10 Things I Never Do When Making Steak at Home

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Christine Han)

Steaks at home are sublime. With the right cut of steak, some salt, and a hot pan you can enjoy a flavorful steak with a thin crisp crust and a buttery, tender interior just as delicious as any steakhouse option.

I tend to think people who prefer a steakhouse steak find steak at home too fussy, but I happen to believe the opposite is true. You just have to keep it pretty simple, and that means doing far less than you’d expect. So if you’re looking for an easy way to great steak, here all the things you don’t need to do to make it absolutely mouthwatering.

1. I never buy a cheap steak and hope it tastes like filet mignon.

Don’t get me wrong — cheap steak can still be delicious steak. Flank steak and skirt steak are all normally around or under 10 bucks a pound and are prime examples of a steak being good and affordable. But knowing what I’m getting from different cuts of steak is essential to a great steak at home. My favorite for pan-searing or oven-cooking are New York Strip and rib-eye steaks, and I choose bone-in or boneless depending on the cooking method.

2. I never salt without a plan.

Salt your steak. At this point that’s pretty much conventional knowledge, but it’s important to be aware of how when you salt affects how it turns out. So I never salt my steak without a rough plan for when I’m going to cook it.

Research from notable food scientists and chefs suggest that salt’s tenderizing and flavoring effects on steak works on a curve. My own experience testing these factors over the years has proven this to be true too. Here are the two options we’re happy to suggest.

  • Salt steak for 30 minutes: This is the best option for those nights when you’re cooking steak on a whim, and it’s also my preferred method. Salting relatively close to cooking seasons the steak and helps create a dry surface for searing.
  • Salt steak for 24 hours: Salting your steak overnight (18 to 24 hours before you plan to cook it) also creates a dry surface for searing, but with the added bonus of a bit more concentrated flavor in the interior tissue. You’ll need plenty of fridge space for this maneuver, however, as you’ll want to let the salted steak air dry on a cooling rack set over a tray.

Any length of time in between 30 minutes and 18 hours draws out too much moisture and makes the steak difficult to sear.

3. I never bring it all the way to room temperature.

Recipes that call for bringing steaks to room temperature became popular in the last 10 years or so, under the theory that a room-temperature steak would cook more evenly. Truthfully, I don’t want my steak the same temperature all the way through, because I don’t want a well-done steak. Giving your steak just 30 minutes at room temperature before cooking helps create a nice, even char on the exterior, while keeping the interior rosy and juicy. Don’t forget to salt!

4. I never add a million herbs and spices.

I’m going to cook my steak on the hot heat of the stove or grill or under a fiery broiler. Herbs and spices burn at these high temperatures, and so will pepper so I even hold off on adding that before cooking

5. I never marinate it.

This is the part where I admit to being a lazy cook, because some steaks like flank and skirt steak do in fact benefit, flavor-wise, from a quick marinade. But when I want steak, I want it as soon as possible.

6. I never cook it low and slow.

Steakhouses use fire-breathing dragons to cook their steaks. Just kidding. Most use infrared broilers to create that crunchy crust we all crave. Most home ovens and stovetops can’t replicate that heat, but we can avoid both a crustless steak and an overcooked one by preheating our pans under the broiler or letting the pan or grill preheat for at least 10 minutes to get a superior sear.

7. I never use anything but cast iron.

This is certainly more personal, as I’m sure that other pans can produce great steaks, but I just prefer the love and lore of cast iron. It holds heat well, producing a nice, even sear, and has deep edges to ensure fewer spatters.

Really, you don’t need a grill: You Don’t Need a Grill to Cook a Great Steak!

8. I never cook it without a probe thermometer.

Having not yet mastered the elusive ability to really judge a steak’s doneness just by touch, I prefer to use a probe thermometer to check the steak’s doneness, starting about halfway through the cooking process. It’s the one tool that guarantees me a perfectly cooked steak every time.

9. I never cut it right after cooking.

There’s some contentious information out there on whether you really need to let your steak rest. Some say to let it rest so the juices can reabsorb; some say to serve it right away so it’s piping hot. I don’t cut it right away because I’m a little busy pulling together my favorite pan sauce.

10. I never eat it without something saucy.

Butter, chimichurri, A1, a really great pan sauce — I’m not picky, but I love something to occasionally dip my perfectly cooked steak into. The lush contrast between the umami-rich steak and a cool, tangy, or spicy sauce is so divine.

Steak Rules to Live By

Buy the best steak you can find, season it well with salt, and cook it in a very hot pan using one of the following methods. Then rest, slice, and repeat as needed.

How do you break the rules when making a steak?

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