By: Chef Cristian Feher
A question that I am regularly asked is how to make a good steak. And while tastes and preferences can differ, I would like to give you a comprehensive guide to what I consider good steak.
A wise man once said that to understand life, you have to live it from the top down, and the bottom up. And having eaten steak from Poland to Argentina, I consider myself to have an understanding of beef; enough to write this article.
Finding the perfect steak will take a four-man team. Pick the fastest man as the “bull-bait” and give the strongest man the hammer. Now, remember, although cows look stupid, they are well aware of their surroundings - especially the bull. Now, when you spot your cow, it will most likely be part of a harem belonging to an individual bull. You want your “bull-baiter” to run up to the bull, smack him in the butt and start running away from you, leading the bull with him. An experienced bull-baiter will have an assortment of screams and yells to further entice the bull. Next, you’ll quickly sneak up on the harem - hold it! On second thought, this may be too purist. I’m going to take this up to the 21st century.
For most people the perfect steak begins nicely cradled on a foam tray with an absorbent diaper at the supermarket or butcher shop. Many people brag about their specialty butcher, but honestly, I love the Kirkland brand beef at Costco. It is very good. I get grass-fed Argentinian beef at my local organic food store (Nature’s Food Patch) and I find the Fresh Market to have good-quality Hereford beef. When I need superlative, high-class, I don’t-care-how-much-it-costs Wagyu beef, I order it online at exoticmeatmarket.com. So, what cut do you choose?
Cut of Steak
My three favorite cuts are tenderloin, sirloin, and rib eye.
Organic beef is better for you because it’s lacking antibiotics and growth hormones (as in regular beef which may make you fat and have your kids go through puberty at an early age) but compared to corn-fed beef, organic may lack in taste. American corn-fed beef will taste better than organic, and will be more fatty. But the best is Argentinian grass-fed beef - it’s marbled with nutritious fat, it rarely has growth hormones or antibiotics, and it will taste amazing - you’ll know it the second you put it in your mouth.
I don’t mention Wagyu beef here, because at an average price of $50 per pound, it’s not something most people would eat on a regular basis. But just so you know, Wagyu beef is super fatty, flavorful and melts in your mouth. A little about each cut below:
Beef Ribeye - The beef rib eye is the cadillac of steaks. It’s well marbled (it has a lot of fat spread out throughout the meat), it’s very flavorful (again, because of the fat and its proximity to bone), and it’s soft. When all I care about is enjoyment, I choose this cut. The juicy inner-fat melts in your mouth, while the outside fat can be cooked to a crunchy, fatty, flavorful bonus. If Elvis had invented a steak, this would be it.
Beef Tenderloin - If I’m feeling health-conscious and want to keep my fat intake to a minimum, I will choose a nice beef tenderloin steak. This is the only lean muscle on the cow that remains soft (even if you overcook it). The tenderloin is the muscle used by a bull to mount a cow. Cows don’t mount bulls, and hence the muscle is never actually used. That’s why it’s so soft. It is also a good steak for beginners, since it will still be edible if you should choose to make it “very” well-done.
Beef Sirloin - If you’re looking for a semi-soft steak with the option of lean or fat, this is it. Anatomically speaking, the sirloin was raised in the same neighbourhood as the rib eye. But while the rib eye was out partying with hot girls, the sirloin stayed home and studied. However, the rib eye grew up to be a fat guy with a menial job, while the sirloin is now fit, drives a nice car, is a good provider, and has options. The meat is lean (for when you don’t feel like eating fat), but there is fatty cap on the side that gives you the option of keeping the fat on, or taking it off. It’s definitely my go-to steak when I want to enjoy my meal, but save some money. It’s not as fun as the rib eye, but it’s still good.
How to Season
All a good steak needs is some salt and pepper. If you need steak sauce to make your steak taste good, you may need to buy better meat. If you put ketchup on your steak, you need to stop reading this and really think about what you’ve done. But actually, I sometimes enjoy a good side condiment like chimichurri, garlic butter, or spicy guacamole to augment my steak. So, ketchup guy, you can come back. I know I was a bit harsh on you. But seriously, you should stop putting ketchup on steak.
Before my steak is cooked, I like to rub it with Goya brand Adobo seasoning (which has powdered salt). And If I don’t have any of that on hand, I like to use just regular powdered salt (or popcorn salt) because it melts and permeates through the meat much better than coarse salt does. Coarse ground pepper is also rubbed in.
How to Cook It
Although I only know one way to skin a cat, there are several ways to cook a good steak. And they depend largely on how much time I have.
No time - If I have very little time to cook a nice steak, I will heat a cast iron skillet on the stove on high heat until it smokes. I will then sear the steak about 2-3 minutes per side - I like it rare. If I wanted it more cooked than that, I would sear the steak once on each side and finish it in the oven at 450 until desired doneness is reached. Or I would just keep it on the skillet longer.
30 minutes - A half hour usually gives me enough time to light up the propane grill and cook my steak on it. I don’t cook the steak directly on the flames. I turn on two heating elements on high and put the steak over the third heating element that is off. I close the lid and cook it like an oven at 500. If you have a simple grill that doesn’t allow for this, you can cook the steak directly over the flames, making sure to flip it often so it doesn’t burn.
All the time in the world - If I have a lot of time, I like to cook the steak properly in the charcoal grill. I start by making an oakwood fire, then I add charcoal, and wet applewood chips (to create smoke). I cook the steaks with the lid closed so as to smoke them at the same time. This is the best method for a perfect steak!
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