I Tested 4 Methods for Cooking Steak, and Here Is the Very Best
Steak can be impressive. Many of us, if asked what meal we’d choose for a special occasion, would name a good steak dinner — which is why being able to cook a good steak at home is a useful skill. The premise isn’t difficult, but little details make all the difference, and that’s where a great steak recipe comes in. We need a recipe that reminds us of the finer points and teaches us things we can use for steaks to come.
To that good end, I put four steak recipes through their paces. Two were traditional approaches to searing and roasting steaks — techniques many of us have used, or at least read about, for years. The other two took alternative, if not circuitous, routes. One reversed the usual order of things, making a strong and compelling case for starting with a long, slow roast and finishing with the sear. Another told us to cook the steak three different ways over the course of two days, including deep-frying it twice. In the end, I did learn from all four recipes — both things I hope to remember and things I can only hope to forget.
I used big, beefy porterhouse steaks to test and assess all four recipes, to both level and elevate the playing field. Porterhouse has been called the king of steaks, perhaps because this cut contains both a full-size strip steak and a full portion of filet mignon, separated by a large T-shaped bone. A porterhouse is an impressive and satisfying cut, yielding enough steak to feed two to four people.
Keep in mind that not all markets carry porterhouse steaks, or perhaps carry them only around holidays, preferring instead to cut the beef into smaller steaks to sell separately. It pays to call ahead to make sure you’ll find a porterhouse when you shop. Also keep in mind that a porterhouse can be pricey, perhaps as much as $40 per pound for dry-aged beef, which is all the more reason to turn to a trustworthy recipe that will do right by these special steaks.
Meet Our 4 Steak Contenders
1. The Classic Technique: Martha Stewart’s Pan-Seared Steak
This is the way many of us were taught to cook a steak on the stove. It’s salted and peppered, seared in a pan, transferred to the oven, rested, and served, perhaps with some butter on top. It’s ready in an hour or so, which means it’s possible to make this steak with little planning, perhaps even after work on a weeknight. It’s not bad steak, but it’s not all that good and it’s notably bland. But the biggest failing of this recipe is that it’s so vague as to be of little use. There are better ways to prepare a steak, especially a fancy porterhouse, and far more instructive recipes.
Overall Rating: 3/10
Full review: I Made Martha Stewart’s Pan-Seared Steak
2. The Ugly Duckling: Salted-for-12-Hours Steak
There are no major a-ha moments in this steak. It’s a traditional approach and standard procedure. The recipe addresses only what it calls medium-rare, which actually turns out quite rare. It wasn’t a pretty steak either, turning out a bit mottled and gray in spots. The one solid takeaway, however, is salting the steak ahead of time and letting it air dry in the fridge overnight, which gives the salt a chance to penetrate below the surface. If you want to cook a steak in mere minutes after work, then salt it the night before so that it will be ready and waiting in the fridge when it’s time to cook.
Overall Rating: 4/10
Full review: I Made the Salted-for-12-Hours Porterhouse Steak
3. The Baffling and Beleaguered Steak: Frozen and Fried Steak
This recipe was so intriguing and ballyhooed that I was sure it would be a game-changer that would teach me new and fascinating ways to cook a steak. Um. No. It’s a complicated and confounding recipe that tells us to rub, chill, freeze, deep-fry, roast, baste, deep-fry (again), rest, slice, and reconstruct this steak around the bone. It left me weary, frustrated, and burned. I gave it a 3 because it wasn’t the worst steak I’ve ever eaten — only the most vexing I’ve ever cooked.
Overall Rating: 3/10
Full review: I Tried Ideas in Food’s Frozen and Fried Steak
4. The Sing Hallelujah Steak: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Reverse-Seared Steak
This is the game-changer, or at least it changed my game. I’ve cooked steaks for years and thought I had the technique down pat, until I followed this recipe and was persuaded that the traditional cooking sequence should be reversed, with the sear following the roast. Not just a roast, but a slow roast that ensures tender meat. For the best flavor, follow the optional suggestion to dry-brine the steak overnight before cooking it on the stove or on a charcoal grill. (This was the only recipe that addressed grilling, which I cannot wait to try.) This was the tastiest steak I’ve ever prepared at home, and among the tastiest steaks I’ve ever enjoyed. This recipe taught me things I’ll use for years. I contemplated a perfect 10, but took off a point for a few minor quibbles.
Overall Rating: 9/10
Full review: I Tried J. Kenji Lopez Alt’s Reverse-Seared Steak
Your turn! What’s your favorite steak technique that’s worth the time and effort?