As someone who has cooked a large number of prime ribs over the years, I know how nerve-racking it can be to cook an expensive cut of meat. The more money you spend on the meat itself, the more pressure you end up feeling to cook it perfectly!
In fact, a lot of people are so afraid of ruining an expensive T-bone or ribeye that they just avoid cooking steaks at home altogether! In the Nystul family, homemade steak dinners are one of our favorite ways to mark special occasions, so it pains me to imagine anyone depriving themselves of a delicious steak dinner for fear of ruining it.
So in today’s blog post, I thought I might be able to help put this issue to bed by sharing some of the most common ways people ruin steaks. By the end of this list, you’ll know exactly which pitfalls to avoid and why in order to produce a delicious and steakhouse-worthy masterpiece at home! :-)
11 Things That Can Ruin Your Steaks
1. Choosing The Wrong Cut
As someone who has bought many steaks at the grocery store over the years, I have no problem admitting that picking out the right steaks can be a confusing and intimidating process! There are so many different names and prices that it often feels tempting to just give up and walk away from the meat department empty handed.
The next time you go to pick out steaks at the store, I recommend looking for the words “rib,” “loin,” or “strip” somewhere in the name (like ribeye, New York strip, tenderloin, etc.) These labels signify the steaks came from the short loin or rib cut of the cow, which typically make for great steaks.
2. Cooking Straight From The Fridge
If you take your steaks out of the fridge right before cooking them, they won’t turn out nearly as tender or juicy as they could! Instead, take your steaks out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you plan to cook them, then season them liberally with kosher salt (not table salt, which doesn’t stick as well) on both sides.
Not only does this 30-minute window give the steaks time to warm up a bit, but it also creates a brine on the surface of the meat that gets absorbed as it sits. The brining process tenderizes the meat and enhances its flavor, so it’s definitely worth the wait!
3. Not Removing Excess Moisture
Speaking of pre-cooking steps you should never skip, another thing you should do to your steaks pat them dry with a paper towel. Excess moisture on the outside surfaces can make it very difficult to achieve a good sear, and getting a good sear on a steak is critical!
This step should come right after the 30-minute wait I mentioned above (see #2). Once the 30 minutes is up, just give them a quick pat on both sides with a clean paper towel before cooking.
4. Using Nonstick Cookware
In addition to moisture, heat will also affect the quality of the sear on your steaks. To get a hard sear (the kind that gives you that deliciously crusty steak exterior), you need high heat.
Certain kinds of cookware aren’t built for those sorts of temperatures, including anything with a nonstick finish. When it comes to cooking steaks, choose either stainless steel or cast iron cookware, both of which can handle the heat.
5. Using The Wrong Oil
Just like certain cookware isn’t built for high heat, neither are certain cooking oils! Oils and fats with low smoke points (including extra virgin olive oil and butter) are likely to smoke or even burn at the temperatures needed to properly sear a steak.
Instead, choose an oil with a high smoke point, such as light olive oil, avocado oil, or sunflower seed oil. Not only will your steaks taste better, but your kitchen will be much less smoky too.
6. Not Preheating The Pan
A perfect steak starts with a properly hot cooking surface, whether you’re cooking on your outdoor grill, a grill pan, or a standard pan. And to get your surface properly hot, you need to preheat it over high heat for several minutes before putting anything on it.
Preheating this way does add a few extra minutes to your cook time, but it’s the best way to ensure your cooking surface is heated evenly. Otherwise, your cooking surface could be hot in some spots, but cold in others, resulting in an improperly seared and unevenly cooked steak.
7. Using Only High Heat
While putting your steak onto a hot surface will help you get a good sear on the outside, you don’t have to finish cooking them that way. When cooking thinner steaks, turning the heat down to medium once the steaks are seared will help you avoid overcooking them.
After searing thicker steaks, you can move the pan to a 450°F oven and let the steaks finish cooking there. (This is another reason why stainless steel and cast iron are great choices for steak—these pans can go right from your stovetop into your oven!)
8. Flipping & Moving Too Often
If you’re a bit of a Nervous Nellie in the kitchen, it can be hard to resist the temptation to poke, prod, flip, and fidget with your steaks while they cook. But it’s worth it to be patient with steak, because you’ll get better results with a more hands-off approach.
While searing your steaks, wait to flip them until they release from the cooking surface on their own. You can give them a little wiggle to loosen them up, but if you have to use any more force than that, they’re not ready to flip! Cook for another minute or two, then try again.
9. Eating It Right Away
The sights, sounds, and smells of steak cooking are enough to get anyone’s stomach rumbling! But you definitely don’t want to cut into your beautiful steak as soon as it’s done cooking.
Allowing 5-10 minutes for your steaks to “rest” is crucial, because it allows time for the juices in the meat to redistribute themselves. If you cut into a steak right away, all those juices will simply spill out onto your plate or cutting board, leaving you with dry steak and a big mess on your hands.
10. Not Using A Thermometer
Undercooked steaks can be just as disappointing and inedible as overcooked ones. But there’s actually an incredibly simple way to make sure you never undercook or overcook a steak again, and that’s by using a digital food thermometer!
Using a thermometer, you’ll never have to slice into a steak and resist losing all those juices just to make sure it’s cooked through. You can simply poke your thermometer into it, and you’ll know exactly when it’s done to your liking.
(For food thermometer newbies, I recommend keeping a copy of my handy printable food temperatures guide in your kitchen so you can reference it as often as you need to. You can download it for free here!)
11. Slicing It The Wrong Way
If you like to slice your steaks before serving them like they often do at restaurants, make sure to cut it against the “grain” of the meat, not with it. In terms of steaks, the “grain” refers to the natural pattern of striations or stripes within the meat.
The main benefit of cutting against the grain is that it makes the slices easier to cut, tear, or chew. (Steak that was sliced with the grain will still taste good, but you’ll have to put in a bit more work to enjoy it!)
Do you have any favorite steak tips or tricks?