How to cook perfect steak 10 different ways

Steak is kind of a statement food, carrying with it associations of power, taste, and money, and for good reason. But there is far more to steak than a stereotype and a price tag, and treating every steak the same would be a foolish disservice. So next time you feel the need to eat a steak, stop before you blindly throw it on the grill. Read on because there's more than one way to perfectly cook a steak.

Grill

If someone is planning to cook a steak somewhere in the USA, chances are this is how it will be done. Grilling steak is quick, simple, and after a short period of learning, hard to mess up. All you need is a grill (gas or charcoal), some steaks, salt, pepper, and oil.

Start up the grill and let it get nice and hot. Oil and season the steaks on both sides. When the grill is good and toasty, throw the steaks on and leave them alone for between 3-5 minutes a side, depending on how red you like them. When the time is up, remove the steaks from the grill and let them rest for a few minutes covered in foil — then serve.

If you like to be fancy, you can rotate the steaks halfway through cooking each side to achieve that classy cross hatch look. However, if you do everything else right, your guests won't be in a position to notice that detail since they'll have their eyes closed in an extended moment of steak-induced bliss.

Pan fry

Pan frying a steak is not dissimilar to grilling, except it doesn't require you go outside. Just like the grill, you want to make sure your pan is hot. A cast-iron pan or a similar heavy-bottomed skillet works best because they hold more heat. And when you drop a steak into a hot one of those, the Maillard reaction has no excuse not to do its best work.

Martha Stewart recommends that instead of oiling the steak like you would for the grill, you simply salt and pepper the steak, then drop a lump of butter in the pan, and immediately cover it with the steak. Cooking times are similar as for grilling, but you may want to have a mesh splash guard handy and get your ventilation going. Otherwise, your kitchen will be covered in grease spots and your home will smell of fried meat for way longer than your ability to enjoy it.

Butter steak

The butter steak is a variation of the pan fry method, only with more butter and therefore more deliciousness.

This recipe starts out with a thick-cut ribeye steak. Put a nice cast-iron pan over a medium heat — but don't add any oil. When the pan gets up to temperature, add the steaks but start them on their fatty edges, not flat at first. The plan is to render some of the fat and brown the edges slightly. Keep moving the steak around until all the fat has been browned. At this point, you should tip the steak on one side and cook it in its own fat for a few minutes, then flip and cook the other side for slightly less time. Pour off all but a little bit of the fat and add a generous helping of butter and crushed garlic. Season with salt and continue to cook. Baste the steak regularly with the butter and turn regularly to keep the heating even.

By using a medium heat instead of the usual hellfire hot, the steak should spend more time at the ideal temperature range for the Maillard reaction to take place, which is just chef talk for making flavor. For a steak around 1.5" thick, you should aim for around 10 minutes a side for medium-rare perfection and a gorgeously browned and tasty crust.

Reverse sear

A tried-and-true technique for cooking your favorite lump of cow is to just throw it straight onto the hottest part of the grill. A common variation on this method for thicker steaks starts the same way, on a very hot grill, but quickly moves to an oven for a more gentle finish. Both those methods work, but there's a better way.

The theory behind starting a steak on a very hot grill is that it seals the surface and traps the juices inside the steak. However, when you sear the outside of a steak, you aren't actually sealing anything in. What you're doing is dumping a whole lot of heat into the steak that kick-starts the cooking process. This is fine if the steak is thin or you like your steak rare because the inside gets up to temperature before the outside overcooks. But when it's thicker or if you like things a little less myoglobin-y, things don't work out quite so well. High heat and time are two of the ingredients a clothes dryer uses to remove moisture from your duds, and the same is true for steaks. Too much heat for too long is bad news, and when you sear the outside before moving to the hot oven, you're raising the temperature side of that equation and removing moisture.

However, if you turn it around and start the steaks in an oven at 275 degrees (or on the cold side of the grill) for 45-60 minutes, then let rest under foil for 10 minutes before moving to a hot grill to sear the exterior, you are keeping the outside temperature of the meat lower while the inside heats up, which reduces moisture loss and results in a juicier steak. This reverse-sear method is a bit slower than a straightforward caveman-style meat and fire party and it definitely requires a decent meat thermometer to keep track of the internal temperature, but if your goal is evenly cooked steaks that are thick and juicy, then this technique is worth the time and investment.

Heston Blumenthal's very slow-cooked steak

If you think you're a steak expert, and have tried every type of cooking method there is, then think again — because Heston Blumenthal says you're wrong.

Heston Blumenthal is an award-winning chef and TV personality from England, but he's not your average ladle lugger. That's because he owns a restaurant called the Fat Duck that has won three Michelin stars, and he takes a very unorthodox approach to cooking that often comes closer to chemistry than cuisine.

But be warned, Heston's slow-cooked steak is not a recipe for the timid.

Start with a massive chunk of bone-in beef rib, enough to make as many 2-inch-thick steaks as you need. Using a powerful blowtorch, thoroughly and quickly scorch the whole exterior of the joint. This helps get the flavor started, and also kills off any bacteria that would inevitably ruin the meat if given half a chance.

Preheat an oven to 122 degrees Fahrenheit using a separate in-oven thermometer to ensure accuracy. If your oven doesn't go that low, try propping the door open — it's important to be able to hold that temperature. Now here's the fun part: put the massive lump of meat into the oven and leave it there for 24 hours. This is why you need to sear the outside of the meat before you put it in the oven, because if you don't, at 122 degrees, any bacteria will breed like, well, bacteria at 122 degrees, and the meat will not be edible the next day.

Over the 24 hours, the meat is effectively force-aged, which generates a whole host of new flavors and makes the meat amazingly tender.

After 24 hours, remove the meat from the oven, cover with foil, and leave to rest for 2 to 4 hours. Now, using a sharp knife, debone the meat, then cut off and dispose of all exterior surfaces and slice into however many steaks you desire, and season.

Heat a good pan as hot as you can get it (really, really hot), then cook the steaks for 4 minutes a side, turning every 15 to 20 seconds. Let it rest again, then, finally … serve.

Sous vide steak

If you don't have a whole day to spare but you want to try something a little more sophisticated than throwing meat on a hot grill, then sous vide might be the thing for you. Sous vide is the process of placing food in airtight bags and cooking slowly at low temperatures in a water bath. When cooking steak the temperatures can be as low as Heston's method, at around 120 degrees Fahrenheit, but with a smart controller can easily be set anywhere you like. By using a vacuum-sealed bag, the meat is sealed in with its juices and any seasoning you apply has nowhere to go but into the meat.

Like the Heston method or the reverse sear, this method involves slowly cooking the meat at a low temperature and then finishing it on a hot grill or pan. And whether you like your steak rare, medium, or even (*gulp*) well done, you can very easily achieve your preference every single time with an accurate sous vide. This is because if you want rare steak, you set the water temperature to 120 degrees, and cook for between 1 and 2 hours. If you like your steak medium, set the temperature to 135 degrees, and cook for up to 4 hours, and so on. Just tell the machine what temperature you want the inside of your steak and let it do all the work.

Unlike on a superheated grill, timing isn't that important with sous vide. An extra few minutes (or hours) will just make the meat more tender, but it will still be cooked just the way you like it. And when you're ready, simply remove the meat from the bag and gently pat dry, then sear the outside in a very hot pan or on a very hot grill. Do this for no longer than 90 seconds, and make sure you turn it regularly to avoid overheating one side and further cooking the interior.

Unlike most of the other recipes here, this one doesn't require resting, so you can go straight from grate to plate and immediately enjoy your perfectly cooked, refreshingly hot steak.

Afterburner

If you only have access to a charcoal grill but just can't wait to eat your steak, then this method is for you. It's also perfect for any fans of the movie Top Gun, because you get to say the word "afterburner" and you can probably do it while wearing aviator sunglasses.

This recipe starts out like most steak-on-a-charcoal-grill recipes: with some coals in a chimney starter. But this time only fill the chimney halfway up and place a metal grill on top. Prepare the steak like you would for the regular grill, but leave out the pepper — according to AmazingRibs.com, the heat the steak is exposed to using this method will just burn the pepper.

When the coals are at the point where you would usually dump them out, leave them right where they are and just go right ahead and drop your steak onto the metal grill. Since the temperature is that much higher using this method, you might want to turn the steaks over more than once during cooking for a more even finish. If your steak is under an inch thick, 3 minutes a side (total) should give you medium-rare deliciousness. Leave it longer for less red, but don't get complacent with an afterburner because an overcooked steak is just one distraction away.

As usual when the time is up, remove the meat from the chimney and let it rest under foil for a few minutes before serving.

Coal-roasted steak mummy

If water baths just don't feel right and scorching your meat using an afterburner still feels too sophisticated, then why not get rid of the metal entirely and grill like an Egyptian? This method works best using charcoal. While the coals are getting warmed up, take a cut of tenderloin and remove all the fat and silver skin you can find. Soak a piece of clean cotton approximately 16 inches to a side, gently wring out, and lay on a table. Cover the cotton in ¼ inch of salt and sprinkle on some oregano. Lay the steak on the salt about 4 inches from and perpendicular to a corner. Then carefully roll the steak in the cloth, and tie the loose ends together. You should be aiming for a nice tight parcel.

When the coals are ready and raked out, place the parcel directly on the coals. Leave there for about 9 minutes, then carefully turn over and leave for another 8 minutes. During this time, the cotton will go from being bright white, to burned black. Don't worry; it's the heat doing that, not ancient curses. Test the meat for doneness by using a thermometer (120 degrees for rare, 135 for medium, etc.), and after letting the whole thing rest for a couple of minutes away from the coals, break through the now carbonized parcel to get at the meat. Brush off any excess salt and serve.

Bare-naked coals

There are days when you want to be the master of technology and technique, using complex recipes and equipment and amazing your friends in the process. And there are other days when you just want a nice, hot chunk of charred meat as soon as humanly or Neanderthally possible. And for those days, Alton Brown has your back.

Start with a couple of (relatively thin) skirt steaks, season thoroughly with salt, and leave out of the fridge on a rack to warm up for an hour. Start enough charcoal to easily cover the bottom of your grill, Alton recommends natural lump charcoal, and when it's about ready (no flame, just glowing and ash) place the steak directly on the coals for 35 to 40 seconds a side. Remove from the heat, wrap well in foil, and put aside for 15 minutes to rest. Then slice across the grain, and consume immediately without silverware or table manners.

Steak tartare

In any collection of steak recipes such as this, there is one preparation method that is all too often overlooked, probably because at first glance it doesn't appear to require any preparation at all. But that's a mistake. Steak tartare is a popular dish in France and has a healthy following in the U.S. as well. However, since a lot of people struggle with the idea of a rare steak, a totally raw one is usually out of the question. Steak tartare is not only odd for the lack of heat involved in its preparation. It also stands out due to the fact that the steak is chopped up before serving. But if all the classy diners in France had to gnaw on a whole raw steak, the dish probably wouldn't have been quite so successful.

The preparation of steak tartare mostly involves the assembly of ingredients, but there are a few crucial steps that must be taken to ensure food safety. Since the meat won't be being exposed to heat on the outside, where most of the bacteria will be found, it is important to take the time to locate a very fresh cut of pretty good quality. Don't go picking up a prepackaged pound of mystery chuck at the supermarket, or the word chuck will probably come back to haunt you. Proper steak tartare starts out life as a decent steak, this recipe suggests eye of round, which is then chilled in the freezer and diced up immediately prior to serving. Another way to ensure clean steak is to have the butcher cut it for you right there. (If the butcher refuses or doesn't have time, you would be well advised to go somewhere else entirely.)

The rest of the ingredients, like salt, pepper, mustard, chives, egg yolks, capers, and lemon juice, are presented on the side of the plate for your dinner guest to combine at their leisure. And be sure to supply a healthy portion of crispy crostinis to eat it with, because metal silverware just doesn't have the same crunch.