link I read recently from Lifehacker: Seven Myths About Grilling a Steak

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It's interesting that at #2 they advice to not let the meat out of the fridge, and that the room-temperature requirement is just a myth. –  Lorenzo Jul 17 '10 at 16:49
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Haha, half these answers are these myths –  dotjoe Aug 2 '10 at 21:16
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Regarding the temperature thing. It's reasonable to point out that commercial kitchens will not keep raw meat out, however that's influenced by different factors. They're busier than your kitchen at home at the chance of cross contamination with other food stuffs is high. Having access to 600-800 grill is also not a given at home. TL;DR don't always try to apply commercial standards to home cooking. –  tonylo Sep 6 '10 at 21:49
    
Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. –  Aaronut Feb 20 '13 at 1:34

I do it this way, I'm not sure it is the 'proper' way, but I'm sure they are usually better than what you describe:

  1. Put the room temperature, already seasoned meat in the pan at a high temperature until the meat bleeds
  2. Turn them over and lower the heat to mid temp
  3. Wait until the other side bleeds
  4. Eat
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+1: This is pretty much my method, and I adore my steaks. Sear both sides to seal in the juices, turn down and cook to order. –  Binary Worrier Jul 14 '10 at 15:30

1) Put in sous-vide cooker at 50°C. Wait at least the appropriate minimum time (depends on thickness), but no stress in waiting too long.

2) Sear in very hot pan or on barbecue

There is no step 3

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Not many people who uses this equipment for cooking. A cooker that can hold 50C steadily is also quite expensive. The result will be fenomenal, but not realy an answer to "What is the basics of cooking a steak". –  martiert Aug 6 '10 at 6:43
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Indeed, my answer is a bit tongue in cheek. Still, the title of the question is "How to properly cook a steak", and that's the very best imho. There are cheap ways to cook sous-vide, btw: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/2827/… –  Marc-André Lafortune Aug 6 '10 at 15:46
    
Expensive? Perhaps if purchased commercially. Home-brew sous-vide rigs start at around $100US, most of which is for the computer-controlled temperature regulator. Of course, you'll also want a good vacuum sealer, which also start around $100US. –  Dave Griffith Nov 6 '11 at 1:03
    
There is a step 3: eat! –  Ryan Anderson Dec 11 '12 at 16:51
    
50 C is considered "blue"! 68 is the proper temperature for medium-well done. –  Muz Nov 12 '13 at 12:34

If I'm not grilling on the charcoal grill, I basically do the rec above by Jeff Judge.

The other thing is that I always marinade the steaks before cooking. It can be as simple as salt, pepper and garlic. But can also include ingredients such as brown sugar, soy sauce, olive oil and a variety of spices.

On the charcoal grill what I do is this. 1. Prepare the coals so that all are evenly hot. 2. I move all the coals to one side of the grill. 3. The steaks start out on the "coal" side. Approximately 1 minute on each side of the steaks to sear. 4. I then move the steaks to the side with no coals below and close the cover on the grill. They stay here 4 - 8 minutes depending on the doneness desired. 5. Then they come off of the grill and rest for ~5 minutes. 6. Time to eat!

One last thing is to always use tongs and not a fork to handle the cooking steaks. You don't want to pierce them and let the tasty juices out.

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Make sure to properly prep your steak. Trim it of exterior fat and pat it completely dry to provide a nice carmelized crust. Salt and pepper to taste.

One way of achieving perfect steaks that are cooked to your desired temperature without a grey layer between the outer crust and the inner pink (or red) meat is to use your oven. Preheat to 375 degrees F (~190 C). Place steaks on a wire rack over a glass baking dish and add to oven. Bake for 6-8 minutes. This heats the steaks through to avoid the ugly grey line.

Remove steaks. Turn on broiler to high and move racks so steaks will be 1 1/2 inches from broiler when re-inserted (for getting a good crust on them). Let steaks rest while broiler preheats for 10 minutes. Add steaks. Turn every 3 minutes until they reach desired done-ness, 6-16 minutes for medium-rare depending on steak thickness.

A good guide on thickness is: for 1" steaks, pre-bake 6 minutes and flip every 2 minutes. For 1½" steaks, pre-bake 8 minutes and flip every 3 minutes. For 2" steaks, pre-bake 10 minutes and flip every 4 minutes.

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Another method not mentioned here yet is the Alton Brown chimney starter method. Which is cooking the steak under a chimney starter for 1.5 minutes per side. See this foodnetwork.com page for more information. Of course this requires an outdoor cooking area, but could be useful when camping.

I have not tried the above method yet. I use a propane barbeque and here are my steps:
1. only use the best fresh steak - not-frozen. My favourite cut is a rib-eye or a New-York strip.
2. salt steak at least 1 hour before use and place in fridge. I find 2-3 hours is better.
3. remove steak from fridge 30 minutes before use.
4. place on medium-heat grill for 3 minutes per side turning 3 times for a total of 12 minutes to get a medium steak. Note: each side is on the grill twice to get diamond markings.
5. rest on a cooling rack instead of a flat surface to not draw out as much of the juices (because of less surface area I assume). A quarter-size sheet pan with matching cooling rack is good for this.

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First, read the Food Lab articles on cooking steak. tldr: Most of what you know about cooking steak is probably wrong.

http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/03/the-food-lab-more-tips-for-perfect-steaks.html

Start with a decent cut. Typically, these will be cuts from the rib (Ribeye), short loin (Tenderloin, T-Bone, Porterhouse, Top Loin), and sirloin (Sirloin, Top Sirloin) parts of the steer. Whichever cut you go with should have a nice, even distribution of white fat throughout the muscle (called marbling).

http://bbq.about.com/cs/steaks/a/aa091397a.htm

Second, ALWAYS let your meat come to room temperature before doing anything to it. After coming to room temperature, salt and pepper it and let it stand at least 40 minutes before cooking, or cook it immediately.

Third, get a nice heavy pan and a high smoke point oil (like canola) and heat a thin layer of oil until it just starts to smoke. Don't let it smoke too long lest the oil break down and affect the flavor of your steak. Avoid butter as the milk solids will burn before achieving a high enough temperature.

Fourth, add your steak to the pan and flip every 15-30 seconds until desired doneness is reached. This is where most people get it wrong. Not flipping is an almost guaranteed recipe to unevenly cooked steak. The temperature in the pan will fluctuate no matter how high you have it cranked up, which undoubtedly means one side will be cooked differently than the other unless you flip enough to equalize any temperature differences in the pan.

Fifth, forget about any methods for testing doneness and get yourself a decent meat thermometer. Testing temperature is the only surefire way to making sure your steak is done to your liking.

Lastly, LET IT REST! From 5-15 minutes, depending on the thickness and cut. Not giving it time to rest is a surefire way to end up with dry steak.

Enjoy!

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Another thing that you should pay attention too is to not season the meat before cooking it, but after, right when you take it out of the pan, so the salt will melt on the meats juices. If you use salt before you start cooking it, the salt will tend to extract water from the meat and dry it out.

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Many here have answered your question with a description of the whole cooking process. Thus, i feel it unnecessary to add another one.

I will focus instead on the sub-process of how to get an excellent crust on your steak. I learned this method when I listened to an interview with Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Body.

Before you sear, grill or cook your steak...

  1. Pat it dry with a towel of some sort (paper, etc)
  2. Place it on a plate, and place it in the freezer.
  3. Let it sit in the feezer for 45 minutes.
  4. Remove, and continue with your seasoning, searing and cooking procedure.

What this does is to remove all the surface moisture from the steak, allowing for a crustier crust!

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Turn your heat down and leave it on the grill longer.

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1  
This is obvious. But this is not a good answer to the question "how to properly cook a steak". Which are the basics for cooking a steak? Should/could I use a pan? How to use oil or other fat? Should I left the meat outside the fridge before cooking? And so on... –  Lorenzo Jul 9 '10 at 22:11

The time and temperature vary on the thickness of the steak, but the key is to avoid continuously turning the steak as it dries it out and makes it tough.

For about an inch thick steak, I find that 3-4 minutes each side is enough for a nicely medium steak, but as I said, only ever turn once.

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The turning thing is a myth: turning will not dry it out. It will cause the heat to penetrate the meat more evenly, and probably give a better result –  PaulS Jul 14 '10 at 11:36

How long to cook a steak depends on the thickness as well as the type of cut. Tougher cuts need longer cooking time, and thicker cuts need longer cooking time and a cooler pan. I use an android app called BB Meat Master for reference on cuts and times.

One thing to check for is whether your steak is aged or not. Some countries (France, for example) do not allow beef to be aged, or it is harder to get. Steak that is not aged does not cook the same way, it gets dry if you cook it very long at all, which is why in France they never cook it beyond blue. Ask your butcher if the meat you get is aged, or if it is available.

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The Alain Ducasse method is a great method for cooking steak on a stove-top. The idea is to cook the steak at a lower heat for a longer period of time.

  1. Start with a 1.5 inch thick cut of beef such as rib-eye.
  2. On medium, heat a thick stainless or cast-iron sauté or fry-pan.
  3. Place steak standing up in the pan with the fat side down. Do not add oil or butter. Cook standing up until fat has rendered. This should take 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Place steak flat side down to cook in the rendered beef fat. Salt, and cook until brown for 10 minutes.
  5. Flip steak over and salt remaining side. Add a few tablespoons of butter to the pan.
  6. Continuously spoon butter over steak and cook for 10 minutes. Optionally adding a few sprigs of thyme on top of the steak and one or two crushed garlic cloves to the pan.
  7. Rest steak for half as long as the cooking time, about 10-15 minutes.
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The basics

I find that there are two keys to getting a grilled steak done perfectly:

  1. Get it dry.
  2. Get the temperature exact.

A lot of people recommend better quality cuts. They are right. The better the cut, the tastier it is. But it's not a definitive factor.

I've produced some awesome steaks daily, with the cheapest steaks, cheapest seasonings, and in a $20 frying pan. By awesome, I mean steaks that exceed the quality of many dedicated steakhouses using expensive cuts and thousand dollar grills (but I don't live in a steak country so steakhouses here aren't that good).

If the steak is wet, you'll end up steaming instead of grilling it. Less 'crunchiness' on the outside.

Cooking involves a lot of chemistry. I'm sure you're familiar with how water boils at 100 C and freezes at 0 C. Meats are like that too. Proteins in the meat change form after a certain temperature is reached, but stays that way no matter how much heat you put into it. So even if you leave a steak in the oven at 65 C for 24 hours, it won't burn. That's how sous-vide cooking works. If you want the detailed science, Amazing Ribs has a very concise yet informative article on this.

Past 70 C it becomes tough. Below 63 C, parasites can still live. (Yes, that includes anything below medium). Here's a guide to the temperatures on getting everything perfect.

Medium well is about 68 C. I personally prefer medium, at about 60-63 C. Apparently the American medium-rare is at 57 C. These are very narrow gradations in temperature - you can literally overcook your steak in a minute. That's why you get a thermometer. I make do with a really cheap analog latte thermometer. They're cheaper than grills and far more effective.

How to cook a perfect steak

  1. Get some paper napkins and really dry it down until there's no moisture.
  2. Dry brine your steak for about an hour before cooking. Wrote this up to explain dry brining. Basically just add salt and pepper and put it in the fridge.
  3. Take it out of the fridge. Don't wash off your seasoning but keep it dry.
  4. Put fat all over your steak. I recommend grapeseed oil because you can taste the 'true' flavor of your steak that way. Ghee is great too. Don't use butter because it burns too easily. Most vegetable oils work, experiment!
  5. Set your grill/stove to medium-high.
  6. Cook it on one side. Get the temperature up to about 55 C.
  7. Flip it over. If possible, flip it over only once. Wait for temperature to get to 68 C. Bring to plate.
  8. Eat it. Add BBQ sauce or whatever seasoning, but if you followed these steps right, the steak would have been so delicious that you wouldn't want to add anything on it.

More tips

Learn to sear the steak just right. The right sear should be brown on both sides (not grill mark black!). This takes quite a bit of skill and timing, and possibly more expensive equipment. Most people can only sear one side well, but that's ok.

Don't bother with grill or burn marks. They look nice but I've never tasted a great steak with grill marks.

Never cut a steak to see if it's done. Colors will change when exposed to air and the often poor lighting of smoke above a grill or frying pan. And you'll lose a lot of the juices while trying to cut it enough to see what it looks like inside.

Poke your thermometer on the thickest bit of steak. Or the part furthest away from the heat if you use a cheap pan/grill.

You can oven cook steak too, but I find that it's much more effort unless you're feeding a lot of people. Sear it before putting it into the oven, as many have recommended.

share|improve this answer
    
"Flip it over. If possible, flip it over only once. Wait for temperature to get to 68 C. Bring to plate." - that part is wrong. When your center has reached 68 degrees, the periphery is already at well over 100. When you take it off the pan, the heat from the outer portions of the steak will still travel to the center. You always have to take the meat off before it reaches the end temperature you want. How long before depends on thickness, it is between 1 and 3 degrees for steaks in my experience. –  rumtscho Nov 12 '13 at 13:39
    
Also there is lots of debunking of the "flip it over only once" suggestion. Side to side comparisons tend to show that, the more frequent you turn, the better the end result. But this is a fine detail, you can get a good steak with both methods. –  rumtscho Nov 12 '13 at 13:40
    
You're probably right, but just saying what's worked for me so far. I usually don't use non-stick pans when making steak, so sometimes the oil dries up on multiple flipping and the steak sticks to the pan. I've heard multiple flipping recommended on many grills. –  Muz Nov 14 '13 at 16:14
    
Oh, there's also a bit of miscommunication here. The thinner the steak, the higher the fire should be and the less often you should turn it. If you're going for > 2 cm thick steaks, use a low fire and flip more often. I normally do roughly 1 cm steaks. –  Muz Nov 17 '13 at 7:45

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