How do you tell a good steak from a regular steak?
There are a few things to look for when buying a steak:
First, there is the grade. The grade speaks about the quality of the meat based on marbling and age.
The second factor is the cut. Different cuts have different qualities. Finding the right cut for what you want to cook is probably the most important part of an excellent steak.
The third factor is the diet of the steer and how it was raised.
Grade: The age of the animal and the marbling of the meat determine the grade of the meat. In the United States grades are prime, choice and select, with prime being at the top and select being the bottom. Prime grade beef makes up about 2% of all the beef produced in the United States and typically ends up exported or sold to fine restaurants. What you will normally find on the shelves at the store is choice and select. Since prime is difficult to find, your best option is to purchase a choice cut.
Marbling is an important factor in steak selection. To visually determine the marbling of a steak take a good look at the texture of the meat. If the meat is free of all fat then the cut has little or no marbling. Though, this is leaner and often more tender, it is not as flavorful. Small streaks of fat through the meat will produce a more flavorful steak. Marbling should be thin streaks of fat. Thick lines of fat means the steak contains a lot of connective tissue that will make it tough. The meat should be bright red and the fat, a creamy white, evenly distributed throughout the meat.
Cuts of steak can be broken down into three sections. Starting on the upper back and moving down to the mid-back you have the rib, the short loin and the sirloin.
The rib contains cuts, such as the Rib Roast, the Rib-eye Steak and the back ribs. This is the least tender section of the three.
The short loin produces the T-bone, Top Loin Steak, Tenderloin and the Porterhouse steaks.
The sirloin produces the Sirloin Steak and the Top Sirloin.
Strips steaks, like the New York Steak, is cut from the T-bone portion. The most tender cut of beef is the tenderloin. From this area you will also get cuts like Chateaubriand, filet mignon and tournedos. Though these cuts are tender they are less flavorful. Rib-eye or rib steaks are less tender but far more flavorful. The same holds true for the sirloin cuts.
Grass-Fed: There are lots of good reasons to choose grass-fed beef over conventionally raised beef – environmental, nutritional and concerns about the animals being treated well and eating what is natural to them. On all of these fronts, grass-fed beef beats feedlot beef hands down. However, over 95% of the beef sold in the U.S. is from feedlots. This means that beef from cattle which are entirely raised on pasture is more expensive and it also tastes a little different from the beef people in the U.S. are accustomed to. Additionally, the optimal cooking times, particularly for steaks, is a little different as well.
How to Prepare Steak for Cooking:
ALWAYS let your meat come to room temperature before doing anything to it.
Then, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and let it stand 60 minutes at room temperature before cooking.
Use 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt per side for a steak up to one inch thick. After sitting for an hour, wash the salt off the steak, dry it well with paper towels and sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper. Cook immediately. TRUST ME. This method really works. I have tried any number of ways to prepare steak and always come back to this method. Any type of steak, including grass-fed steak and sirloin, prepared this way is flavorful and tender. Forget marinades and rubs – you can add the seasoning after the meat is grilled.
How to Grill Steak:
If you’re using charcoal you’ll want very hot coals. Use the 2 second rule to test them; you should be able to hold your hand a few inches over the grill for only about 2 seconds before it’s too hot. Once they are hot, move them to one side of the grill so you can have both direct and indirect heat. If you’re using a gas grill, turn all the burners to high and let it heat for at least 10-15 minutes. Oil the grill grates with a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil.
Use tongs, extra long ones, to move your meat around, not a big fork. Puncturing your steak will only let the juices run out and cause them to be dry and tough.
Place the steaks on the hot grill to sear. Don’t move them for 2-3 minutes. If you want diagonal hatch marks, you can rotate your steak 45 degrees after a couple of minutes and then finish searing. Use the tongs again to turn the steaks and sear the other side.
If you cook the steaks at the super high heat level the entire time, the outside will be burnt by the time the center cooks. So after searing, turn the gas off on one of the burners. Move the steaks to the indirect heat side of your charcoal/gas grill to finish cooking.
When it comes to steak, you can’t follow exact times because it will vary with every cut and every grill. Temperature is the most reliable guide. Remove the steaks when they are a few degrees from your desired degree of doneness and let the steaks rest for five minutes before slicing.
Medium rare steak should be warm through the middle and most of the center of the steak should be reddish pink. The sides should be well browned, the top and bottom charred to a dark brown color. This steak should have a firm surface but soft in the middle.
Internal Temperature 125 to 135 degrees F. This is the recommended level of doneness for a good steak.
Medium steak should have a thick band of light pink through the middle but more brown than pink. The sides should be a rich brown color and the top and bottom charred darkly (but not black). This steak should have some play through the middle but feel firm to the touch.
Internal Temperature 140 to 150 degrees F. If you are grilling for a large group of people, this is the best level of doneness that pleases the most people.
Medium well steak should have a hint of pink in the very middle of the steak. The surface should be a dark brown with good charring on the top and bottom. This steak will be very stiff but still have a little squish in the center. Internal Temperature 155 to 165 degrees F.
Well Done steak is the most difficult to cook. This steak should NOT be burnt on the outside. While there is not the faintest hint of pink in the middle, it should be browned through, not burnt through. This steak should feel solid to the touch.
Internal Temperature 170 or higher degrees F. The secret is to do it low and slow. It’s the only way to prevent burning while fully cooking it through the middle.
Cooking Grass-Fed Beef Steaks:
I usually use a gas grill and heat the grill to the hottest setting. Sear the steaks for about two minutes per side. Reduce one or two burners (depending on whether you have a 2 or 3 burner grill) to medium and turn off the second or third burner. Move the steaks to the indirect heat side of the grill and close the cover. Finish the cooking over indirect heat and use a thermometer to determine how long to leave the steak on the grill. For charcoal, move the steaks to the side of the grill without the coals underneath. For a pan on the stove, just lower the heat.
Grass-fed steaks are best cooked rare or medium rare. Even if you usually like your steaks cooked longer, do give less cooking a try – or cook them in a sauce at a lower temperature. Cooking at a high temperature for a long time will definitely produce a tough steak. I find the best way to tell when a steak is done is to use a good instant-read thermometer (inserted from the side) and the best setting for grass-fed beef steaks is 125 degrees F to 130 degrees F.
Recipes for the Grill
Ribeye Steaks with Blue Cheese Butter and Mushrooms
Makes 4-8 servings
- 4 beef Ribeye Steaks, boneless, cut 1 inch thick (about 12 ounces each)
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 8 medium Portobello mushrooms, stems removed (about 1-3/4 pounds)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Blue Cheese Butter:
- 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 3 tablespoons chopped rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes, not packed in oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Combine garlic, thyme and pepper. Set aside.
Place steaks on the grill and cook according to the directions above. When you move the steaks to the indirect heat, sprinkle with the garlic mixture.
Brush mushrooms with oil and after you move the steaks to indirect heat, place the mushrooms on the grill over the direct heat side. Grill about 10 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally.
Meanwhile, combine Blue Cheese Butter ingredients in small bowl until well blended.
Slice the grilled mushrooms. Arrange the steaks on a serving platter. Top each steak with a tablespoon of Blue Cheese Butter and slices of mushroom.
Strip Steak with Asparagus
- 12 ounce boneless beef top loin (strip) steak, cut about 3/4 inch thick
- 1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
- ½ teaspoon cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 8 thin asparagus spears, trimmed (6 oz.)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ½ cup low salt beef broth
- 1 tablespoon dry white wine
- ¼ teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
Prepare steak as described above.
Place the asparagus in a shallow dish and drizzle with the oil.
For the sauce:
In a medium skillet stir together the broth, wine, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until mixture is reduced to 1/4 cup. Whisk in mustard; keep warm.
Preheat the grill. Place steak on the grill rack and cook according to directions above. Grill until steak iscooked to your desired temperature.
Place the asparagus on the grill (gas – close the cover) for the last 2 to 3 minutes or for an uncovered grill (charcoal) the last 4 to 5 minutes of grilling. Cook asparagus until crisp-tender.
Spoon sauce on a serving plate. Cut steak in half crosswise. Serve steak halves atop sauce with asparagus on top. Makes 2 servings.
Grilled Grass-Fed T-Bone Steaks Florentine
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 1 1/2 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2 (3/4 to 1 inch) thick T-bone grass-fed beef steaks
Blend the first 6 ingredients in a large mixing cup and set aside. Prepare steaks according to directions above and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper.
Heat barbecue and cook steaks according to directions above.
When the steaks reach the desired temperature, remove them to a large plate with a rim.
Pour the reserved sauce over the steaks and let them rest for five minutes before slicing.
Recipes for the Stovetop
Sirloin Steak with Mushrooms and Tomatoes
You may use mixed bell peppers as a substitute for the mushrooms to change theflavor ot the recipe the next time you make it.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 pound beef sirloin steak
- 1 cup grape tomatoes
- 8 ounces mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 2 scallions
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Heat oil in cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Pat steak dry using paper towels. When oil is shimmering in the pan, add steak. Cook to desired degree of doneness (4 minutes per side for medium, more or less, depending on the thickness of steak is recommended). Remove steak from the skillet and keep warm on a serving platter.
Return skillet to heat. Add tomatoes, scallions and mushrooms to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes (if skillet begins to look too dry, add a few tablespoons of water). Remove skillet from the heat. Stir in basil and pour mixture over the steaks.
Round Steak with Lemon, Capers and Green Onions
Cuts of beef from the round or hind leg section are less tender than the loin, sirloin or rib. They can, however, offer the best combination of texture and flavor for many steak lovers. The top round comes from the inside thigh portion of the round. Because these muscles are used less than the outer ones, they are more tender than other cuts from the round.
- 3 tablespoons flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 pound top round steak cut into 4 slices
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 6 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Chopped parsley and lemon zest for garnish
Mix flour, salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder in a shallow dish. Pound steaks thin between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Dredge each steak in the flour mixture, shaking off excess.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Brown steaks on each side 2 to 3 minutes, depending on desired degree of doneness. Remove steaks from the pan, place on a serving platter and keep warm.
Without cleaning the pan, add green onions to the pan and cook briefly. Deglaze the pan with the broth, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a boil. Lower heat slightly and allow stock to reduce, about 5 minutes. Stir in capers and lemon juice and remove from heat.
Pour sauce over steaks and garnish with parsley and lemon zest. Serve immediately.