Things You're Doing Wrong With Steak

Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock
Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock
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Whether you're barbecuing during the summer or rocking on your stovetop, cooking steak is relatively simple. However, there are certain things that many of us refuse to internalize that can ruin perfectly good pieces of meat, like failing to sufficiently salt the steak or cutting it the wrong way. Correct the following mistakes, though, and you'll quickly become a steak master. But continue to live in ignorance, and the only thing saving your sirloin will be a bottle of steak sauce. Which is super passe.


raw steak
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You're not storing it properly

If you buy a steak, ideally you should plan to cook it that day or the next. However, if you don't use it right away, Lee Seelig, third-generation owner of Main Street Meats, suggests storing it in the coldest part of your refrigerator and making sure it's sealed tight, ideally cryovaced if possible. If you plan on freezing your steak, just make sure to wrap it tight so virtually no air gets in. When you decide to eat it, slowly defrost the meat in your refrigerator over one to two days.

You're not tempering it

Putting a cold steak on the grill will result in a piece of meat that's overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside. And nobody likes that. George Faison, partner in DeBragga Mail Order LLC and DeBragga Grass Fed LLC, recommends taking your steak out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes to an hour before you plan to cook it. Remove it from its package, pat it dry, let it air out, and let it come up to room temperature.

raw seasoned steak

You're not seasoning it enough...

If you have a beautiful piece of meat, you really don’t need to do much to it except be sure it's seasoned with enough salt, which is crucial for a delicious salt crust. Most people under-salt. A general rule is ¾ to one teaspoon of salt per pound, applying on both sides. Of course, if you’re watching your sodium intake, then adjust the seasoning accordingly.

... nor at the right time

There's a lot of debate as to when to salt your meat. We suggest salting your steak the night before and leaving it uncovered -- if you have the luxury of time -- or salting at least 40 minutes before cooking it. However, if you don’t even have 40 minutes, then salt directly before cooking.  While yes, salt will draw out moisture from the meat due to osmosis, if you allow it enough time, the moisture will eventually go back into the meat and create a beautiful brine -- this tenderizes your steak. However, if you don’t leave it enough time, meaning at least 40 minutes, this will backfire.

You're not letting your grill or pan get hot enough first

Whether you’re using a grill or a pan (preferably cast iron), you need to let it get ripping hot before putting your steak on. Without those high temperatures you’ll never be able to achieve a decent sear. So turn up your grill (that’s nice and clean) and cover it until it hits 500-600 F or, for a cast-iron pan, let it get literally smoking hot. As soon as you add your steak, the temperature will drop. That’s one of the reasons your first side will always have a better sear.

grilling steak
Ben Parker/Shutterstock

You're moving it too much as it cooks

Once you place your steak on the grill, let it be! Only move it once on the first side if you’re looking to get grill marks, or as the French say, “quadrillage.” Then flip it and let it be once more. Moving it too much prevents your meat from getting a good sear which is crucial to forming that illustrious crust and caramel color.

You're only cooking it at one heat

If you are grilling a thick steak, be sure to set aside an area on the grill heated to a lower temperature. This is where you will finish off the steak after you get your nice sear, ensuring an even, delicate finish to your meat. If you are cooking in a pan then be sure to preheat your oven to 350 F. Get that sear on the stove and then finish cooking it in the oven.

You're not using a meat thermometer

Get a meat thermometer. Unless by chance you know when a steak is done just by touching it, as some chefs or grill masters do, don't guess, and instead aim for exact internal temps.

You're not accounting for carryover heat

With all foods, especially meat, there is carryover cooking. This means that even after you pull your steak from the grill or oven, it will continue to cook. To achieve the perfect desired temperature, pull off your steak a solid five degrees earlier and it will rest to perfection by the time you cut it. For rare, remove it at 120 degrees, medium rare at 125, medium at 130-135. “If you want it well done,” George Faison says, “just make stew instead.”

cooked steak

You're not letting it rest

Any chef will tell you that perhaps the worst mistake you can make is not letting your meat rest before cutting it. Allowing your meat to rest ensures that all the wonderful natural juiciness is spread back evenly throughout your steak. Cutting it prematurely results in a loss of flavor and texture. Depending on the size of your steak, let it rest anywhere from 10-15 minutes. To tent or not to tent? If your steak is sitting in a hot kitchen or out on a hot summer’s night, then tenting isn’t necessary. However, if it’s a really big piece of meat and/or the surrounding resting temperature is on the cooler side, then we recommend lightly tenting your steak with aluminum foil.

You're not slicing it right

When it comes to slicing meat, there is one golden rule: always cut against the grain. If your steak is boneless, such as a filet or skirt, this is a one-step process. However, if cutting a bone-in porterhouse or rib-eye, remove the bone first and then slice. It will allow you to get the proper cutting angle and just make the whole process much smoother. If you plan on serving your guests whole steaks, make sure they each have a steak knife. Otherwise, cut the steak into ½-inch slices for yourself and guests and it will make it more manageable for them to eat.

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Julianne Feder is a contributing writer for Thrillist. She always enjoys a good meat-and-greet! Follow her @TheGastroNerd or watch her on YouTube to get more nerdy food insights and other carnivorous cooking tips.