What I Want My Teenager to Know About Cooking Meat on the Stovetop

What I Want My Teenager to Know About Cooking Meat on the Stovetop

(Image credit: Forrest Clonts)

My kids know what they like. One of the things they like is steak; another is burgers. We don't eat a ton of red meat, so it's a pretty great night when we fire up the grill. But sometimes it rains, so they know steak and burgers can be cooked on the stovetop in an emergency. (Is there such a thing as a steak or burger emergency? For a growing kid, quite possibly.)

Perhaps in anticipation of not always owning a grill, my son wanted to know how to achieve a similar result on the stove.

(Image credit: Forrest Clonts)

First, How to Prepare the Meat

I started by teaching them to prepare the meat. These are my tips.

6 Tips for Preparing Burgers

  1. Don't get the most expensive ground meat. Get the one with the most fat.
  2. Keep your recipe simple. A little salt and pepper, one egg, a dash or three of Worcestershire sauce, and maybe some hot sauce or minced shallots or onion.
  3. Mix your ingredients only enough to blend them. Be gentle.
  4. Mixing with your hands is easiest. But make sure to wash up afterward, especially under your nails.
  5. Be gentle when forming your patties. Just like mixing the ingredients, handle them just enough to get the job done.
  6. Make extra, and freeze them between pieces of wax paper. You'll save time when you want a burger a few days later.

5 Tips for Preparing Steak (or Any Meat) to Cook

  1. The tougher the meat is likely to be, the longer it should marinate.
  2. An easy marinade for steak? Soy sauce, Worcestershire or Vietnamese fish sauce, and maybe a dash of hot sauce.
  3. I know I tell you kids not to waste plastic, but a zippered bag may be the right choice for marinating, because it requires a lot less marinade. Put in just enough liquid to surround the meat, and squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can before sealing. If you marinate things in dishes, you have to use a lot more liquid to cover them. Plastic is not my favorite, but I think it's the less expensive alternative here.
  4. If you have a really fancy steak, like a little filet mignon, skip the marinade, and just season it with salt and pepper. (And make sure you aren't eating tenderloin on a flank steak budget.)
  5. Use the touch test to see if your steak is done.
(Image credit: Forrest Clonts)

How to Cook Steak & Burgers Inside on the Stove

I make use of my oven-proof grill pan when cooking steaks or burgers inside. Here's what comes next:

Method for Burgers

  • Coat the grill pan in olive oil or butter, and heat on high.
  • Turn the heat to medium, put the patty on the hot grill pan, and poke a hole in the center with a chopstick.
  • Cook for three minutes on each side — less if you want a rare burger, more for well done.
  • Turn off the heat, and put each burger in a bun, adding cheese if you like.
  • Return the bun-covered burgers to the pan, and cover.
  • Let sit for a few minutes, long enough to set the table, pour drinks, change the playlist, get the condiments from the fridge, or whatever.

Why do I poke a hole in the burgers? So they won't buckle up as they cook, and to allow heat to reach the middle of the burger so they cook more evenly. The hole pretty much disappears by the end.

And why do I add the buns and return the burgers to the pan? Because my friend Janet said her dad did it that way. The first time I tried her method for my two youngest sons, they said they were the best burgers I had ever made. It was a blind taste test, because they didn't know about the new technique. It softens the buns and infuses them with the flavor of burger.

Method for Steaks

  • Season your steak with salt and pepper.
  • Coat the grill pan in olive oil or butter (I vote butter), and heat on high.
  • Sear the steak on each side to seal in the juices.
  • Put the steak, still in the grill pan, into a 475°F oven, and cook according to your preference. (My preference is to skip the oven altogether, because I like it rare. But a few minutes should do it.)

But What About the Broiler?

Faith has written an excellent primer on how to cook steak in the oven. I highly recommend it, because I know it'll be delicious. Why don't I use that method? Because it involves the broiler.

This one time in college, I lived in a really cheap apartment with a 100-year-old oven. I used the broiler to make myself some lamb chops (the loin lamb chops from page 468 of The New Basics, modified for the oven), and the kitchen lit on fire. I lost the lamb chops, which I'd spent the bulk of my weekly food budget on.

I was super sad. My landlord's advice was to never, ever use the broiler, because the oven was too old. He yelled at me in French, and I felt terrible for ruining his Friday night with his wife. I can still remember the smell of lamb, rosemary, fire, and fire extinguisher. Such a soul-destroying smell.

Twenty years later, I'm still afraid of the broiler. Is this rational? No. Does it prohibit me from enjoying some delicious food? Probably. Am I going to start using the broiler or recommending it to my kids? Heck. No. It is what it is. That being said, I recommend Faith's method, because my fear is completely ridiculous — unless you're a college kid with a 100-year-old oven and a lazy landlord.

Thinking Beyond the Meat

I also encourage the kids to think beyond the big hunk of meat. Despite the meat being the centerpiece of the meal, sides are also important. Whether it's a salad and a baked potato to accompany the steak, or an array of healthy toppings for the burger, more color makes the meal a masterpiece. For burgers, we like everything from sliced red pepper and sprouts to pineapple and slivers of avocado. As for steak, something simple and green is always nice, like kale salad, or roasted green beans, asparagus, or Brussels sprouts.

I'm envisioning my sons having some fun steak or burger nights with their friends, reassuring them that, yes, you really can make a great steak or burger inside. I hope they sit around after supper and do more than play video games, even if all they do is discuss different ways to cook burgers and steaks. Because a good meal goes a long way when it comes to making lifelong friends. And may their ovens never go up in flames.

10 Kitchen Lessons for My Teenage Kid

I've decided to be a little more methodical about teaching my sons to cook. So this week and next I'm counting down the ten essentials I think my 14-year-old absolutely has to master before he flies the nest.

Photographs by Forrest Clonts

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