Everything I Know About Steak

Nov 30, 2018 | Cooking Tips, meat

What’s better than a perfectly cooked steak? Whether it’s a rib eye, tenderloin, t-bone, strip loin, or sirloin there is simply nothing better.

I know that there are people out there, meat eaters, that don’t really like steak. Often the reason they give is that they don’t like it when blood comes out of the steak on to their plate and stains their potatoes. They find steak tough. Or they don’t like the flavour. Today, I’m going to show you that all of these issues that many people have with steak are easily fixed by choosing the right steak and with proper cooking techniques.

Because I love steak so much I thought it was high time to share with you…

 

Everything I Know About Steak

If I had to choose a favourite cut of steak it would unquestionably be rib eye. Why? Well, because I love the fat content of a rib eye. I find the meat is tender and flavourful. It just suits me. But what about you? Do you have a favourite cut of steak? Do you know the difference between steak cuts?

Choosing the right steak for you

Imagine that in your whole life you have never had a steak before. You walk into the butcher shop, you see all the options, all the potential. How do you know what to choose? How do you know what steak is going to be right for you? Now, even if you have been eating steak your whole life there is a really good chance that you eat what you’re familiar with and what you grew up with.

If you grew up in the sixties and seventies, or if you were an adult in that period there is a really good chance that you think that a t-bone steak is the pinnacle of flavour and decadence. If you grew up in the eighties you may think porterhouse is everything. In the nineties it was all tenderloin and strip loin. Now, it’s strip loin and rip eye. Times change. Tastes change. However, there is a steak for every taste and time.

Choosing the right steak for you takes some thought. You have to know what you like and what you don’t like. If you don’t know that, you need to experiment with a bunch of different steaks to find out and what a fun experiment it will be.

When I choose a steak I am looking for fat content, tenderness, and flavour. That is why I prefer a rib eye steak to other cuts. The rib eye is the fattiest cut, and because of that I find it has the most flavour. Because I love rib eyes doesn’t necessarily mean that you will. To find out what might be right for you, let’s take a look at each of the five most common cuts of steak individually.

Rib eye

The rib eye is cut from the rib section of the cow. It is a lightly used muscle which is why it is so tender. It is also the most marbled of all the steaks which gives it a high fat content, and more flavour than other steaks.

If you like fatty, juicy, flavourful meat then the rib eye is right for you. If you prefer something a bit leaner you are looking in the wrong place. These are best cooked medium rare to medium.

New York Strip Loin

The Strip Loin is the most common steak for people who don’t really know much about steak. It isn’t a particularly flavourful or tender cut of meat.

The strip loin is cut from the short loin of the cow which sits right behind the rib section nearer the back end. In comparison to the rib eye it has little marbling or fat content. It does have a layer of gristle and fat on the top of the steak which may or may not be cut off prior to cooking.

Sirloin Steak

The sirloin is essentially the same thing as the strip loin. The only difference is that it comes from a little further back on the cow. A sirloin is part of the t-bone steak.

Depending on where you are in the world sirloin may just refer to strip loin or strip loin may refer to sirloin. There really isn’t much difference.

Tenderloin 

As you can probably guess from its name, the tenderloin is very tender. It is the most tender of all the steaks but it has next to no fat content and personally I find it has very little flavour. In other parts of the world the tenderloin is called filet, fillet, or eye filet.

The tenderloin is a part of the cow that never really does much work, hence why it is so tender. It is a great steak for those that don’t really like to chew. A good tenderloin should basically melt in your mouth.

Tenderloin would never be my first choice for a steak as it is typically one of the most expensive cuts and again I don’t find it that flavourful. Having said that, if it’s put in front of me I will happily eat it, or any steak really.

T-bone Steak

A t-bone steak is one of those cuts that has a reputation as being the gold standard of steak. As the name suggests it has “t” shaped bone. This bone separates two cuts of meat which make up the t-bone steak. Those cuts are tenderloin and sirloin or strip loin.

A tenderloin and a sirloin do not cook in the same amount of time. And so you may order a t-bone and get half of it perfectly cooked but the other half is going to either be over or under cooked.

In theory a t-bone steak is a great idea. You kind of get the best of both worlds. However, in practice it never really works out.

If you’re wondering a porterhouse is a t-bone that is cut from further back on the cow. It has a greater portion of tenderloin where the t-bone has more strip loin or sirloin.

Conclusion

If you are just dipping your toe into the wonderful world of steak I suggest starting with a strip loin. It has a decent flavour and is fairly tender and isn’t very expensive.

If you like really tender things with not a tonne of flavour and you have money to burn then the tenderloin is for you.

If you have been eating strip loins and tenderloins your whole life but have always shied away from the rib eye it might be time you try it. And if you are the type of person who likes to live on the edge, and doesn’t mind a little extra fat because you know it means a lot of extra flavour, than a rib eye is right for you.


 

Cooking Steaks at home

It is all well and good to know what type of steak you want but if you have no idea how to cook it once you get it home what’s the point?

There are three main ways that people can cook steak at home. All three techniques can yield a delicious steak if you know what you’re doing. So, let’s take a look.

Barbecue

Probably the cooking method that most people jump to first when talking about steak is the barbecue. There is good reason for this. Steaks cooked over an open flame can be amazing as long as the person cooking knows what they are doing. There are a lot of “Grill Kings” out there who burn the outside of their steaks to a crisp and leave the inside raw or way overcooked.

The secret to really good barbecued steak is simple; heat management.

Often times people will crank the barbecue and try to cook a steak over that high heat. This can work if your careful and your paying attention. However, there is a big risk of burning the steak and ruining dinner.  For thinner cuts of meat that cook quickly this isn’t much of a concern and really you want that high heat for those.

For anything thicker than your little finger you want a more moderate, consistent heat. This will give you a uniform temperature throughout the steak without burning the crap out the outside of the steak.

For really large cuts you may want to start them on very high heat to get a really nice sear on the outside and then turn the heat way down close the lid and finish cooking them that way.

Broiler 

The broiler in most people’s ovens is rarely used. Some people don’t know how to use it. But, if done right it you can cook the best home cooked steaks you’ve ever had.

The broil setting on your oven turns the top oven element on high. This creates a very high direct heat. This works very well for cooking smaller cuts of meat or for searing the outside of bigger cuts at the beginning or at the end of cooking.

The downside to using the broiler is that it is going to heat your house up and the fat splattering from the steak is going to make a mess in your oven. It is totally worth it though.

This method can cook a steak very quickly and so it is important to keep an eye on the steak the whole time it’s cooking.

Stove top

For my money there is really only one way to cook a steak on the stove top and that is in a cast iron pan.

You have to get the pan very hot before you put the steak in. I don’t usually even add oil to the pan as enough fat comes out of the steak.

This method is great for cuts of any size but bigger cuts may need to be finished in the oven.

The big upside to cooking steak in a cast iron pan is that you get a beautiful even sear. You also have more control over the cook because you are hands on the steak the whole time, and you can baste it with butter and herbs. This is my preferred method of cooking steak at home.

The downside to this technique is that if you don’t have a good hood vent your house is going to be filled with smoke. Also, your stove top is going to be covered in grease spatter.

Conclusion

No matter how you are cooking your steak or what cut of steak you are cooking there are a few tips that you should know that will give you the best steak possible.

Drying

First of all when you get home with your steak, unwrap it and put it in your fridge overnight ideally on a rack so both sides of the steak can breath. This will dry the surface of the steak allowing you to get the best sear you can and concentrating the flavour of the meat itself.

Warming

Before you cook your steak let it come to room temperature. That’s right, let the steak sit out on your counter for thirty to sixty minutes prior to cooking it. It takes less energy to heat something that is room temperature than it does to heat something that is fridge temperature. This will allow for a more even and quicker cook. As your steak will be cooking is less time, it will have less residual heat and will have less carry over.

Carry over cooking is when the residual heat in an item continues to cook it once it has been removed from the heat source. The greater the mass of an item and the longer it has been cooking the greater the amount of residual heat and thus more carry over cooking.

Resting

After the steak is cooked it is very important to let it rest. The reason why involves that residual heat we were just talking about.

When you take a steak off of a heat source it takes time for that heat to dissipate. As that heat is dissipating the molecules within the steak start slowing down. As the molecules within the steak slow down and cool the fat and muscle proteins that have been liquefied by the heat start to cool and solidify. This allows for an even distribution of fat and moisture through out the steak.

If you were to cut into a steak as soon as it comes off the heat all of these juices would come pouring out. The rarer the steak the more bloody those juices will be. If you take that same steak, no matter how rare, and let it rest for five to ten minutes depending on it’s size, those juices will remain in the steak when it’s cut. As I’m sure you can imagine, a steak can’t be juicy if all of its juice is on the plate. Resting allows for a juicy tender steak.


 

Seasoning Steak

Steak isn’t cheap, and can actually be very expensive depending on what you are buying. Because it is so expensive I stay from over powering sauces and flavourings. I actually want to taste the steak.

When it comes to seasoning a steak I keep it pretty simple. I generally stick to salt and pepper occasionally adding garlic and onion powder and maybe old bay seasoning. That’s about as far as I go. If I am roasting a larger steak or a whole strip loin, prime rib, or tenderloin I may do a garlic and herb rub. The thing is all these flavours compliment the flavour of the steak rather than over powering it.

I also may baste my steak with butter, garlic and herbs while it’s cooking. Again, this compliments the flavour of the steak. Basting get’s the flavour into all the nooks and crannies of the steak making it even more delicious.

When it comes to sauces I keep it pretty simple. A flavoured butter is always a great option. You just mix herbs and flavourings into butter, put it on the steak and let it melt. Delicious! I also like chimichurri which is an herb sauce from South America that works incredibly well with steak. I am also partial to pan sauces, demi glace, and horseradish.

I always avoid barbecue sauces and things like HP Sauce on steaks. I find these completely cover up the flavour of the steak making it a waste. If someone is serving me a steak with an overpowering sauce my first assumption is that are serving me a low quality steak. The sauce is there to cover up the low quality. Always be weary of strong sauces.

When it comes to steak, simple is always best. Pay the money for a good steak and you won’t need any sauce at all.


Temperature

One final thing we haven’t touched on yet is temperature. How do you like your steak cooked? Well, it depends on the steak. I find that with a rib eye medium is perfect. Anything less and the fat doesn’t really get a chance to cook properly. When it comes to strip loins rare to medium rare is preferable. And for tenderloin medium rare is the perfect temperature.

On tv and in restaurants you will see chefs and cooks checking the doneness of steaks simply by touching them. We can do this because of practice. When you cook a thousand steaks you get a pretty good idea of how they feel and how they act. You can tell the difference between when a strip loin is medium and when when a tenderloin is medium. They feel very different. And so I recommend using a thermometer rather than guessing at the temperature.

For rare steaks the temperature is 130°. Medium rare is 135°F-140°F. Medium is 140°-150°. Medium well is 150°-160°. And well done is 160°-170°.


 

 

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