On average, each American devours more than 60 pounds of beef each year. Red meat not only tastes great but is one way to ensure you get the vitamins and minerals your body needs. The following tips, accompanied by recipes from around the world, will inspire you to expand your steak-house repertoire, whether in the kitchen or backyard.
Choosing the Right Cut
Selecting the right type and cut of beef is the most critical step in cooking the perfect steak. The first step is to find a reputable butcher. If buying from a supermarket, pick your steak wisely: "Enhanced" beef has been injected with additives to increase moisture and tenderness; "natural" beef has been minimally processed and contains no additives, coloring, or preservatives; "organic" refers to the way the animal was raised; it must have access to a pasture, be on an organic feed diet, and given no growth hormones or antibiotics. Depending on personal preference and availability, you can select from the more herbaceous-tasting grass-fed beef or the easier-to-find corn-fed variety.
The trick to cooking your steak perfectly is tailoring the technique to the cut of meat. Tender cuts, from the ribs or the loin, have more marbling and less lean muscle fiber, and will work better with quick, dry cooking techniques such as sautéing, grilling, and broiling. Tougher cuts, like flank steak and chuck, will become much more tender given enough time and a moist cooking technique, like braising or stewing.
How to Buy and Store
When picking steaks, choose cuts that are close in size and thickness-preferably over one inch thick-and marbled throughout. Not all meat has a grade or quality designation, but the higher grades (i.e., prime and choice) mean more marbling. Steaks should be bright red, with no gray or brown patches. If vacuum-packed, they may be darker, but once exposed to oxygen should become bright red again. Fresh beef should be refrigerated and used within three to five days of purchase. If properly wrapped and frozen, it will keep for at least six months.
Seasoning & Cooking
A marinade tenderizes and imbues steaks with extra flavor. Place the steaks in the marinade and then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour prior to cooking. Alternately, steaks can be seasoned with dry rub immediately before being placed on the grill. For a delicious yet simple crust, pat steaks dry with paper towels and season liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
When cooking in a pan, use a seasoned cast-iron skillet: Heat olive oil, butter, or some combination of the two, and sear steaks over high heat for about two minutes before turning with tongs and cooking for two minutes or so more, for rare steak; finish under a preheated broiler or in a 450° oven.
If grilling, brush oil onto the grilling rack to prevent sticking. The fat will melt into the fire and create smoke that will season and add flavor to the meat.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. While some of us prefer our meat a rosy medium-rare (145°F), others enjoy it medium (160°F), or even well-done (170°F). An instant-read thermometer will do away with all the guesswork and help ensure that your steak is perfectly cooked to your liking. It should be inserted horizontally from the side so it penetrates the thickest part of the steak without coming into contact with bone or fat. Still uncertain if it is finished? Make a small slit near the bone, or near the center of the steak, and check the juices and color.
When steaks are done, take them off the heat and let rest on a plate for ten minutes before cutting. This will give the meat fibers a chance to absorb juices released during cooking.
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