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Aug 31, 2007 11:15 AM

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:

    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 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 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.