In 1988, my parents bought their first cooking thermometer.
They were at the Huntington butcher's shop on Long Island, and the butcher in the white jacket they were chatting with was speechless when they learned they didn't have one. They had just bought a New York strip, a piece of meat prepared in the heart of the rib eye, a little expensive for young journalists who were still paying off their student loans, and they were afraid of spoiling it. So they asked him what was the best way to cook their meat.
"Sear it on the barbecue until it is cooked through", he said, insisting on a reference temperature that they should respect. Then, seeing their crumbling mines, he added: "Don't tell me you don't have a kitchen thermometer … You really don't have a kitchen thermometer ?!" He rummaged through the pockets of his meat surgeon uniform, pulled out a Taylor brand cooking probe, and the matter was done.
It turns out that the technique he advised was only one of many possible recipes. A quick Google search for the best way to cook steak yields nearly 300 million suggestions.
You can cook your meat on the barbecue, but you can also cook it in the pan. You can even sear it in a pan before you finish cooking it in the oven, or even imitate Chef Bobby Flay by searing it in the pan before cutting it into slices and then broiling the other side in the oven. But we should not forget the so-called "reverse" cooking (oven, then stove), vacuum cooking … and the list is not finished.
All this makes the steak the ideal candidate for the Absolute Best Tests of Food52, during which I spend far too much time working on a specific ingredient or recipe for the sole purpose of approaching perfection (and after which my house almost always smells horribly bad for several days). We begin?
As always, I identified a few constants to follow during all of the tests. For this test, the pieces of meat always had the same characteristics:
• I opted for sirloin steaks (“T-bone” type), about 4 cm thick;
• I absorbed the moisture and seasoned the sides with a good amount of sea salt and pepper (except for the grilled steak, which I lightly covered with oil before sprinkling it with salt and pepper);
• I waited until the meat was at room temperature for 45 minutes before launching the test (which allows the steak to cook more evenly);
• I used vegetable oil which withstands high temperatures when mention is made of oil and soft butter at room temperature when mention is made of butter;
• I cooked my meat to the point (55 ° C) using a kitchen thermometer, then I stopped cooking. For people who don't have a thermometer, there is a way to know when the meat is cooked through by touching it with the index finger: it should be as firm to the touch as the fat of the thumb when you join the thumb and the major;
• I left the meat to stand for 10 minutes before cutting it (but apparently this is an unnecessary step when using vacuum cooking or reverse cooking).
Pan cooking only
Method: Pour a few tablespoons of oil into a large skillet and heat over high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Place the steak and cook for 30 seconds. Turn over and repeat the operation. Repeat until a golden brown crust begins to form, which takes about four minutes, then add a few tablespoons of butter and continue to cook until it reaches 55 ° C. This is a fairly free adaptation of the awesome pan-fried steak recipe by J. Kenji López-Alt.
Ease and efficiency: This cooking method was by far the easiest and most effective, since it did not require any special equipment or change of pan.
Meat tenderness: Question tenderness, this piece comes in sixth and last place. The heart of the meat was tougher than that of steaks cooked with other methods, but it is an observation that is only possible by comparing. Overall, it was really delicious and pleasant to eat.
Wire rack: In fifth position. The outside was pretty well grilled, more than the vacuum-cooked steak (last place), but the grilled layer was not as thick as I would have liked, because the meat reached 55 ° C before d '' acquire a beautiful golden appearance. Therefore, I also had a limited time to make the meat fat, which explains why the temperature increased a few degrees too much as I tried to achieve it (I could probably have better controlled this problem by lowering the flame a little, but I was afraid that a softer fire would prevent me from getting a nice toast).
Cooking in the pan then in the oven
Method: Preheat the oven to 190 ° C. Pour a few tablespoons of oil into a large ovenproof pan and heat over high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Place the steak and grill each side (including the sides, so that they return their fat) for 2 to 3 minutes without touching them, until they brown. Slide the meat into the oven with a tablespoon of butter and cook until it reaches 55 ° C.
Ease and efficiency: The method is relatively simple, if you think about preheating the oven while the steak comes to room temperature. That said, it's not very practical to move a hot cast-iron pan halfway through cooking, and it's annoying to have to constantly open the oven door to take the temperature. In terms of efficiency, cooking takes longer than for steaks cooked in the pan only or successively passed through the pan and then broiled in the oven. It is as long as for barbecue cooking. The method is nevertheless faster than vacuum and reverse cooking (oven then stove).
Meat tenderness: She finished in fourth place. The meat was harder than reverse cooking, oven-grill cooking and vacuum cooking, but a little softer than just pan-cooking. There was no difference from the barbecue steak.
Wire rack: In third position. The sides were better grilled than with simple pan cooking, reverse cooking and sous vide cooking, but a little less than with barbecue or stove-oven cooking.
Bake in the pan then grill in the oven
Method: Heat the oven grill. Pour a few tablespoons of oil into a large ovenproof pan and heat over high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Drop the steak and leave it for three minutes. Turn the steak over and cover it with a tablespoon of butter before putting it in the oven on the grill position to finish cooking (only a few minutes), until it reaches 55 ° C.
Ease and efficiency: Just as simple as the pan and oven method, but a little more effective. However, we have a greater margin of error with this method when we want to reach the point cooking, which has the disadvantage of causing a little more anxiety.
Meat tenderness: In second position, after the steak cooked under vacuum. Surprisingly, this piece of meat was softer than that cooked in the pan and then in the oven.
Wire rack: In second place, after barbecue cooking.
Reverse cooking (oven then pan)
Method: Preheat the oven to 95 ° C. Place the meat on a rack placed on a baking sheet and cook for 30 to 35 minutes. When the meat has reached 45 ° C, take it out of the oven to sear it in a hot cast-iron pan, in which a tablespoon of oil will have been heated over high heat until it begins to smoke . Add a tablespoon of butter at the same time as the steak and sear it for about 45 seconds on each side, including the sides, until it reaches 55 ° C.
Ease and efficiency: Not much more difficult than stove-oven cooking or oven-grill cooking (where you just have to know how to move a hot pan into the oven), this method nevertheless involves having twice as many dishes to wash. It is less effective than the two previously mentioned cooking methods, but just as much as barbecue cooking and more than vacuum cooking.
Meat tenderness: In third place, after the vacuum cooking and the oven grill pan cooking.
Wire rack: In the fourth position, after cooking on the barbecue, cooking the grill pan in the oven and the stove-oven cooking. As with steaks cooked only in a pan and in a vacuum, I did not manage to obtain a crust as grilled as I would have liked before the meat arrived at the optimal temperature.
Cooking under vacuum then in the pan
Method: Put the steak in a zipped plastic bag and close it by emptying the air manually – or with a vacuum device, if one is available. Cook the meat at 54 ° C for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Then remove the meat from its bag and absorb the moisture using paper towels. In a large cast iron skillet, heat a few spoons of oil over high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Drop the steak and a tablespoon of butter. Turn approximately every 30 seconds until all sides are well grilled, including the sides.
Ease and efficiency: Neither easy nor effective. Using the vacuum cooking mode involves buying an expensive appliance and cooking the meat much longer (at a lower temperature) than with other methods. It also requires you to use an application on your phone to control the device, which is never practical when your hands are already busy – and dirty. In addition, it is necessary here again to finish cooking by searing the meat in a pan, which soil more dishes than any other method.
Meat tenderness: Cooking under vacuum, as expected, resulted in the tenderest meat. That said, and it's hard to know why, it was slightly bland than the one cooked in the pan and then broiled in the oven.
Wire rack: In sixth (and last) position. I did not manage to obtain a sufficiently thick layer of grilled meat, because the temperature at the heart of the meat reached 55 ° C long before the sides could be very crisp.
Method: Preheat the barbecue to 315 ° C (for my part, I used a Big Green Egg barbecue and charcoal). Place the steak on the grill, close and cook for about 3 minutes. Reopen the barbecue and check the underside, which should be well grilled. Turn the meat over and cook the second side for another 3 minutes, until the temperature rises to 55 ° C.
Ease and efficiency: Having to buy charcoal and preheat the barbecue to a very high temperature is extremely painful. This test proved to be much less easy and effective than the other methods using the oven and the pan, but it was still simpler and more effective than cooking under vacuum. Also, unlike vacuum cooking, if you go to the trouble of getting charcoal and lighting your barbecue, you can use it to cook a full meal, with other meats and side dishes.
Meat tenderness: In fourth position, tied with stove-oven cooking. That said, when it comes to taste, barbecue cooking is a cut above other cooking methods, even if the meat is a little less tender.
Outside: By far the best grilled (first place).
In summary, if you did not have the courage to read everything
If you have a barbecue and it can reach high temperatures, do not hesitate to use it: your steak will only be better. But if, like me, you spend most of the year in an apartment in town, preferably opt for the double baking pan then broiler of the oven. It is the most effective method, which gives the best grilled and tender meat.
This article was originally published on Food52.