With Father’s Day right around the corner, steak is on our menu and my mind. Steak at home and steak in a restaurant are two entirely different animals. I didn’t really understand the difference until I got married and actually started grilling steak at home.
As a chef and caterer I appreciate the difference because the challenge of cooking good steaks at home is the main reason people come to the Berghoff Restaurant in Chicago to eat them, and they often make steak the star on splurge menus for catered parties from Berghoff Catering.
When I attended culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America we studied the grades and cuts of meat and the proper techniques for cooking premium steaks—on perfectly maintained professional equipment. Commercial restaurant equipment is different than ranges, grills and pots and pans for home use. Restaurant ranges cook at much higher temperatures and are faster to keep up with the constant orders in a busy restaurant. For the same reason they are bigger, even the pots. (The stockpots at the Berghoff are more like cauldrons.) And, a big difference between restaurant and home cooking: the number of cooks (and dishwashers) to help. At home you are a staff of one: prep cook, chef, waiter and dishwasher.
Steak at Home 101
Small wonder that I felt anxious the first time I stepped up to my newly purchased gas grill in the backyard of my new home to grill my first steak. It was not an unqualified success – it was edible. Since that first steak I learned to combine all the technical knowledge I learned at culinary school with the equipment I had at home.
The following is a quick and easy lesson in making great steaks at home:
Grades of Beef: There are three USDA grades of beef available to the home cook. Prime, Choice and Select. Prime is expensive, sold mostly to restaurants, but some is available at gourmet meat markets and grocers. Choice is a good compromise, and there are trust-worthy brands. I am partial to Certified Angus and it is available in both choice and prime (for a real splurge).
Cuts of Steak: The tender cuts of steak most suitable for grilling are tenderloin (boneless); T-bone and Porterhouse (bone-in); strip or top loin, often called Kansas City or New York strip (boneless); rib steak (bone-in); rib eye (boneless), and sirloin (boneless). For even cooking, I prefer steaks to be no less than 1-inch and no more than 1½-inch thick. My favorite cut for grilling is the boneless rib eye. It is easy to grill a 1½-inch thick rib eye without burning. It is easy to eat (no bone), there is no waste and, most of all, it can be purchased in the right thickness and weight for one hearty steak-lover. I serve my husband a one-pound steak, and cut the same size steak in two for my children. I like to grill large T-bones and Porterhouse steaks to slice for company.
Grilling Steak: Three ways to grill steak at home include outdoor grilling on a gas or charcoal grill, indoor “grilling” in a cast-iron grill pan or skillet, and broiling (a broiler is really an upside down grill). The amount of time needed for each method depends on the thickness of the steak and the desired degree of doneness. Because individual grills, range tops and broilers all perform differently, learn your own equipment’s heat levels and use the following chart as helpful guidelines. The one best test for degree of doneness is to use an instant-read thermometer inserted to the middle of the steak.
Preparation Tips: Bring steak to room temperature before cooking. Pat dry on both sides with paper towels. Season generously with salt and pepper before cooking. Use tongs to turn steaks during cooking. Preheat the grill, cast-iron pan or broiler before cooking. Let steak rest 5 minutes before serving.
Degrees of Doneness: Internal temperatures as registered on an instant-read thermometer inserted in the very middle of the steak:
Rare: 115° to 120°F; Medium-rare: 125° to 130°F; Medium: 135° to 140°F; Well-done: 170°F. Remember that steak will continue to cook and temperature will continue to rise (about 5 degrees) after it is removed from the heat.
Approximate grilling times for 1-inch thick steaks: Rare: 5 to 6 minutes per side; Medium-rare to Medium: 6 to 7 minutes per side; Well-done: 10 to 12 minutes per side.
Approximate grilling times for 1½-inch thick steaks: Rare: 4 to 6 minutes per side; Medium: 6 to 8 minutes per side; Well-done: 8 to 10 minutes per side.
Broiling tips: Remove top of broiler pan and pour 1 cup of salt evenly in the bottom to catch fat drippings and prevent them from catching fire. Replace top before broiling. Always trim all exterior fat to prevent it from catching fire. Score outside rim of steak at ½-inch intervals to prevent steak from “curling” during cooking. Using tongs, turn steak in the broiler every 3 to 4 minutes until desired degree of doneness.
Here is the menu I plan to serve my husband this Father’s Day. Heirloom Tomatoes (never refrigerate them!) come in wonderful shades of red, orange, green and purple, and all I need to do is slice them and drizzle them with balsamic vinegar. And when it comes to good things, both potato pancakes and donuts for brunch are just about enough!
Bloody Mary (for Dad); Virgin Mary (for kids)
Boneless Rib Eye Steak with Sunny-side-up Eggs
Ripe Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Drizzle
Chocolate-Glazed Donuts (recipe in Cooking for Your Gluten-Free Teen)
- 1 (16-ounce)1½-inch thick boneless rib eye steak, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 large eggs
- Butter, as needed
- Using a sharp paring knife, score through any marginal fat or silver skin (around the outside rim of the steak) at half-inch intervals. (If you don’t the steak will curl up during cooking.)
- To Grill: If using a charcoal grill, light coals, and when they are hot and covered with white ash, using oven mitts and a metal spatula, move them to form an even bed of hot coals no more than two layers deep. Place a drip pan in the middle. Cover grill and let preheat.
- If using a gas grill, set half the burners to medium high. Cover grill and preheat.
- Season steak on each side with salt and pepper. Uncover charcoal or gas grill. Brush grill grates lightly with oil. Using tongs, place steak on grill and cook until small beads of blood appear on the top, 4 to 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip steak over and grill to desired degree of doneness. (see Tip). Test for doneness with an instant read thermometer, and remember steak will continue to cook after it is removed from the grill.
- Let steak rest for 5 minutes before serving. While steak is resting, fry 2 eggs sunny-side-up in butter as needed. Serve with steak.
- To cook in a cast-iron skillet: Season steak according to recipe directions. Preheat a 10-inch seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Brush steak on both sides lightly with vegetable oil. Using tongs, place steak in skillet and cook until small beads of blood appear on the top. Using tongs, flip steak over and cook to desired degree of doneness (see Tip). Follow recipe instructions.
- To broil: Broilers could be called upside-down grills; the heat is on the top rather than the bottom. Preheat broiler and position the oven rack so that the steak will be 2 inches from the heating element.
- Trim off all exterior fat and discard (it could catch fire); score the sides of the steak with a sharp knife at half-inch intervals. Pat dry on both sides.
- Remove top part of broiling pan and sprinkle bottom heavily with salt (about 1 cup) to catch dripping fat and prevent it from catching fire). Replace broiler pan top.
- Brush one side of steak lightly with vegetable oil. Place oiled side down on broiler pan. Place pan under broiler and broil for 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip steak and broil for another 3 minutes. Continue broiling and flipping steaks to desired degree of doneness as registered on an instant-read thermometer is reached. (See Tip).
- Remove from broiler and let rest 5 minutes before serving.
- Tip: All gas and charcoal grills and all gas and electric range tops and broilers heat differently. The following are guidelines.
- Internal temperatures for rare, medium-rare and medium steaks as registered on an instant-read thermometer inserted in the very middle of the steak:
- Rare: 115° to 120°F; Medium-rare: 125° to 130°F; Medium: 135° to 140°F; Well-done: 170°F.
- Approximate grilling times for 1½-inch thick steaks: Rare: 4 to 6 minutes per side; Medium: 6 to 8 minutes per side; Well-done: 8 to 10 minutes per side.
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