How to Make the Most Tender, Flavorful Steak Recipe
If you are a steak-lover, I hope that the title of this post + luscious photo is enticing enough for you to read though the entire article. Because I promise you that it’s worth it. Even if you don’t eat steak, this is a must-read…as you can impress the hell outta your carnivorean friends (and sometimes, when you’re a vegetarian in a herd of carnivores…it would just be nice to have that extra, “dude….you didn’t know that about steak???!” in your pocket.)
My entire family (including the 2 yr old kid) just adores any type of steak recipe…you could probably classify us as professional steak-eaters. In fact, it is my husband’s life-long quest to hone his grilling technique so that our steaks at home turn out charred crusty on the outside and perfectly medium-rare on the inside. With grill marks for show, of course. Seriously, we are too cheap to eat out and would rather cook a nice steak recipe at home. For the past 4 months, we have been experimenting with how to get full, juicy, beefy flavor of a ribeye with butter-knife tenderness of a filet mignon without feel like getting ripped off buying Prime cuts. And after 4 months of eating steak 2x a week, I think we’ve figured it out. So, my friends, I am offering you a very juicy secret, one that will turn an ordinary “Choice” cut of steak into a gucci “Prime” cut (And yes, I know what “Choice” and “Prime” means – it’s the marbling. The salting doesn’t affect fat content – I’m using those terms as a figure of speech and something people can relate to)
Do you know the joy of buying Choice and eating Prime? It’s like buying a Hyundai and getting a free mail-in rebate for a BMW upgrade!!!
The Steak Secret: salt your steaks 1 hour before cooking for every inch of thickness.
Here’s two nice pieces of regular ‘ol supermarket steak. They’re about 1.25 inches thick, so I’ll let them salt for about 1.25 hours.
Season liberally with kosher salt on both sides with kosher or sea salt. If you are used to using regular table salt, this may look like a ton of salt, but just remember that kosher and sea salt flakes are 2-3x the size of table salt.
And then just let it sit on your counter.
After 15 minutes, it will look like this — you can see how the meat’s water is starting to come up to the surface — and that some of the salt is still on the surface of the steak.
After 30 minutes, you’ll see more water:
After almost an hour:
And now 1.25 hours – see all that water? You can also see that there’s still salt on the surface of the steak.
The next step is to discard the water, rinse the steak really well to rid of all the salt. Pat very dry. Very very dry with clean paper towels so that absolutely no moisture is left on the steak.
Then it’s time to cook.
Before y’all throw a hissy fit, just hear me out. I first learned of this technique from Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant. Judy massively salts her chicken before roasting, and I’ve adapted the practice to steaks. Thanks to a couple of other books (McGee’s On Food and Cooking and Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here For the Food), and a few fellow bloggers, I have an explanation of how it works.
Oh, and if the drawings look like a 3rd grader did it, too bad….YOU try drawing with a laptop touch-pad and a glass of bourbon on the rocks.
How Salting Works
All of you who season JUST before grilling – this is what you are really doing to the meat. Did you know that? All the water comes to the surface and if you don’t pat super-dry, you’re basically STEAMING the meat. Plus, your salt just sits on the surface of the steak, leaving the interior tasteless.
Now – note that only a little of the salt gets to go back into the meat. Don’t worry – you aren’t going to be eating all that salt!
Bourbon does that to me too.
I can hear it now..BUT!!! What of all the water that stayed on the surface of the meat? Aren’t you drawing all the moisture out of the meat? Will it taste like a salt lick? (*%!*%!@#!#!!! I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS STEAK RECIPE!!!
Pull your pants back on and keep reading…
Verification on Technique
Cook’s Illustrated January 08 issue (and you can also find it on their paid portion of their website. Just search for “Improving Cheap Roast Beef”) They salt a 4lb roast beef (big, fat, thick meat) and they are using 4 tsp kosher salt – therefore their steak recipe recommends salting for 18-24 hrs. It’s all related: thickness of meat : amount of salt : time.
Salting Steak Recipe Key Points
- Use kosher or sea salt, not table salt <– that is important. It will not work well with tiny tiny grains of table salt. Plus, table salt tastes like shit.
- Use steaks 1″ or thicker.
- Follow my timetable (below)
- If you are Harold McGee, a member of Alton Brown’s research team or Mr. Burke my high school chem teacher…..and think I’m full of B.S…. please let me know. But guys, none of this was in your books. I had to formulate, extrapolate, hypotholate and guesstulate based on your stuff. Highly mental activity.
- I know this sounds awfully like salt-curing, which dries out meat (like beef jerky). But with salt curing, you use A LOT more salt and leave it salting for A LOOOOOONG time. We’re talking about a little tiny nap here – not weeks – just enough to break down the proteins and flavor the steak throughout.
- Again, don’t worry about all that salt. Just enough of it gets absorbed into the meat. Most of it gets washed down the drain when you rinse off. Really.
- I know you’re going to ask…so I’ll answer it for you. Why not brine? You could if you really want water-logged diluted-tasting crappy steak.
I understand that this method will cause chaos, confusion and controversy in your household. But I encourage you to experiment: try adding spices, crushed garlic and rosemary sprigs to the salt, which will then act like Christina Aguilera dragging its entourage of flavors with it into the meat. If confusion in the household becomes unbearable, just whack’em with the hunk of salted steak..
Grilled Steak Recipe with Garlic-Herb Butter
Revised 9/13/10 to make salt ratio and timing easier to remember.
1. Buy a good sized Choice steak. I like mine 1.25 to 1.5 inches thick. Any cut of steak: Filet, Sirloin, Rib Eye, Porterhouse, T-Bone and NY Strip - they all work. Though, please remember to get steak that you'd normally buy to grill. Don't go buying some weird cut like the cow armpit and expect it to taste just like a NY Strip. You can do this with steaks less than 1", just really watch your timing. If your steak is already superbly marbled - cut back on your timing and your salt! The fattier (more marbled) the meat is, the faster the salt works its way through the meat.
2. Sprinkle 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of kosher/sea salt PER SIDE. Use the photos at beginning of the post as guide on how much salt. For every inch thickness of steak, let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Less than 1-inch steak: 30-45 minutes
- 1 inch thick steak: 1 hour
- 1.25 inch steak: 1 hour and 15 minutes
If you don't have that much time -- well then, add more salt, cut back the time it sits. It's all related:
Thickness of meat : Amount of Salt : Time
And vice-versa, if you need to stretch your time, use less salt. Example: the above steaks that are 1.25" thick - I should salt for 1 hour 15 minutes. But if my timing works out that I'm not grilling for 2 hours - then I'll cut back on the salt and let it sit for 2 hours.
If you want to salt for more than 2 hours or overnight - sprinkle the steak with 1/2 the amount of salt that I've instructed (look at photos for reference), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
3. Rinse all salt off on both sides, pat very dry with paper towels on both sides <- that part is important. Season with fresh ground pepper (no more salt is needed). Grill to your liking. Top with Garlic-Herb Butter immediately to let it oooooze and aaaahhze all over the steak.
Garlic-Herb Butter Recipe
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened (not melted, just softened)
handful of fresh herbs (any combination is fine. My fav is basil and parsley)
1-3 cloves of garlic, smushed in garlic press
To make the Garlic-Herb Butter, combine all ingredients. Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap. Spoon butter mixture on wrap. Roll and shape butter into a log. Refrigerate to firm up for 30 minutes. Slice into 1/4” disks to top the grilled steaks. You can make butter up to 3 days in advance. Make sure you use unsalted butter - the steak is seasoned perfectly already.
Another use for herb butter?
Notice the consistency in ingredients (first photo and the one below): perfect steak always go so well with homemade shoestring fries or homemade potato chips. The green stuff is just to give color to the plate. Unless it has garlic-herb butter slathered all over it too.
Other steak recipes you might enjoy: