Choosing your Steaks:
When buying steaks, buy the best grade of meat you can afford. It should be USDA Prime Aged Beef. If your butcher does not have this, the next best grade is Choice. (see Grading Cuts of Beef below)
Look for steak with fine texture and firm to the touch. You want the color to be a light cherry red color, not deep red. Also look for steaks that have marbling, as it is the thin threads of fat running through the meat that make it Prime and gives the wonderful flavor. Marbling is the white fat that you see in all cuts of beef. Remember that a substantial amount of evenly distributed marbling is a good thing. If you don’t want much animal fat in your diet, then don’t eat steak! To avoid fat in steak is to avoid steak altogether.
Size or thickness does matter when purchasing steaks. The best steaks are 1-inch to 1 1/2-inches thick. I like mine cut 1 1/4 thick best. A thin cut is useless and likely to get dried out during cooking process. The thickness of the steak is more important than it’s overall size or weight.
Grading Cuts of Beef:
For the perfectly steak, you must begin with good-quality beef and the right cut.
The USDA’s grading system gives a good way to assess quality. The grading designations are largely determined by the amount of visible fat that’s streaked throughout the muscle tissue, called marbling.
Beef that’s richly marbled gets a higher grade; it’s more tender, juicy, and flavorful because the intramuscular fat melts and bastes the flesh during cooking. Also, since fat insulates, marbling provides some insurance against overcooking. Look for small, evenly distributed specks of fat rather than larger and sparser ones.
The highest grade in the United States meat grading system. Prime has the most marbling and is produced in limited quantities. Prime beef is most commonly sold in fine restaurants, specialty meat markets and is exported to upscale restaurants in foreign countries.
Choice has less marbling than Prime but more than Select. It is typically found in the service meat case at your local grocery store.
Select has the least amount of marbling of the top three grades, making it leaner but possibly less tender, juicy or flavorful than Prime or Choice. Select is most commonly found in the self-service meat case at your local grocery store. Not a recommended grade for top-quality steaks.
Hint Cook your steaks over a ‘Hot’ bed of coals at (450F to 500F) and fast. You can always move your meat to a cool part of your grill if need. Without this very hot temperature you can not sear your meat and seal in all of it’s tasty juices.
Always let your steaks come to room temperature (70 degree F.) before cooking or grilling. If your room’s temperature differs from 70 degrees F., then just adjust your time accordingly.
A cold steak will contract when it hits the heat and this wall cause it to toughen. This is possibly the biggest mistake most people make.
Remove your steaks from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you plant to cook them – sometimes as long as 60 minutes (depending on size). This is important Pat the steaks dry with a paper towel. You want to have a completely dry steak before cooking. If you steak is wet, you will essentially be steaming it!
Salting the Steaks: Don’t Do It.
Do not salt your steaks just before cooking. Salt brings moisture (water) to the surface of the steak, and the water sits on the surface as you cook the steak. Thus, you are again basically steaming the steak.
Traditionally, when browning meat, chefs skip the addition of salt because the salt draws water out of the meat’s surface through osmosis. If, for example, you were to season a steak just 10 minutes before grilling, beads of moisture would appear on the surface, eventually forming a shallow puddle of juices. On the grill, the steak would turn gray and will not brown.
On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee (Food Scientist): Meat cells brown at around 310 degrees F. Water on a steak’s surface boils and turns to steam at 212 degrees F, so a wet steak can turn gray and cook through before its surface can brown.
I know that some people do salt their steaks before cooking, but trust me and don’t salt, the result will be juicy, delicious steaks to serve your family and guests! Salt at the table and not before!
Use a Meat Thermometer:
For best grilling results, cook steaks according to a Cooking or Meat Thermometer rather than a timetable. Remove steaks from the grill 5 degrees before your steak reaches your desired doneness.
Hint Tongs V. Fork. Never use a fork to turn your grilled meats. Always use stainless steel tongs or a spatula. Forks puncture your seared meats allowing valuable juices to escape and drip into your bed of charcoal.
Cooking Temperature Chart
Cooking times are from 4 minutes for Rare to 10 minutes for Well done on each side.
Turn Steaks Only Once… Turn Only Once!! Did I say Turn Only Once?
It is best to cook by meat thermometer not by cooking times and trial and error.
Rare – 120 degrees F. Finished temperature 125F.
Medium Rare – 125 degrees F. Finished temperature 130F.
Medium – 130 degrees F. Finished temperature 135F.
Medium Well – 145F. Finished temperature 150F.
Well Done – 155F. Finished temperature 160F.
Let steaks rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving. During this time the meat continues to cook (meat temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees after it is removed from the oven, pan or grill) and the juices redistribute.
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