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I went to a 5* restaurant once, the steak was unbelievable. You could cut it with a butter knife, it was fat and juicy, pink in the middle, great stuff.

When I cook it at home, I seem to just slice the beef thick, shallow fry it in olive oil with some garlic and that is all. It tastes pretty good, but is so far off what I had in that restaurant.

Anyone know how to cook the best steak? Better cuts of meat? Fry in butter?

Also any tips in general on how to cook good steak. All appreciated!

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I think this is a good question, but really should be community wiki, as it's rather subjective (different people have a different idea of "best") and kind of a poll. –  Aaronut Jul 26 '10 at 0:23
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I don't really see how this question is fundamentally different from this question: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/267/… –  Ryan Elkins Jul 26 '10 at 4:07

10 Answers 10

up vote 36 down vote accepted

The most important thing you can do is buy quality beef. You can throw a USDA Select steak on a 700 degree charcoal grill, cook it perfectly, and it'll still be tough and not at all what you'd get at a fine steakhouse.

In the USA there are three grades of beef available to a consumer: Select, Choice, and Prime. There are lesser grades but they go to fast food joints, prisons, military personnel, and miscellaneous other weird uses.

In most american supermarkets you will find only select, period. This is an "average" steak. It's typically devoid of marbling, and results in a rather flavorless tough steak.

To find choice steaks you have to go to a higher end supermarket, e.g. Whole Foods You will pay significantly more for a choice steak, but the difference is marked. The marbling will result in a tenderer steak due to the internal fat melting and tenderizing the steak.

Finally, prime cuts. These are very hard to come by in any supermarket unless you live in a bigger city. You typically have to go to a specialty shop or butcher for these. Less than 2% of all beef is classified as prime. On top of this, restaurants get first pick. So even if you do buy a great prime steak, you are likely getting the lower end of the prime spectrum. However, the difference is amazing. The marbling is more intense, more evenly distributed and when cooked properly results in a steak that melts under your knife.

Another one-up a fine steakhouse has on you is they age their beef. Any steak you buy in the grocery store is minimally wet aged. The finest steakhouses dry age their beef. The difference? Wet aging consists of simply vacuum packing the meat (as in a whole side of cow) and refrigerating it for about a week. After that, it's cut smaller and sold to stores. Dry aging is a more complicated and expensive process. Dry aged beef is hung for at least two weeks in a refrigerator. Moisture in the meat is allowed to escape and evaporate, which concentrates the beef flavor of the beef. The beef also grows a moldy rind which is cut off and thrown away. After the aging is complete you're left with 75-80% of the meat you started with. This commands a premium price.

Unfortunately, you can't dry age a steak in your home. There are some refrigerator aging processes that you'll find on this site and others, but they aren't a true comparison.

Another variation that has become more popular is grass-fed beef. This has become a recent fad, at least in the USA. Cattle are traditionally fed corn which makes them fatter and "juicier", but it also leaves the meat tasting very bland. Likely, if you live in the USA, every steak you've ever had was corn-fed. Grass-fed beef on the other hand is fed predominantly grass, they're allowed to graze as cows should. This is good for the cows, because they don't actually eat corn. A cow is made to eat grass. Corn is rather harsh on their digestive system, but they are given no other choice. In the wild a cow would never eat corn. The end result is a very different flavored steak. Grass-fed beef has a much richer, meatier flavor. However, it's also tougher than corn-fed beef. For this reason a steak you will be served in a fine steakhouse is likely not to be grass-fed unless it is specifically designated as such.

With all that out of the way I suggest doing what I do. When I feel like an amazing home cooked steak, I'll splurge on a nice choice ribeye, dip it in a mixture of melted clarified butter and oil, season liberally with salt and pepper, and pan fry it.

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Technically, it's better not to mix the oil and salt, as that lowers the smoke point of the oil and you are cooking at a high temperature for the searing. –  Tim Gilbert Jul 26 '10 at 5:13
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Salting the steak prior to cooking forms a delicious crust. And the smoke point is largely irrelevant because it's being cooked well beyond the smoke point. I have not had a problem cooking steak this way, besides a great abundance of smoke. –  hobodave Jul 26 '10 at 5:17
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I agree with the salting prior, but you don't need to keep the salt after the crust has been formed. The lower the smoke point, the longer it's going to smoke, and the more acreolein is going to be produced. –  Tim Gilbert Jul 26 '10 at 5:36
    
Just to note that all the beef and lamb in NZ is grass fed. Doesn't make it easier to get prime cuts though! –  nzpcmad Jul 26 '10 at 8:03
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Noting also that the aging process allows lactic acid present in the muscles to denature some of the proteins, creating a tenderer piece of meat. It is possible to fake this by marinating 24-36 hours in buttermilk or yogourt. –  daniel Oct 20 '10 at 1:44

One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is the increased use of sous vide. Sous vide is perfect for very thick cuts of meat that you want to cook evenly throughout. Then use a very, very hot grill to sear and finish. No grey edges.

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It's all really about the product you start with. Dry Aged, Dry Aged, Dry Aged. I can't emphasize this enough. If you don't have a butcher in your town or city, I believe you can order beef online in the US/Canada, probably elsewhere as well. It's expensive, but it's worth it if you want to replicate that very expensive steakhouse experience.

This might be over the top, but I have cooked steaks like this, and I find it even better than many steak houses, assuming you are starting with an amazing product.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgF3gKBNKbM

An alternate for a smaller steak, is to dry your steak and let it come up to room temperture. Let the pan get smoking hot, literally. Salt the steak, no pepper, it will burn. Put the steak down, for 30 seconds, flip, 30 seconds, flip, 30 seconds, flip, 30 seconds, flip. Repeat until you've cooked for 2.5 minutes on each side (variable on how thick your steak is). This will form a really really great crust, while keeping the inside nice and rare, as the outside retains the heat, but the inside doesn't get penetrated by as much.

LET IT REST! This has been said repeatedly, and it's true. The biggest mistake home cooks make is cutting into that bad boy too early. IT's beter to have a luke warm steak that's rested, over a steak cut into too early. Resting allows the juices to be absorbed back into the muscle. Try to rest it on a rack so it's not swimming in juice, reducing the crustiness effect of it.

Try a flavored butter, blue cheese (cambazola is a nice starter blue), add pepper. Slice on the bias, and enjoy!

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2.5 minutes per side is only good if the steak is 30 mm fat, otherwise that would kill a typical cut –  TFD Oct 3 '12 at 5:29

Get a meat thermometer that you can leave in while it cooks. Since obtaining one of these, every cut of beef (or any other meat I grill) has been a winner.

Sear under high heat broiler. I love the charcoal chimney method I learned from Alton Brown. 90 seconds underneath the chimney, flip to other side for 90 sec then finish on hot grill. Perfection.

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I think this method is probably the closest you'll come to that high end steakhouse experience unless you have the kitchen and money to handle installing a restaurant style broiler:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/dry-aged-chimney-porterhouse-recipe/index.html

I've had good luck with the limited aging method used in the link above, though if you want to go all out you can order dry-aged steaks and have them delivered.

I follow the method here for seasoning:

http://feeds.seriouseats.com/~r/seriouseatsfeaturesvideos/~3/N14tJIusPl8/the-food-lab-more-tips-for-perfect-steaks.html

As mentioned above resting is imperative and the thicker the steak the more rest time. If you're cooking something thicker than 1 inch I'd definitely let it rest 10 minutes and increase that by a couple minutes for each 1/2 inch thickness you add.

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This is closest I reasonably know to come to steakhouse quality at home. I highly recommend you try it at least once. –  draksia Nov 12 '13 at 14:31

Simple rules:

Buy the best cut you can afford. Prime, grass-fed, aged. Don't freeze it.

Pat it dry. Salt it. Let it sit until room temperature.

Get the grill/pan/broiler HOT. Sear it quickly and completely on both sides. Lower the heat.

Get a meat thermometer. Homecooks overook. 135 degrees F is medium rare. 170 is burnt. Steakhouses won't serve anything over 155. The more you cook steak, the more it tastes like hamburger.

Finish it with a pad of butter. Steakhouses do this!

Let it rest for 5 minutes. Not on a hot surface. Don't touch it. Don't poke it. Don't taste it.

Eat it by itself, maybe with a bold red wine, like a cabernet sauvignon. Chew the meat and the fat, and swill the lingering jus around in your mouth with a little wine, just like you do in the restaurants.

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Your temperatures are 20 degrees off. 140 F is Medium, 180 F is shoe leather. Rare is actually 120-125 F, Well-done is 160 F. –  hobodave Jul 26 '10 at 17:17
    
Was going by memory, slightly off. I'm going by a book called Mastering the Grill by Andrew Schloss. Lists medium-rare at 135 and well at 170. Adjusted accordingly. –  Ocaasi Jul 26 '10 at 18:17
    
+1 for 'let it sit until room temp'. –  BaffledCook Jul 7 '11 at 21:25
    
The butter is really what gets my steaks closest to the steakhouse. I mix up some butter with some kosher salt, garlic, parsley and rosemary and let a generous pat melt over top. I'm still experimenting with the mix, but it really brings an extra awesomeness to the steak. –  DHayes Jul 8 '11 at 12:31

Keep in mind that a well marbled steak actually needs to be cooked a bit longer than your standard supermarket steak. You need the marble fat to melt and coat each strand of muscle fibre. Now, if all you have to work with is grocery store beef, then by all means cook it rare. But good beef should go at least medium rare to medium. But be careful, you really don't want it any more than medium.

Also, do not discount the importance of standing time. The heat and juices need to redistribute themselves through the meat, particularly to the center.

Lean meats (and I'm thinking about bison and moose here) aren't marbled well at all, and should be served as raw as you find appetizing.

Assuming all you've got is grocery store, here's my grilling technique (for a 3/4 inch steak):

1) 2 hours prior, wash and pat dry steak.  Return to fridge, uncovered, to allow the surface to dry completely.
2) 1 hour prior, remove from fridge and let it rise to room temperature (Remember your 4 hour bacterial growth time here-- If in doubt, skip this step).
3) Immediately prior to grilling, spice and salt the steak.  I prefer Montreal Steak Spice.
4) Get the grill as hot as you can. Mine will hit 750 degrees.
5) Lay steaks on hot grill at a 45 degree angle (/).  Grill 2 minutes.
6) After two minutes, Rotate (not flip!) the steaks to the vertical (|). If possible, move it to an unused part of the grill. This will make for nice diamond charring.
7) 2 minutes, flip (to a new part of the grill, 45 degree angle /)
8) 2 minutes, rotate to the vertical, new part of grill (|) 
9) 2 minutes.  Kill the flame, move steak to upper rack, and let stand with lid open for 5 minutes.

This will leave you with a rare steak.  for medium, increase total time by 2 minutes.

For a thicker steak, you can increase the cooking time by stage in increments of 30 seconds, as well, you let it stand with the lid closed for a few minutes, allowing it to bake, before the final lid open standing.

A lump of blue or brie on the steak during the standing time can be nice as well.

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There are a number of factors that go into the preparing a good steak.

  1. How the beef was raised, butchered, aged. Obviously you have no direct control of this, except in where you shop.
  2. The cut of the meat. How to select the best steak that you can for your budget.
  3. Storing the steak (if you aren't buying it to cook the same day).
  4. Marinating or salting.
  5. Heat.
  6. Resting.
  7. Sauce/gravy/spices added afterwards.

A great steak is like religion. Lots of people will claim their way is the only way to heaven.

Suggestions: Don't go overboard in buying the most expensive cuts until you're started to get good results with decent cuts. Buy the same day so you don't have worry about storage yet. Start with a simple, thorough salt covering 1 hour before cooking (same time as you take them out of the fridge to start warming up). Rinse off and dry right before cooking. The level of heat you need is dependent on how you like your steak. The more rare you want the inside, the hotter and faster the cooking method needs to be to still sear the outside properly. Rest the steak so the flavor doesn't leak out as soon the steak is cut. A great steak shouldn't really NEED any other flavor, but what matters is your preferences.

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Hot, hot, hot. Steak restaurants use a very hot grill. That's the key. You want to get a good sear on the outside without over cooking the interior. The three ways I've seen used with success at home are:

  1. Broil on high. You need a good broiler for this
  2. Use a cast iron pan (preferably with ridges) and get it very hot before you begin
  3. Use a grill. Get it up to 700 before you start. This might be hard on some gas grills. This is the method I use on my big green egg. It only takes about 2 mins a side plus resting.

As stated already, start with good meat.

Make sure you rest the meat for five minutes.

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Answer 1: when I lived in France, there was a proverb that translated as:

The difference between a $10 steak and a $20 steak is the sharpness of the knife they give you to eat it with.

Answer 2: are you buying aged, grass-fed, prime-grade beef?

Answer 3: I doubt the restaurant shallow fries a steak in olive oil. Some sort of broiling, or even grilling over an open flame, is much more likely.

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easier to follow if you answer with @User rather than the number of the question. the ordering changes according to votes. We don't know who you are answering to... –  Stephane Aug 11 '10 at 20:50
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@step I was just enumerating as list of possible thoughts, not responding to other answers or comments. –  bmargulies Aug 11 '10 at 22:18
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Actually the classic French steak frites is done in a pan, not on a grill. Ditto hamburgers. –  daniel Oct 20 '10 at 1:45
    
+1 for open flame –  pablosaraiva Dec 17 '13 at 22:00

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