I cannot cook steak. Can you?
I think of myself as a rather accomplished cook. I know what I'm doing and can invent on the fly with great success. But, to say my steaks are average might be generous. :( I've just never learned how to do it right. I have available to me a grill outside, a shallow cast iron pan, a deeper cast iron pan, a couple of All-Clad pans, as well as my KitchenAid non-stick set. I suspect the grill or cast iron are the best bet, but what's the method?
Don't overcook 'em, whatever method you use. For seasoning, I like a little soy sauce--but you don't want to apply it until just a few minutes before you are going to cook them or it will dry them out.
I cook either on the grill or under the broiler, with soy sauce (stick the steak several times on both sides with a fork to get some sauce into them). After the soy sauce I sprinkle them with chopped garlic or garlic powder if I'm lazy. Here lately I've been having mine with a sauce I make of garlic sauteed in butter, blue cheese, sour cream, and a short ton of horseradish.
Well the grill is going to impart a more Q'd flavor, but it also keeps the smoke outside. What I find helpful is to know how my guests like them. Right now the consensus is medium. I either broil or grill them on each side till get some color, then finish them off to the side of the fire on the grill, or in the oven at 400. If they are ready to the "touch test", I turn the oven off, or if outside keep them near the heat but not cooking anymore to rest for at least 5 minutes before carving/serving. The cast iron skillet is revered by some, but my open kitchen means the smell lingers in the deep recesses of my house for a long time...
-Choose 2 really nice boneless strip or rib steaks, 1 to 1.25 inches thick, 8 oz apiece.
-Preheat your wide cast-iron pan (11-12 in.) for at least 10 (yes, ten) minutes over medium.
-Season steaks liberally with salt and pepper.
-Swirl 1tbs vegetable oil to coat bottom of pan.
-Add steaks; cover with a splatter screen.
-Cook 5 minutes.
-Turn, cook 3 more minutes for rare, 4 for medium-rare, 5 for medium.
-Remove, rest steaks 5 minutes.
-Share and enjoy.
Why do you think your steaks are average?
If you are comparing your steaks to the ones from a steakhouse then you are most likely at a huge disadvantage. They use dry aged cuts which are not easy to find...and if you are able to find it, they are jaw-droppingly expensive. It's not easy to replicate dry aging at home (despite what Alton Brown claims).
My steaks prepared from supermarket cuts are hit and miss too. I have always been in the "sear on high for 3 minutes a side" school of steak cooking, but I have been playing with the "low and slow then sear on high method" the last few times I made steak. The results have been mixed so far.
I am comparing to eating out, but not just fancy steakhouses. I've had better petite sirloin steaks at a buffet place for $7. :( Mine just taste like cooked meat, even if I've bought the best filet mignon or ribeye steaks I can find. Of course, the better the cut, the better even mine taste.
Overkill here, but what is it about your steaks that you don't like? If you enjoy steak at restaurants, you should be able to do just as well--no, better--at home. Or, given your nom de guerre, on your boat.
First, the meat. You have to choose a cut, and have a ton of options: filets, strips, porterhouses and t-bones (which are just filet/strip combos connected to the bone), hanger steaks, flatirons, top sirloins, bottom sirloins, and on and on. But if you want the epitome of steakdom, the ribeye is as good a place as any to start. If it has a rib bone attached, all the better.
Choosing the cut is not the end of the meat-buying process. Not all ribeyes are created equal. Buy prime beef if you can. Well-prepared cheap steaks can taste very good, and bad cooking can ruin even the best meat, but there is a direct correlation between the quality of the raw material and the quality of the end product. Find a butcher and strike up a conversation. Failing that, go mail order. Yes, the best beef costs way too much compared to supermarket stuff. Ignore the cost per pound and rationalize the expense by thinking about how much the same steak would cost you if you ordred it in a restaurant.
Once the steak is in the house, start thinking about introducing it to the heat. You need it to be bone dry, or you'll have problems with searing. And searing is what makes the wonderful tasty crust on the outside of the steak. Let it sit out until all exterior moisture is gone. An hour on the rack on the counter works. Or, if you want it to do it right (there are those here who disagree), sprinkle it liberally with kosher salt, set it on a rack over a plate, and put it in the meat drawer of the fridge for a week. Or two.
Now, the cooking. You need to sear the meat by introducing it to a lot of heat, very quickly. The grill and the cast iron pan are your best options on that front. Let the grill heat up fully, or leave the pan on the stove until it gets smokin' hot. Like, "is it going to melt?" hot. Then add the meat and let it sit for at least a minute, flip it, and let the other side sear for another minute or so.
Finally, lower the heat and cook the steak through. No, don't just turn down the grill (or the burner). Either move the meat to a cool spot on the grill or stick it in a moderate oven. Insert a meat thermometer and watch the temp. When it's nearly done, pull it off and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
If you want to gild the lily, there's nothing like a maitre'd butter (or, even better, a bordelaise or a bearnaise sauce) to finish the steak. But the sauce is just an extra. With a small investment in meat (compared to oh, say, a niced used sedan), a little know-how, and careful attention, you'll be able to cook a steak that's as good as or better than anything you can get at all but a handful of restaurants.
Good points alanbarnes,
I think the OP may benefit from experimenting with dry aging at home. I wouldn't recommend dry aging steaks for a long time (a week is pushing it IMO), but to start with roasts which can then be sliced into steaks. Fine Cooking Magazine's website has a nice pictorial on this topic.
On your tip on salted dry-aging - I have tried this, it does "improve" the meat, but it does not taste as good as a properly (unsalted) dry-aged cut. Salted aging takes on a totally different flavour - it doesn't have the tang and depth that I expect from a dry-aged cut. The texture is different too - difficult to describe, but dry-age beef doesn't shred compared to salted.
Merely drying out the steaks in the fridge for a while (few hrs to a couple of days) will also improve the steaks.
I've had inconsistent results with salting the meat before aging. Sometimes it just accelearates the process--making a steak aged for a week taste as good as 30-day dry-aged beef. Other times it hasn't worked so well. But the results have never been noticibly worse than with unsalted meat.
I propose a thorough study involving severeral rib primals, a few Chowhounds, my new gas grill (neutral flavors and all), and copious quantities of wine. Who's in?