Recipe Review

I Tried Martha Stewart’s Classic Steak Recipe (& Here’s What I Thought)

published Jun 13, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Martha Stewart’s classic steak recipe is the way most of us were taught to cook a steak: Let it sit out for a few minutes, sprinkle it with coarse salt and cracked pepper, sear it in a hot pan, transfer it to the oven, let it rest, and then eat it.

But times have changed. Now we have the option of reverse-searing our steaks, dry- brining them in salt, and even freeze-frying them. I had to know: Is the classic method still the best, or does one of these flashier techniques reign supreme? Here’s everything I learned.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

How to Make Martha Stewart’s Classic Stovetop-to-Oven Steak

The recipe calls for room-temperature steak — a common description in steak recipes — but it’s misleading. A hefty steak (this recipe calls for 1 1/2 to 2 pounds and 2 1/2 inches thick) would need to sit out for hours to reach actual room temperature, which would raise food safety concerns. I let mine sit out for 1 hour to knock off the chill.

You’ll season the steak all over with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon cracked (butcher-grind) black pepper, then place it into the pan. The recipe reminds us to use a large cast iron or other ovenproof skillet that is not nonstick, which is good advice. It’s impossible to sear a steak in a nonstick pan.

Searing the steak proved to be confusing. The ranges for the cooking times are so broad and vague that they’re no help at all. You’re told to “Cook steak … until a dark crust has formed, 5 to 7 minutes,” but cautioned to “Reduce the heat if meat is browning too quickly.” This is confusing. Do I give it the gas or hit the brakes? I used the midpoint, searing each side for 6 minutes and also searing the edges, which resulted in a lot of cooking before the steak went into the 400°F oven. To its credit, the sear was reasonably even and attractive.

You’ll then oven-roast the steak “until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the steak registers the desired doneness, 5 to 15 minutes.” There’s zero guidance on what temperature you’re targeting, so unless you know how internal temps correlate to doneness, you’re left guessing. At the 5-minute mark, my steak was 118°F — too cold to even be rare. At 10 minutes it was 133°F, which is within two degrees of perfect medium-rare. I didn’t have the heart to leave it in for the full 15 minutes because my pricey porterhouse would likely have wound up so well-done it might not have been edible. 

You’ll then cover the steak loosely with foil (good advice, because covering it tightly causes the steak to sweat and turn gummy, although the recipe doesn’t teach us that) and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. The recipe neglects to remind us that the internal temperature continues to rise during the rest, so my 133°F medium-rare steak was at 143°F after 5 minutes, meaning it was then a medium steak. After 10 minutes it was back down to 141°F — a tepid medium.

As instructed, I sliced the steak across the grain and topped with 1 tablespoon butter. Martha’s recipe links to four compound butters, which she calls “steak butter,” but I used plain butter to ensure I was assessing the steak, not the garnish.

Then I tasted the steak.

My Honest Review of Martha Stewart’s Stovetop-to-Oven Steak

Let me say upfront that Martha’s recipe calls for rib-eye or New York strip (shell) steaks. I used a porterhouse to be consistent with the other steak recipes I was testing in our search for the perfect technique.

My first critique is that there’s too little salt (or at least ineffective salt) and too much pepper. Because the salt goes on just before the steak goes into the pan, it has no time to penetrate the meat, so the finished steak is under-seasoned. The copious juices that flowed out of the steak rinsed off some of the clinging surface salt, so dipping each bite into these juices helped a bit, although I kept wishing those juices were still in the steak instead of on my cutting board. The pepper was so thick that it interfered with my ability to discern when the meat was seared. The meat was also tough.

I also thought longingly about those flavored butters, but if a premium porterhouse steak needs an herbed butter to taste good, then something is seriously lacking in the recipe and technique.

Credit: Sheri Castle
Classic Stovetop to Oven

If You Make Martha Stewart’s Stovetop-to-Oven Steak, a Few Tips

1. Use the type of pan she tells you to use: You cannot sear a steak in a nonstick pan. Cast iron is an excellent choice.

2. Cut back on the searing time: Most red meats develop a good sear in about 3 minutes. By the 5-minute mark you’re practically frying the steak. If you do sear for 5 to 7 minutes, be aware that your steak will need less oven time.

3. Figure out your target temperature to eliminate the guesswork: You can always put the steak back in the oven, but you cannot uncook it.

4. Make the compound butters, but use them because they are a tasty addition, not because you’re desperate for something to make your under-seasoned steak taste better.

Overall Rating: 3/10

While the classic approach of sear, roast, and rest holds some truths, this recipe is too vague to help us perform those steps with clarity and precision. If you already know the basics of cooking a steak, you don’t need this recipe. If you don’t understand this much, then this recipe won’t help you because it’s maddening in its vagueness. The only way to use this recipe with any degree of success is to already know how to cook a steak. It’s akin to your GPS saying nothing more than “Drive until you arrive.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

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