I have a confession to make. I never order steaks in restaurants. That's because it is so easy to make an outstanding steak at home.
And it isn't just because I am a professional. With a little knowledge, anyone can make a great steak. While there are several cooking techniques that will produce superior steaks, I am going to focus on the simplest one. Think of this as your Steak 101 tutorial.
Simply put, cooking a great steak just comes down to buying the right piece of meat, seasoning it well, cooking it for about 5 minutes per side, then letting it rest. It's that simple.
Since the grilling method is so simple, it is paramount to buy the best steak you can afford. This is one of those times when the quality of the raw ingredients really makes all the difference. And for this classic method, I'm using the term "steak" to cover a variety of cuts, including rib-eye, New York strip and filet mignon — the traditional boneless cuts that are typically found on a steakhouse menu and are at least 1-inch thick.
It's important to note that it is the thickness and not the overall weight of the steak that's important. The thinner the steak, the harder it is to cook correctly. By the time you get a good sear on each side of a thin steak, it usually is cooked (or overcooked) all the way through. But on a thicker steak, the inside will remain medium to medium-rare.
My preference is to buy one thick, 16-ounce steak to serve four people. I call that the party steak. You grill it, slice it up and serve it on a platter family-style. Serving one steak also allows people who like it a little more done to choose from the end pieces, while those who prefer rare can eat the center slices.
Next up, the cooking. Start by removing the steak from the refrigerator, unwrapping it and patting it dry with paper towels. Do this while the grill is heating. During this time, I also like to wrap the steak in paper towels to absorb any surface moisture. A dry steak sears better than a wet one.
Once the steak and the grill are ready, you brush a little olive oil on it. The olive oil keeps the juices inside the steak, promotes caramelization, and keeps it from sticking. Next, season it with salt and (if you like) pepper. I usually pepper my steak once it comes off the grill because pepper burns quickly, but most people season with both salt and pepper at the start.
To grill, place the steak across the grates so you get maximum grill marks, cover the grill and let the steak cook for 5 minutes. Then, using tongs, flip the steak to the other side and place on a part of the cooking grate that wasn't used before. This will give you the best grill marks on the second side. The steak absorbs the heat from the grates and so it is best to cook each side on fresh, hot grates. After another 5 minutes — depending on how rare you like your steak and how thick the steak is — remove the steak from the grill, top with butter, if using, and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes.
A quick test for doneness is to touch the steak with your finger. If the steak feels firm but not hard, it is at medium. If it feels hard, it probably is well-done. If it feels soft and jelly-like, it is not cooked enough. But however long you cook it, be sure to let it rest before slicing. This ensures a tender, juicy steak.
THE PERFECT STEAKHOUSE STEAK
I like to finish my steaks with a pat of "steak butter," which I set on top of the steaks as soon as they come of the grill. While the steak rests, the butter melts into the meat and gives it a richness.
Start to finish: 45 minutes (15 minutes active)
Two 8-ounce boneless New York strip steaks (or one 16-ounce) or other favorite steakhouse variety, such as rib-eye or filet mignon, at least 1-inch thick
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Steak butter (recipe below)
About 30 minutes before you are ready to grill, remove the steak(s) from the refrigerator, unwrap, pat dry with paper towels, then rewrap with fresh paper towels. Set aside at room temperature.
Meanwhile, heat the grill to medium-high.
After the meat has sat at room temperature for 30 minutes, unwrap it and brush all sides with olive oil. Liberally season it on all sides with salt. If you like, you can season it with pepper, or wait until after it has grilled to add the pepper.
Place the steaks directly over the flames, cover the grill and cook for about 3 minutes. Flip the steaks and continue cooking, covered, for about 3 more minutes for medium-rare. Remove the steaks from the grill and allow them to rest at least 5 minutes, but no longer than 10. Top each steak with 1/2 tablespoon of steak butter as soon as it comes off the grill, if desired.
Nutrition information per serving: 380 calories; 280 calories from fat (74 percent of total calories); 31 g fat (14 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 120 mg cholesterol; 300 mg sodium; 1 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 24 g protein.
A compound butter gives your steak that steakhouse presentation and adds that little something extra to the steak. This is what changes the steak from backyard beef to a real steakhouse treat.
Start to finish: 10 minutes
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients. Set out a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper about 8-inches long. Drop the butter by the spoonful to form a log. Roll the butter in the plastic wrap and twist the ends to form a round log. Refrigerate until butter is hard and easily to cut into slices. Will keep refrigerated for one week.
Nutrition information per serving: 110 calories; 100 calories from fat (91 percent of total calories); 12 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 0 mg sodium; 1 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 0 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."