Chances are, the way you cook your steak would make me think less of you if you were to tell me your process. I’ve eaten steak prepared a bunch of different ways by a bunch of different folks. Most of them involved some sort of wet marinade with a haphazard combination of pre-mixed spice blends, individual spices, liquid marinades, Dale’s, and Coke with none of the ingredients being measured. I’d be surprised if the cook could replicate the ingredient list, much less the correct proportion of each ingredient in their super-secret, self-proclaimed, award-winning marinade if their youngest child’s life depended on it.
Once their steak has marinated in the signature concoction for no particular amount of time, it’s usually flopped down on a grill at no particular temperature, with no particular arrangement of hot and cool areas, for no particular length of time. They then give you their signature over or under cooked piece of cow flesh with a flavor that can’t be described or replicated. Sometimes by pure happenstance, it’s cooked to the desired doneness with a pleasing flavor. That’s rare, though.
The concept of repeatability is lost on many backyard grill barons. (Don’t get me started on the difference in BBQ and grilling. I need to clean my guns and dig a few holes first.) In the estimation of this culinary layman, cooking is a science involving chemistry, physics, thermodynamics, math, and biology to produce art. I like to use the scientific method when trying to cook something new. I form a theory. In this case, my theory is that I can reliably cook a good steak. Next, I research my theory by Googling, YouTubing, Food Networking, thinking about the desirable characteristics of best steaks I’ve ever had, and any other method that presents itself to me. I then gather my research and form a hypothesis to be tested. The testing involves cooking steaks using precise methods and measurements. The quality of meat, cooking method, cooking temperature, cooking time, marinade, seasoning, resting time; these are the types of things I pay attention to when coming up with my method.
One thing I cannot over-stress is to measure everything possible. If you have too much salt in an attempt, you need to know how much you used so you can reduce it the next time. Another tip is a tool. You can use cooking times to determine doneness to a degree, but nothing pinpoints doneness like a meat thermometer.
Now… for my method…
I start with a quality piece of meat, usually a filet or New York strip because I’m not a fan of a fatty steak like a rib eye, and ask the meat purveyor to cut it about 1 1/4″ thick. When I get the meat home, I let the steak sit on the counter and come to room temperature so as to let the meat fibers relax. Once it is at room temperature, I put a couple paper towels on a plate before coating both sides of the steak with as much COARSE kosher salt as will stick to it. Then, I place the steak on the paper towel covered plate for 1 hour for every inch of steak thickness. My 1 1/4″ steak will dry marinate in the salt for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The coarse salt will act as a desiccant, pulling moisture from the steak, as well as season the steak. (Don’t worry about drying the steak out, though. It will be just fine.)
While it’s dry marinating, unless you have an outside stove, start opening windows and doors, set up fans, and turn on the exhaust fan over your stove. It’s about to get smoky. Put a black iron skillet on your biggest burner, and crank that bitch up to “summer on the surface of the sun.” Get out a stick of butter, and set up some sheets of aluminum foil to transfer the steak to immediately after it comes from the heat.
Now, once the steak has rested and dry marinated, you should notice a substantial amount of moisture that has been leeched out of your meat. Pick up the steak and wash it under running water to remove the salt coating. Then, dry the steak with a paper towel to get all possible moisture off the steak. This step is crucial in achieving a good sear on the outside of the meat.
It’s time to cook. Place the steak in the middle of the screaming banshee on your stove. It will start smoking. Get over it. This is just the cost of doing business. As it fills your house with smoke, you’ll have the urge to flip it or move it or turn the heat down. Leave it the hell alone. I like to leave mine there for about 7 minutes before flipping it. After my allotted time, I flip it and put a big pat of butter and a dusting of cracked black pepper on the sizzling top side. Then, after about 5 minutes, I check the internal temp for doneness to decide when to pull it. When that perfect doneness is about 5 degrees away, I pull the steak and place it buttered side down in the aluminum foil awaiting its life’s purpose. The top side is then buttered and peppered just the same as the other before the aluminum foil is creased shut and left for 7 – 10 minutes so the meat can rest.
What comes out of the aluminum foil is a perfectly cooked and seasoned steak that tastes like beef. Its rich flavor is not hidden behind nonsense spice concoctions. It tastes like a damned steak. If I want a Coca-Cola and lemon garlic lavender meat puck, I’ll go eat your mom’s pot roast.
All that being said… I’m about to go have a piece of cold pizza.