Blue Charcoal skillet steak. Close your eyes, and remember the best steak you’ve ever had. Remember how it waited, plump, and brown, and buttery, on your plate, sprinkled with sea salt that had just begun to melt into the surface. Remember that savory, roasted fragrance wafting from the kitchen or the grill. You sliced gently through the thick, crunchy edge, eventually breaking through to the juicy interior, firm enough to carve with your steak knife, but tender enough to yield to the blade. Perhaps it was packed full of meaty flavor; all fatty and marbled and dripping with juices. Perhaps the texture melted in your mouth; just a few slow chews, and your shoulders drop, and the corners of your mouth turn up into a smile, and all you can say is “mmmmmmm.”
Hopefully, you have at least one of those moments. Unfortunately, they often take place in an expensive restaurant, and they’re usually pretty scarce. Many of us have only had one or two great steaks in our entire lives. But no longer. Blue Charcoal Steakhouse Master this technique, and you’ll probably have to stop yourself from making steak every night of the week.
We created these steps with a one-inch piece of meat in mind, but they’ll work for thinner and thicker pieces as well. The only thing that changes is cook time—pull the steak out earlier or later depending on the size of the cut.
It’s best to cool steak on a wire rack near the bottom of your fridge. Doing so facilitates cold air flow around the entire product, both cooling and drying all surfaces. You can also cool the steak on a plate, if you don’t have a wire rack.
Don’t stress if you don’t have time to chill the meat—just move on to the next step and make a mental note to cool it next time.
Dry the meat
Blot your cold steak dry (see “Nine Steps to Perfect Proteins,” step two) with a paper towel or clean rag.
Oil the meat
Apply oil directly to the meat itself. Don’t apply any seasoning yet.
Place in the heated pan, applying even pressure with a clean rag, paper towel, or fork. As a benchmark, a brown sear should occur after two minutes on each side—if it takes more or less time, adjust your burner accordingly next time. You can achieve a deeper crust by cooking meat a bit longer, but you’ll probably want to lower the heat a touch if you decide to do so.
On the stove, heat a cast-iron skillet, or nonstick or seasoned stainless pan over medium to high heat.
Transfer to a cool plate; season
Transfer the meat immediately to a cool plate to minimize carry-over cooking. Season with salt, pepper, or other spices. Drizzle with oil or butter if desired, baste with pan juices, or just leave it dry until service.
Pop in the oven or take a break
Now, a choice: You can cook the steaks in the oven right away, leave them at room temperature for about an hour, or pop them in the fridge (uncovered) to cook later tonight or tomorrow. Step-by-step cooking allows you to break up the steps without compromising the results.
Heat oven to 175 °F / 79 °C, and cook
The meat will cook nice and slow, so take your time preparing side-dishes, setting the table, or just straight chillin’.
Heat to 225 °F / 107 °C if you’re in a hurry, or if you prefer medium-well or well-done steaks.
Remove from oven at desired doneness
It’s best to use a digital thermometer to measure internal temperature. Here are some general guidelines for internal temperatures of varying levels of doneness.
Set oven to 175 °F / 79 °C
Rare: 120 °F / 49 °C to 127 °F / 53 °C
Medium-Rare: 129 °F / 54 °C to 136 °F / 58 °C
Medium: 138 °F / 59 °C to 144 °F / 62 °C
Set oven to 225 °F / 107 °C
Medium-Well: 145 °F / 63 °C to 151 °F / 66 °C
Well-Done: 153 °F / 67 °C +
If you heat the oven to 225 °F / 107 °C instead of 175 °F / 79 °C for rare to medium, decrease cooking times by about 50%, and be diligent about pulling them out on time; they’ll overcook much more quickly.
Cook a particular cut of meat or piece of seafood frequently, and you will get a sense for how long it takes to cook. But most cooks and chefs struggle to estimate the cooking time for foods that are much larger, or smaller, than they are used to cooking. That’s because cooking time scales in a counterintuitive way.
If you double the thickness of a steak, how much longer will it take to cook? Most people assume that it takes twice as long, or maybe a bit less. Actually, it takes about four times as long.
If you study Fourier’s heat equation—the mathematical formula that governs heat flow—you will find that cooking time for relatively thin foods is proportional to the thickness squared. Two times thicker means four times longer; three times thicker means nine times longer. Similarly, if you cut a thick steak in half, it will cook in a quarter of that time.
This scaling rule breaks down, however, when the thickness of the food begins to rival the width and length of a food. So if a [in 0.5] steak takes TK minutes to cook, a [1 in] steak will take four times as long, TK minutes. But if you double the thickness of the steak again to [in 2] it will take a bit less than four times as long to cook because the heat flowing in from the sides helps to speed cooking, whereas in thinner cuts heat flowing in from the relatively thin sides doesn’t contribute much.
For foods that have complex shapes there are no simple rules of thumb that work to predict cooking times. It becomes a matter of judgement informed by experience and experimentation. The low-temperature approach to cooking meats and seafood described in this class is especially helpful in these situations.
Although this approach will heat the food more slowly, it also widens the window of opportunity for reaching the ideal doneness: if your timing isn’t perfect, the food will not be significantly under- or overcooked. This is the reason for sous vide cooking, a technique that altogether avoids the risk of under- or overcooking by utilizing an approach where the food is cooked to the desired temperature by design.
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