The Perfect Steak


The perfect way to cook steak is on the grill, right? In a cast iron pan on the stove? In a grill pan? In an egg? In the oven? In a vacuum sealed bag in a bath?

I have always adhered to the charcoal grill method. The high flame for searing and the smoky flavors of mesquite charcoal scream rib eye and Syrah to me. My mother is the Zen master in the kitchen, however. She taught Nick and me every-thing we know. She is our instinct in the kitchen. We still fight long and hard when people dare suggest a modification to one of her methods. But my mother cooks steak in a hot, cast-iron pan. Okay, she is fallible and Cleveland is too cold to grill year-round. I have humored her and continued grilling. Then I got rid of my tried and true Weber grill for a trendy Green Egg. After over and under cooking at least 50 pounds of succulent, thick-cut rib eye over a few month period, I cried out in desperation for advice from chef friends on how to grill the perfect steak on an Egg. They all told me, you can-not. You cook it on very low heat in the oven and sear it in a hot pan to finish (or vice versa). Or sous vide and then finish in a hot pan. Huh? You ever wonder how steak at a restaurant is uniformly pink/red with only a paper thin, spice-laced, crust? No chewy, grey outer layers? How do they do that? I looked in How to Read a French Fry and also in Harold McGee’s On Food & Cooking for the scientific explanation. It was filled with “maillard reaction” and “denaturing and coagulation of proteins.” I won’t attempt to explain it here, but just know, it makes sense. And I’ll be damned but it makes delicious, uniformly pink, succulent steak. I still love to grill rib eye (on a Weber) for the smoky flavor but this is the closest I have gotten to a perfectly “cooked” steak. Oh, and one caveat, I suggest a thick cut rib eye and the highest quality, marbled meat you can afford. Eat less, eat higher quality.

Main Ingredients

One 2-3 inch bone-in rib eye, preferably grass fed and grain finished. Sorry, not groovy but fat carries flavor. I have tried for years to find marbled, 100% grass fed and finished beef. Still looking. Until then Niman Ranch is a good source.
Coarsely ground black pepper
Rock salt
Cast iron pan
Metal rack
Meat thermometer
Butter (optional)

Preparation

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees F. Season the steak on all sides with salt and pepper. Use more salt than appears judicious. Now add more. Place the steak on a metal rack with a pan underneath to catch the fat drippings. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the cut and your desired doneness. Frankly, you want medium rare unless you are eat steak because your spouse likes it and red flesh makes you queasy. Remove from the oven when the internal temperature is roughly 95 degrees.

2. Heat a cast iron or other pan on high heat. Sear on one side for 2 minutes. Flip the steak and check to see the seared side has a nice dark layer (not simply gray. If gray, turn up heat, add oil, and gently press down while searing.) Remove the steak after 2 minutes on the other side. A trick to assess doneness is the hand test. Press the thumb and fore-finger of one hand together. With the other hand touch the bulging flesh at the inner base of the thumb. That is what rare feels like if you push down on the steak. Thumb and ring finger is medium rare. And onwards. If you want to check doneness and the technique above is not sufficient, make a very small cut along the bone. That will be the rarest part of the steak and if a little purple the rest of the steak off the bone will be perfectly medium rare.

3. To gild the lily — and a technique that is unnecessary if you have a marbled steak — pour some melted butter over the steak while it rests for 5 minutes. After resting, internal temperature should be 125-130 degrees. Slice the entire steak as it will continue to coast and you do not want any leftovers to overcook.

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