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How do steakhouses cook steak?

Can anyone here state for certain how high-quality steak houses cook steak?

My understanding is that you get the best cooking from charcoal, because it´s much hotter than gas. So do steakhouses use charcoal? If so, then is venting a problem? Charcoal produces a lot of carbon monoxide, and it would have to be carefully vented.

And what about those grille marks on steak? You´d have to turn it over VERY carefully to get the grill marks in that nice cross-hatch pattern. I´m always very suspicious of that pattern, because I know that many food establishments have a kind of branding iron they use to apply that finish to steaks, chicken breast, etc.

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  1. Most of the top of the line steakhouses in New York City use superhot salamanders, aka broilers to cook the steak. Something along the lines of an 1800 degree broiler. Also the NYC steakhouses dont have crosshatch marks on their steaks and the steaks have a crust across the entire steak.

    You usually only see the marks on bistro steaks. It isn't very difficult to make a crosshatch pattern though, so I'm not sure why you'd have to "VERY carefully" turn it. Basically you sear the steak for a minute or two and then turn it 45 degrees to get the crosshatches. Then flip the steak and finish cooking. I'm not sure why you'd think that would be tough to accomplish. It requires very little additional oversight or work.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ESNY

      "Most of the top of the line steakhouses in New York City use superhot salamanders, aka broilers to cook the steak. Something along the lines of an 1800 degree broiler."

      And it looks a little somethin' like this: http://www.southbendnc.com/sectionalb...

    2. As ESNY notes, lots of places use very hot gas broilers, but personally, I like the slightly smokey flavor that cooking over charcoal imparts.

      1. However... restaurants use those super high heat contraptions to save time & make it an even more no-brain practice. Research has proven that searing meat at very high heat does NOT lock in the juices... in fact they lose more moisture. High heat, however delivers some nice browning... however a good cook knows how to produce tender & browned steaks at much lower temps that are also alot juicier than the more modern methods.

        Regarding the hatch marks... while its not physicall hard to move the steak 45 degrees... its best to not touch them at all.. because you lose juice each time you touch them.

        Oven, Pan Fry, Grill over Charcoal... .it all depends on the desired result... if you are going to pair the steak with an extremely delicate French sauce you would not want to grill etc., but a nice mesquite charred steak is my preference.

        1. One thing to remember is that it's easier to make a good steak if it's real thick. Those skinny little 3/4" steaks from the grocery store are more difficult to get right than a nice thick 2" thick cut.

          I grill my steaks over wood, usually oak. Sometimes I use lump charcoal and sometimes, I'll use regular charcoal. But one constant is that I use a very hot grill and a very thick steak. The outside will get the nice crusty while the inside stays nice and red and warm.

          Grill marks are for show and I don't think it's worth worrying about.

          7 Replies
          1. re: bkhuna

            Agree with bkhuna 100%...I have grilled steaks for more than 40 years...and have eaten in all the great steakhouses in the US....so you might say I love steak. Some of the best I have eaten are cooked at my home, on an inexpensive Weber grill. Here are the cardinal rules, at least for me:
            1) Use good meat...I can't get USDA Prime aged beef locally, so I order, from one of the following: Lobel's; Allen Bros.; Harris Ranch, Niman Ranch. they all have websites. I prefer dry aged, but wet aged is better than you will get at most supermarkets. Minimum thickness is 1.5 inches, and maximum is probably 2.5" A bone in steak will be more flavorful and juicy.
            2) Take the meat from refrigerator at least an hour before cooking, and salt liberally with kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. Use more salt than you would think. I also trim off some the "extra" fat since the steak should be well-marbled and if it is a ribeye, I open them up and trim out the large nuggets of fat and put back together with a bamboo skewer. By the way, I don't have flareups.
            3) I use lump charcoal, not briquets. Lights faster, burns hotter and cleaner, and leaves less ash. I put the steaks on over high heat and sear on one side, and then flip and sear a little and for last few minutes put the cover on to slow the cooking.
            I like a nice crust, and medium rare, and think grill marks are for pictures on the cover of Gourmet magazine.....If you are using a bone in steak, usually when little bubbles of blood appear on the bone, it is time to turn, so you don't burn.
            Don't flip the steaks every 45 seconds, or you can't get that crust. I turn them once.
            4) Let the steak rest for 3-4 minutes to allow the juices to recirculate. This would also be a good time to brush the steak with a little garlic butter. Garlic would burn and get bitter over the hot fire.
            5) Open a nice bottle of cabernet or Zin or Shiraz...One last tip: Most people drink their reds too hot. I put mine in the fridge a couple of hours before dinner, and take them out at the same time as the steak...so they come to a nice cellar temp by time to eat.
            6) Enjoy, and plan the next cookout.

            1. re: steakman55

              I'm drooling at my desk... That sounds perfect!

              1. re: steakman55

                Perfection. I would add Stock Yards as a place to order your prime beef as it has proven better than the superb Allen Brothers in my experience. Also, make sure to pat your steaks very dry when you take them from the fridge to aid in crust formation.

                Man, I am having a T-Bone and a stout red tonight for sure. Don't forget the baked potato.

                1. re: steakman55

                  Nice to find a man who understands what a fine pairing steak and zinfandel make. For my money, zinfandel is the ultimate steak wine.

                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                    That's solid ditto on the Zin, and the advice to cool - not chill - the red is also spot on, especially in grilling season.

                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                      PK, CD says "stout red", in Texas, isn't that a Shiner Bock?

                  2. re: bkhuna

                    Amen! I hate those skinny little supermarket steaks. A thick steak works best every time. With the outside a little burnt, and the inside, as bkhuna said nice and warm and juicy...perfection.

                  3. I worked in four different steakhouses, and we always cooked over gas because it was quicker to fire up, and maintain over the night. And, yes, venting is very efficient - it's hot enough that the cooks would lose a couple of pounds over the night, so sucking that hot air out was important. At some places, we would add mesquite or hickory under the grill to produce smoke.

                    As for the grill branding iron - never seen it used anywhere I worked, or even heard of it before this.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: KevinB

                      The branding irons do exist, as do custom grill tops that can even incorporate images (typically a corporate logo). I don't consider these things evil, though I do find them silly. I doubt that a high end steak house would do this, but it needn't cause any harm.

                      The really nasty approach is grill marks stamped, or spray painted, on meat, fish, and poultry during processing. I've seen these products advertised, and occasionally available for retail sale (typically frozen/boxed products). Just recon that "grilled" chicken breast in the nuker and serve it up.

                    2. There's few places that use charcoal, but venting is generally not a problem due to the huge vent hoods directly above the cooking appliance.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                        Almost all high end steakhouses use over-fired infra-red broilers such as those manufactured by companies like Garland, Southbend and Montague. They use these units because they know that the infra-red ceramic burners will give them the extremely high temperatures--up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit-- that are required to develop the necessary char on the outside of the steak. This is known as the Maillard effect--named after the French scientist that discovered the effect. (google "Maillard effect" for a more detailed explanation). This is what makes a steakhouse steak taste the way it does.

                        Charcoal and wood are used less and less due to the onerous fire code rules regarding solid fuel cooking in commercial establishments. Most steakhouses using charcoal have been around for a while and are grandfathered around these relatively new regulations. Charcoal does not itself produce better flavour but due to its intense heat craetes the Maillard effect which we assume to be "charcoal' flavour. That same flavour can be produced in a very hot cast iron pan but this is not practical for large volume cooking.

                        The hash marks created by the grill do not have any purpose except to look pretty but as most serious steakhouses don't give a fig about appearances they concentrate on making the steak taste as good as possible-well charred and damn the hash marks You will never see hash marks at Peter Lugers et al. They are usually restricted to places that buy inferior meat and then try to mask its inferiorority by making it look pretty and slutting it up with sauces and garnishes.

                        A dear departed friend who ran a very successful steakhouse for many year once said "the secret to running a great steakhouse is to buy the best meat possible and don't f**k it up".. Words to live by.

                        1. re: ishmael

                          ishmael, I think you just answered a question of mine. When I was a kid I used to get a charburger at a little country bbq joint. I've been to many places since that advertise charburgers but they don't taste the same. They aren't the same. That high heat charcoal flavor, that doesn't come from the charcoal but the heat. I'm gonna work on that and look some stuff up. Thanks.

                      2. I worked at one of the "Top Of" chain restaurants in Columbus, OH and we didn't have gas in the kitchen...I guess being 40 floors up it was an issue to have gas up there. The stoves were electric but the broiler was wood burning and we did all the grill work over oak. The ventilation system looked standard as any other restaurant I had worked at.

                        Grill marks are easy with enough heat - Start the top of the steaks at 10 O'Clock then turn to 2 O'Clock about half way before flipping the steak over then do the same with the other side and you'll get some nice "branding iron" looking marks

                        1. Another approach I've learned over the past is to take a large chimney starter and fill it up with lump charcoal. Get blazing like a jet engine. Put a heavy grill over it, and you have focused heat. I've tried it with beef tenderloin, Tuna steaks, and flank steak which I sliced up afterwards. Get the largest chimney starter you can find and it works very well. I actually think I saw it on Alton's show a long time ago. Either way it works great.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: dcrab

                            This is my preferred approach when I'm cooking a steak for 1. It's really convenient more than anything else.

                            1. re: dcrab

                              Perhaps better yet put the steak under the chimney on a grate.

                            2. they also put butter on the steaks. that's the flavor youre not getting at home

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: thew

                                Yes. Or oil. But extra fat is very often part of the equation after being removed from the salamander.

                                1. re: thew

                                  Yep. A well-made steak butter is the piece de resistance, IMO. I've known a few purists who scoff at it, though.

                                  1. re: thew

                                    YES. butter on the steaks is the KEY to making good, juicy steaks. If you're wanting to do it at home, a iron skillet on high with butter in it is the BEST way to go. I am currently eating the best steak I have ever had, and the best news: i made it at home.
                                    Marinate thick-cut filet steaks for a day in italian dressing, and any steak spice mix. I used Webber's chicago steak seasoning. Be sure your iron skillet is on high, and HOT. then just seer the steak on both sides until its a little bit charred. I like mine rare, so it goes on and off in about 5 min. BEST STEAK EVER.

                                    1. re: kelseybnorris

                                      The "BEST STEAK EVER" never starts with Italian dressing.

                                  2. Something not covered - time on each side. Properly cooked steak is flipped three times plus one (the laying down of the raw steak). The first lay down is the longest time, the second longest being the orig. flip (but not as long as the lay down because it is still cooking on top from the orig. lay down). Then essentially the next to flips are for proper marking and cook off. The reasoning is that when you put the steak on orig. It is the coolest - so it gets the longest time. When you flip, THAT side is the coolest, but is still benefitting from the 800 degrees the other side (now top) sat on. With the flipping in this manner the steak cooks evenly on each side - you do not end up with a (say) Med steak on one side and a Rare on the other.

                                    If you have a baseball cut top sirloin or a very thick filet mignon you would roll it so all sides are cooked (crusted).

                                    Salamanders get 800 degree heat from the top and bottom and are broiled. No need to flip, but no grill marks (except the bottom if you put it in without a pan). With a salamander though - you cannot touch the steak to feel for doneness. If your kitchen is designed so that one person is watching the steaks and is not doing anything else or does not have anything else going in the salamander - then cooking one in there is possible to do correctly.

                                    The thing is that the salamander cooks from both sides so it is done very quickly. Steaks (IMO) are better cooked slowly - unless you are doing a filet, then it prob. does not matter)

                                    At home we got a grill with an infrared burner. I think that made a big difference in the pretty crusting of our steaks and chops. Charcoal and wood are very nice options if time is not a factor.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                      Interesting about the flipping. I haven't tested this yet, but the site "A Hamburger Today" did so with burgers, and found that frequent flipping resulted in 1) a faster cooking time, and 2) a juicier result. And by frequent, I mean a lot - they found the best results came when the patties were flipped every 15 seconds, although flipping every 45 seconds produced nearly the same result without a frantic grillman.

                                      Now, this was with ground meat, not steaks, and I think it would be a bit much to expect a busy line cook to flip all the steaks every 15 seconds. But it will be interesting to experiment over the next few weeks at home, and find out what the results are,

                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                        I like to mark the steaks and roast in the oven.

                                        With regards to the salamanders.....not all are top & bottom.....I would argue most are top only.....and I do the poke test...never use a thermometer.

                                        1. re: fourunder

                                          Re oven: I needed to serve thick Porterhouse from a quasi-kitchen with only a microwave and two wall-mounted ovens. I brought my cast-aluminum grill pan / griddle from home (fits over two burners on the home stove - gotta weigh 10#), and pre-heated it in a 450F oven. The steak really sizzled when it hit the pan, and when I flipped it.

                                          It turned out so well that I'm wondering if I should repeat it at home, instead of using the grill pan on the stove. (Not much outdoor grilling here in the winter - it's 20F - but I'll run the smoker in winter for a good cause)

                                          1. re: WNYamateur

                                            Many on this site like to promote the use of a cast iron skillet, preheated in an oven, sear the steak and return back to the oven. Generally it's a good basic approach, but I find the cast iron is only good for larger, thicker steaks that are a minimum 1.5 inches thick.....thinner steaks over cook easily. I also find you must flip the steak midway through the oven time for more even results.

                                            Based on what your detailed, I would not use the double grill in the oven, but I would use it on the stove to sear/mark and then move to the oven......with good ventilation of course. For the oven phase, I would transfer to a good fry pan, sheet pan or sizzle plate to catch the drippings. The drippings are great if you like a pan sauce....

                                            1. re: fourunder

                                              Pan sauce is a fabuolous idea. A favorite Italian resto finishes the pan juices with just a little garlic and flat parsley, and a little Chiani. Best piece of beef I ever had.

                                          2. re: fourunder

                                            Most resto salamanders are top and bottom and unless you pull them out of the salamander there will be no poking of any meat without a visit to the hospital.

                                            1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                              Salamander by definition, is cooked from the top. The following video shows, arguably the top steakhouse in NYC, with a top only radiant broiler which reaches up to 1800*, not 800. Just because the equipment fires up at 1800, does not mean the surface area of the meat reaches and is the same temperature.


                                              Many steakhouses will use a sizzle plate underneath the steak in a salamander/upright broiler to catch the drippings. If they were also heated from the bottom, the drippings would burn up on the plate.

                                              When designing a commercial kitchen, space is usually a premium. If a restaurant expects high volume need, but limited space, and only room for one broiler, they consider a top & bottom broiler with two pullout racks. In the video, the kitchen in Peter Luger clearly shows they do not use a top & bottom upright broiler to cook from two side......they have multiple top only broiers on the line.

                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                For great home steaks, which every steak lover wants to achieve, you can get very high heat piling charcoal up to an inch below the grill on a Weber. How hot? You can make the grill glow cherry-red hot. You can superheat it blowing air with a hair-dryer if you want (do this before dropping the meat on, otherwise you'll get ash on your meat.)

                                                Temp is well above 1000. Use regular home-grill long tongs, you still have to wear a glove, and forget about a silicone glove.

                                                I've found that trying to do cross-hatches is worthless. This was an artifact of Cal-Western grills with diamond-welds. If you have enough heat, your meat will develop a nice, tasty brown crust in the inter-space. You can easily get black, but it's bitter, so turn that baby over.

                                                If you don't want really rare, fill charcoal on one-half the bed side, then move steaks over and play with the vents for some baking (and additional browning).

                                                If you have to satisfy some diners who want medium-well
                                                (some of us have to put up with this!), use a 125 water bath or low-temp oven or warning drawer for an hour, or cut their steaks thinner than the others.

                                                Corn-fattened beef is really bad for low-omega-3s. It's really tasty.. Grass-fed beef, way more omega-3s., not as rich a flavor.

                                                But any kind of grilling generates carcinogens.

                                                I don't have a favorite steak. I liove ribeyes, but lots of fat, you have to be on top of the flaming. Porterhouse, I love, but tenderloin side tends to overcook. Boneless NY strips, very good. Sirloin, good taste, tougher than the preceding. Flatirons and skirts, pound them before grilling. Hanger steaks, really beefy flavor, this is one steak I like rare. If you take it medium rare, it loses something.

                                                I don't know what happened to bone-in chuck. It used to be fabulous, a day of marinating it, grilling it to medium rare. Now nobody is cutting it.

                                                1. re: MarkKS

                                                  Steakhouses I have worked at used a gas grill with cast iron grates.

                                                  The best restaurant steak I ever had was from a place in Alaska that cold smoked the steaks before grilling them. At home I often use the technique below to get pretty close.

                                                  Fire up the good ole Webber Kettle:
                                                  - start with a pretty thick 1.5+ inch steak, seasoned with salt and pepper.
                                                  - prepare grill for indirect heat, with coals mounded on one side of the grill.
                                                  - sear steak over direct heat on hot side of grill, about 1-2 min. per side. Get a good crust.
                                                  - move seared steak to other side of grill.
                                                  - throw a handful or two of moistened wood chips on the coals.
                                                  - close top of grill and smoke for about 10-12 min. for mid rare

                                                  Delicious smokey flavored steak!

                                                  1. re: Chowstr

                                                    I too love a smoky steak. But my method is simpler. After seasoning a pretty thick NY strip--my favorite cut--with S & P, I build a hot charcoal fire in my grill, and then, just before cooking, chuck a combo of pecan and oak on the coals. Immediately afterward, I put the steak on the grill, shut the lid, open the stack and the vent to raise the heat of the fire, and cook until done. I'll usually flip the steak about three or four times. Once done, I top with a compound butter containing lemon and thyme and chow down.