Special Report

The Biggest Mistakes People Make Cooking Steak at Home

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6. Not getting the pan or grill hot enough

One reason that steakhouse steaks usually taste better than home cooked one has to do with the intensity of heat with which the steak is cooked. Steakhouses that broil their meat (often in infrared ovens) generally do so at temperatures ranging from 750º to (in the case of Ruth’s Chris) 1800º — while the average home range seldom gets hotter than 550º. Restaurant grills and stovetops are usually considerably hotter than their home equivalents, too. You probably won’t be able to compete with this level of heat, but do get your own pan or grill (or oven) as hot as you possibly can if you want that caramelized crust.

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7. Using oil or fat with a low smoke point

Smoke point is the temperature at which a cooking oil or fat begins to smoke. If you’re planning to sear your steak for a couple of minutes on each side and then finish it in the oven, and if you don’t mind potentially setting off the smoke alarm, then extra-virgin olive oil or butter, both of which have a smoke point of around 350º, are fine to use. If you’re cooking the meat in a pan straight through, you’ll want something with a higher smoke point — like clarified butter, peanut oil, or corn oil, all of which begin smoking at 450º, or even safflower oil, whose smoke point is the highest of any common cooking medium at 510º. This is not just about setting off the smoke alarm. Smoking oil or fat breaks down and releases free radicals and a liquid called acrolein, which gives burnt foods a nasty flavor and aroma.

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8. Not turning it enough

More controversy here: The conventional advice is that a piece of meat, steak or otherwise, should be turned only once while cooking — something about the way the juices move around inside the meat. Studies have shown that this is basically nonsense — and that flipping the steak numerous times as it cooks speeds up the process (by as much as 30%) and also cooks the meat more evenly. (Pro tip: Use tongs to turn the meat, not a fork; if you perforate the steak, you’ll lose some of those precious juices.)

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9. Overcooking it

There is, as they say, no accounting for taste, and some people (one of whom is a current occupant of the White House) like their steak well-done — grayish-brown inside, with no hint of pink. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you enjoy dry, less than flavorful meat. Many carnivores prefer their steak rare or medium-rare, however. Being able to cook meat the way you like it is a matter of experience: One burner or grill may be slightly warmer or cooler than another, and steaks are cut to different thicknesses, so a certain amount of trial and error is inevitable. As a general rule, however, a steak that’s about one-and-a-half inches thick needs roughly 10 minutes of total grill or stovetop cooking time for rare, 12 or 13 minutes for medium-rare. If you prefer to use a meat thermometer, which isn’t a bad idea, cook your steak to an internal temperature of about 120º for rare, 130º for medium rare.

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10. Not resting it before serving

The steak is off the grill or out of the pan and smells so good you can’t wait to dig in. But you should wait. Put the meat on a warmed plate and just let it sit for a few minutes — at least three or four, maybe a few more. If you cut into a steak as soon as it’s finished cooking, juices will leak out, but if you give it a little time, the juices will be reabsorbed into the cells of the meat, leaving it, well, juicier.