Grain-fed, grass-fed, marbled, prime cuts, secondary cuts — steak is an expensive commodity, and there are so many options available in butcher shops and supermarkets that it can be hard to know where to start. Nothing beats a succulent steak cooked to perfection. However, there are a few factors to take into consideration when cooking a steak; the cut, the way it’s treated and the heat source all help to determine the juiciness in the end.
The Cuts — Prime and Secondary
A prime cut comes from areas of the cow that do little work. Porterhouse and Scotch fillet steaks, for example, come from areas protected by the ribcage. Consequently, they are more tender and more expensive.
A secondary cut is from areas of the cow that have worked harder. Round steak, also known as barbecue steak, comes from around the hind legs and is a less expensive cut. Oyster-blade is also considered steak, but needs long, slow cooking to achieve tenderness.
Grass or Grain
Grass-fed cattle has yellower fat with redder meat; it is slightly chewier than grain fed, but with a more natural beef taste. Grain-fed beef has a creamier flavor and is more textural and tender, with darker coloring. The fat is whiter than that of grass-fed cattle. Most chefs prefer grain-fed beef for the ultimate creaminess in the mouth, but if it’s a natural beefy taste you’re after, grass-fed is the way to go.
To Age or Not to Age
Dry-aged meat has been hung, out of plastic, for about 60 to 90 days. Tender and complex of flavor, the flesh is also darker in color. A dry-aged piece of steak doesn’t have much moisture content, so cook it quickly and eat it on the medium rare side to keep it juicy.
There are no rules to marinating meat, but a good thing to keep in mind is that acidic ingredients like lemon juice can slowly cook it, so marinate in these acidulous liquids for a shorter time. For tenderizing a tougher cut of meat let it marinate in soy sauce for about an hour before cooking.
Consider a fresh marinade; just slice a selection of herbs and chili, and combine with salt, pepper, olive oil and a little lemon juice. Once the steak is cooked, allow it to rest in this marinade so it will combine with the oil and lemon juice. Once rested, pour the remaining marinade over the steak. Pesto works well here too.
Cook it Right
Most chefs allow their steak to reach room temperature before grilling. This helps the meat cook more evenly. The less fat the cut has, the less room for error when cooking it. If you overcook a prime cut like a fillet steak, it will lose its delicate texture, resulting in a dry piece of meat. Cook it hot and fast for the best results if you’re grilling fillet steak.
The perfect steak needs searing heat, so barbecues or cast iron grill pans are the best choices cooking vessels. To help prevent smoking, always oil the steak, not the grill. Once in the pan, leave it alone; don’t keep turning it. Allow the steak to sit on the grill in the one place to develop a flavorful crust that also helps to seal in the juices.
Once your steak is off the grill, the flesh is tense. By resting it for five or 10 minutes, the juices will flow back through the meat, allowing it to relax and become tender.
Steak is a nutritious main course that cooks quickly and offers many delicious flavor combinations and styles of cooking. Keep this advice in mind when choosing and cooking steak for the ultimate restaurant quality meal in no time.