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Help me overcome my steak cooking phobia

So I'd like to make a nice steak dinner for my bf, who has been more wonderful than usual lately. The problem is that I have no idea how to cook a steak. I've only every tried to do so on the grill, and it's not going to be grilling weather. All griling attempts ended in tough shoe leather disaster.
I have cast iron, I have non-stick, I have access to top quality meat. All tips, foolproof techniques and recipes are welcome. I don't have a preference when it comes to cut, although I do know that I really don't prefer prime rib.
Help me hounds!

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  1. Two big huge delmonicos. Heat cast iron to seriously high. Sear outside of steak,and all around the edges. Put in 500 degree oven and cook until desired doneness.

    That is, imo, the best way to do it if you aren't willing to grill. The seasoning on the steak should just be salt, pepper and olive oil.

    1 Reply
    1. re: charlesbois

      Boom. But forget the olive oil, and top with a large portion of compound butter after it rests for a few minutes.

    2. I would cook it in your cast iron pan on the stove top, in a mixture of olive oil and butter. I really like Suzanne Goin's technique, and will try to find my report on that - you heat up the pan for about ten minutes before adding the fat.

      1 Reply
      1. re: MMRuth

        Here's a link to my post, and Rubee's above it, on her "Pan-roasted Rib Eye Steak 'Marchand de Vins'"


        The recipe calls for preheating the cast iron pan for 8 minutes on high heat, drizzle olive oil on the steaks, put in hot pan, sear for 2 minutes, add 1 T butter, cook 2 more minutes, turn over, and cook for 3-4 more minutes for medium rare. Baste often with the butter/oil in the pan. Let them rest. You then pour the fat out of the pan, add 1 T butter, 1/2 cup finely diced shallots, sautee 2 minutes over med. heat, scraping pan constantly with a wooden spoon. Add 1 cup red wine, turn up heat to high, cook four minutes, stirring all the time, until reduced by 2/3rds. Add in 3 T butter, cook another minute, remove from heat, taste for seasoning, add chopped parsley.

      2. My best tip for you is to start with a quality piece of meat that is butchered uniformly in thickness to insure consistent temperature desired. Poorly cut meat results in overcooked meat in the thinner area. My preference is to have my steak cuts butchered at least 1.5 inches thick.....but two inches is better. Also, take your steak out of the refrigerator two hours before cooking to bring it near to room temperature. This aids in achieving a cool or warm inside to the steak, rather than a cold one.

        Consider cooking one large steak instead of two....similar to how Steakhouses serve their Porterhouses for two. My suggestion is to purchase a New York Strip 2.5-3.0 inches thick, season with fresh cracked pepper, kosher salt and olive oil, pan sear in a cast iron pan a minute or two on each side....then finish cooking in the oven.....If you prefer your meat rare...using an oven temperature @ 500* would work well, but for me a 450* oven is better. I like my steaks medium-rare......absent of a quality thermometer to check your meat temperature doneness, cook the steak for 10-12 minutes, then shut the oven off and let the steak sit in the oven for another 3-4 minutes before removing. I never use a thermometer and this will result in a perfectly cooked Medium-Rare Steak.......Transfer the steak to a plate and tent some foil over it. Take the pan juices and add some chopped shallots and fresh mushrooms.....deglaze with red or port wine, and finish with some pats of butter swirled into the wine reduction.

        Slice the steak on an angle/bias into half inch slices. Transfer to plates and add the pan gravy.

        For a simpler recipe, the same cooking method as above, but try Tuscan Style. Marinate your steak in fresh herbs, e.g., oregano ..... After slicing, add olive oil and fresh lemon juice...

        1 Reply
        1. re: fourunder

          Start with a really good porterhouse. Cut at least 1-1/2" - 2" thick.

          Marinate it in L&P for a bit.

          Adjust the rack in your oven to be fairly close to the broiler.

          Broil on high, but DON'T walk away. It will cook quickly.

          Test for doneness, and let it sit for a bit. Enjoy. Sauteed onions and mushrooms, along with french fries, are nice additions.

        2. "Tough shoe leather" -- that's a tip off. How do you like your steak cooked? If it's anything more the medium, you're going to get shoe leather unless you use a VERY tender cut like filet mignon. Also, in that case, look for Prime meat -- the extra fat will help with the overcooking.

          If you aren't overcooking, cooking a steak is simple, so "disasters" would more likely be the result of the wrong cuts (a chuck roast won't make a good steak). Shell/NY Strip would be my go to cut. Prime, if possible. Porterhouse is very tasty, but the bone means even cooking is difficult. For a beginner, better to go boneless. Indoors, I do the cast iron routine, don't need to finish in the oven.

          If you salt and pepper a steak, cook it in cast iron with just a bit of oil, there is not much that can go wrong. Don't flip it more than once, don't move it too much. Let it get a nice crust. But DON'T OVERCOOK.

          Last thing -- don't poke it full of holes while you are cooking it. Don't press down to get it sizzling. And don't cut into it right away after it's done. It needs to rest or the pressure caused by the heat (think hot air baloon) will cause all the juices to run out.

          1. An easy, fool proof and delicious recipe I would recommend is Marcella Hazan's Steak with hot pepper flakes and marsala; it is either in the Essentials of Italian Cooking or her original Classic Italian Cooking. You can use either a boneless rib eye or a stip sirloin. It is great!!

            1. CeeBee - what a nice thing to do! First, I have to mention something practical... Do you have a professional exhaust fan in your home/apartment/condo? I'm not talking about that little thing that doubles as a microwave and a light, I mean a real, big exhaust fan. If not, I would HIGHLY advise against cooking it inside on your stove top. Doing so will create so much smoke, you'll hardly be able to see your sweetie in the next room.

              With that said, I would suggest giving your grill another try. It may be a little cold, but how about you get a decent bottle of red wine, put on a nice sweater and put out a couple of chairs so you can both sit outside for the few minutes while you cook the steaks. After all, the cooking technique like time and temperature is essentially the same as cooking inside on your cast iron pan or under your broiler, only you're doing it on the grill. The real key as sbp mentioned is do not overcook. I also like the advice of taking the steak out of the fridge for a couple hours so it warms to room temperature. With that said, a cold steak is less likely to overcook in the middle! For someone who is unsure about cooking steak, it might be a teeny tiny safeguard to keep it refrigerator cold. For a nice steak you probably want a NY Strip, ribeye, t-bone, or maybe a filet mignon. For the first 3 (aside from a filet which tends to be cut thicker) they will probably be in the 1.5 inch thick range. This equals out to about 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Time will depend on the temperature of the fire and the thickness of the steak. Adjust that time up or down depending on how you like it. I just did a quick search and this might be of use: http://www.neesvigs.com/goesteakcook.htm Notice that they list the times in total cooking time, not per side, so when they say 6-8 minutes cooking time that means 3-4 minutes per side.

              Have fun and if you do decide to cook on the stove top, make sure you have disconnected your smoke alarm and opened the windows!

              1. CeeBee, I definitely understand your problem. In my experience, it is much more difficult and hazardous to try to sear a steak on a stovetop or broil it in an oven than it is to get a good result on an outdoor grill. And to be perfectly honest, I just prefer the crust and smokiness and flavor that outdoor grilling gives -- if I have to cook indoors, I switch over to a roast or pork or chicken or even burgers rather than buying an expensive cut of steak that isn't going to turn out like I prefer.

                Having said that, there are some suggestions so far I definitely agree with:

                Use your cast iron. This can give a sear, and can go from stovetop into the oven or under the broiler if necessary. Nonstick is worse than useless for steak -- no crust, and not enough heat for the results you need.

                Great idea of splitting one thick steak rather than two thinner ones. Much more margin for error or taste.

                Definitely go boneless rather than bone-in. If you were grilling, you'd want the flavor, structure, and insulation that the bones provide. But in a skillet, the bones just get in the way, they keep the meat from proper contact with the heat surface when the meat seizes up a little when it starts cooking, and they just make things more difficult.

                How do you and your date prefer their steak done? Hopefully, medium rare. Anything over medium is going to be very difficult to keep tender. No offense, but if you are aiming for more cooked I'd be looking for a recipe that lends itself to that -- for example a potroast that can be braised for hours and needs to be longcooked and gets more tender and succulent, or check out a recent America's Test Kitchen or Cook's Illustrated where they give a recipe and technique for welldone burgers, using milk-soaked bread mixed in with the beef (like a meatloaf) to provide moisture and tenderness with longer cooking.

                Are you willing and able to experiment with a simple pan sauce? If so, this gives you a lot more leeway and choice. First, you can get by with a much less expensive cut of steak -- a flatiron, or flap, or a sirloin rather than a strip or filet. You would sear the steaks in your castiron over very high heat on both sides, then remove the meat to a warm oven. In your castiron, you would use the fat and the fond (the crispy crusty brown bits left over from the searing meat) as the basis for your sauce. A bit of red wine splashed in and then a wooden spoon scraped on the bottom of the pan would deglaze the fond. From here, you could just add a bit of butter. Or, in between, any number of flavors -- some garlic, some shallots, some finely chopped onion or scallion, some good dijon mustard is common, a splash of worceshire sauce, a splash of soy, some red wine vinegar, some beef or chicken stock -- not all of them, by any means, just something to deglaze, a couple of things to flavor, and then something to fill and bubble, and finally some butter to smooth and finish. Now you take your steaks from the warming oven. If they are the color and doneness you want, just place on your platter either over or under the sauce. If too rare, then slice (optional) and finish in the bubbling sauce for a minute or two to bring to the doneness you want.

                Good luck, ask more questions, and most important report back.

                4 Replies
                1. re: nosh

                  Another alternative do a pan sauce is to do a compound butter - I like tarragon.

                  1. re: nosh

                    Good call on the "one big steak" idea. The Whole Foods near me often offers a whole bone in ribeye which is in the neighborhood of 2.5 to 3 inches thick - big! I buy them once or twice a year and cook that way. Anyway, once you cook it and rest it, you cut the whole thing off the bone and then slice it. Nice way to serve a steak and it's even a little more of an elegant presentation if you're aiming for that route.

                    1. re: nosh

                      you can get by with a much less expensive cut of steak


                      the boy's been more wonderful than usual lately.......let him be rewarded with a Prime Cut.

                      With that said, I do enjoy cheaper cuts for beefier flavor. Flat Iron, Hanger and Flap/Tri Cuts are all great if you like marinated sliced beef.

                      1. re: fourunder

                        "you can get by with a much less expensive cut of steak"

                        CeeBee did mention the use of top quality meat, I agree with fourunder. This is a special occasion, save the other stuff for other days. With that said flat iron is a wonderful cut often served in top notch restaurants. However, I have experienced that unless it is EXPERTLY butchered, you will often times have inedible sinew running through the meat. For those of you who think that sinew is supposed to be there... read up on flat iron steaks!

                    2. Two things are needed first, what type of steak does he or you like and how much do you like it cooked (rare/medium rare, etc).

                      Once that is decided, go to a quality butcher and get the steak, dry aged prime if possible and you want to spoil him. As everyone else said, the thicker the better and for your first time, boneless is easier to prepare than bone-in. Choices include ribeye, strip steak, top sirloin, filet. Other steaks like flank, skirt, flat iron are thinner and may be more difficult for a newbie. Better to start with steakhouse cuts.

                      Use the cast iron skillet. For a good steak, oil is optional. If you use oil, ONLY rub it on the steak. Don't put it directly in the pan or it will burn. Put the naked cast iron skillet over high heat and preheat for five minutes or more. Then add the (oiled) steak that is well seasoned with salt, more than you think, and pepper. Put in pan and dont touch for 2-3 minutes. Then flip once and don't touch again. It will smoke alot so dont be concerned at that (and cover your smoke detector if its sensitive) At this point, the easiest way to finish it is to put in a pre-heated oven till the desired doneness. To avoid shoe leather, use a thermometer. For rare, maybe 110-120 degrees, medium rare about 125-130 degrees. If you like it more than medium rare, you best use a fatty cut of steak like a ribeye. I personally would never waste my money on a filet in the first place and if you like it medium or well done, this cut will be tougher than steel if cooked through.

                      Remove from oven and let sit for at least 5 minutes. The time it will take depends on your stove/oven and the steak you choose and its thickness. Don't worry, it will still be plenty warm after 5-10 minutes. Then enjoy. I personally like my steaks w/o sauce, esp since i spend the money for top quality dry aged meat and dont want to mask the flavor.

                      Its really easy, just don't overcook it, don't fidget with it (or cut during cooking) and let it rest before eating.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: ESNY

                        Agree 100% with everything you've said, ESNY, especially the emphasis on using a meat thermometer. If you don't already have one, and if you're going to spend what in my nabe would probably be about $50 on a steak, buy a meat thermometer. It's the only way to know for sure that you're going to get what you hope for.

                        But I don't understand why you say that a boneless steak is easier to prepare than bone in. I usually do the latter since I think it has more flavor (and gnawing on the leftover bone is sometimes the best part of the whole meal), but don't see why--using the method you describe--one would be easier than the other.

                        1. re: JoanN

                          As I tried to explain above, when you are grilling outdoors on a flame I prefer a bone-in cut pretty much every time. The bone adds flavor, gives a structure, acts as a sort of insulator, and yes is fun to gnaw on. But on an outdoor flame grill the steak lies on a rack and the flames lick below and around the meat, reaching all of the crevices.

                          When you are inside searing in a skillet on a cooktop, the secrets are preheating, heat, and contact. A bone contacts the surface, but at high heat the meat will seize up a bit and contract, and thus remove itself from direct contact with the hot cooking surface if there is a bone for it to hang onto. The bone won't contract, the meat will. So you are cooking and directly searing bone, not meat. The caramelization and searing and crispy crusting is not happening -- the meat is now a crucial milimeter above the hot surface and is baking or roasting or worse steaming.

                          1. re: nosh

                            My apologies, nosh. I'm one of those who rail against posters who respond before fully reading all the replies and now I find myself guilty of same. What you say makes sense. I understand it intellectually. But it's never been a problem for me in practice. I'm able to get a very good char on the meat of a bone-in steak. Can't tell you why, only that I don't recall ever not getting the caramelization I was looking for. Nonetheless, point taken.

                            1. re: JoanN

                              I agree with everything nosh said.

                              My comment re: boneless was for a beginner who has had problems with cooking steak. Its just easier when you have a uniform side without a protrusion of bone to cook properly and get it nice and brown. A bone-in steak will always taste better but just ups the difficultly when cooking in a cast iron skillet.

                        2. re: ESNY

                          You find dry aged prime top sirloin and I'll give you $1,000,000. ;-) Does no one pay any attention to the smoke generated when cooking inside like this? We're talking MASSIVE amounts of smoke, not steam, not splatter, but pure unadulterated smoke. You say "don't be concerned about [smoke]" but why would you not be? You'll have to clean you cabinets after something like this there will be so much smoke. Again, unless you have a serious exhaust system in your house, try the grill.

                          1. re: HaagenDazs

                            >>try the grill.

                            Or the broiler.

                            I would never recommend the mess from stove top steak cooking.

                            1. re: HaagenDazs

                              I live in an apartment in NYC with a serviceable kitchen, at best, and no exhause system and cook tons of steak this way, running the gamut from prime dry aged ribeyes to skirt steaks to hanger steaks and I never, ever get "MASSIVE amounts of smoke". It certainly does smoke some, but nothing like you mention.

                              1. re: ESNY

                                Me too - it's not a big deal - I just open a window and I get more smoke making pizza (due to corn meal) than I do cooking a steak this way. A splatter screen is also useful.

                                1. re: ESNY

                                  Maybe my stove top gets hotter than yours but I doubt it... I think our definitions of massive are different. Massive amounts of smoke for me means that it will smoke up your kitchen to the point where your wine glasses will receive nice tiny spots of grease on them even through a closed cabinet. The light bulbs/fixtures will get a nice sticky patina on them and over time it creates a wonderful place for dust to adhere. Finally if my smoke alarm goes off, I know I've gone too far and my house will smell like carbonized oil and beef fat for several days. That's why I try to avoid the problem altogether and simply cook my steak on a grill... outside.

                                  I'm not trying to be mean here, I'm just trying to make sure this girl knows what she's getting into before she tries it. Remember, you did actually mention yourself that "it will smoke a lot" and "cover your smoke detector".

                                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                                    True but in a NYC apartment, the smoke detector isn't too far from the kitchen. And mine is fairly senstive and goes off sometimes even pan frying/sauteeing. I wish I can grill outdoors but for me its simply not an option.

                            2. This is one of those questions that you can write a whole book on. However I found this video really helpful when getting over steak phobia I bet it will help you too and make a happy BF, if you only made this and served on a bed of arugula or baby spinach that is pretty much a meal in itself:


                              1 Reply
                              1. re: rezpeni

                                I was about to post the Good Eats tutorial for cooking a steak, but your link discusses all the important parts.

                              2. When I was learning to cook steak, or any meat for that matter, a digital meat thermometer was the BEST thing I bought! Prior to that, I was overly worried about things being done, so I was cutting into the meat to peak, the juices were escaping etc. Eventually you wont rely on the thermometer so much. So I would buy a thermometer, then follow the advice the other posts have offered.

                                1. There are those who love to sear in a very hot pan but, following the advice of some fine beef purveyors, I prefer lower and slower. One big advantage: the steak is done about the same all the way through, and not well-done on the outside and pink in the middle.

                                  I use low to medium heat, and the following times:
                                  1-1/4-inch, 8 mins total
                                  1-1/2-inch, 10 mins. rotal.
                                  1-3/4-inch, 11-12 mins rotal.

                                  If you prefer, sear for a minute on each side, and cut the cooking time slightly.
                                  Ttake the meat out from the fridge about 20 minutes before cooking.
                                  Heat the pan on medium about 3 minutes before cooking.
                                  Use a small amount of oil., butter or spray.
                                  With good steak, season only with salt and pepper.
                                  Most flavorful steak: rib eye. Second: New York. Fit only for the pets: most filet mignon.

                                  1. I am starting to feel rather guilty regarding my lack of effort when cooking steak now. I use Porterhouse/Striploin mainly because that is the steak I ate growing up and I can get export quality stuff at a good price. My father still works in the beef industry and its one of the first things I was taught to cook. I am not big on grain fed either...Grass fed EU all the way!

                                    I just wack it under the grill (broiler), I don't like the taste of pan-fried steak...Turn it over when its browned and then wait for the other side. Poke it with my finger to test for doneness.

                                    In my opinion a good steak doesn't need a great deal done to it (although it doesn't do it any harm, and why not mix things up?!) and cuts like tenderloin/fillet mignon don't have a great deal of flavour because the muscle hasn't done a great deal of work.

                                    1. I've cheffed and run a couple of steakhouse restaurants, and I will strongly second the purchase of an instant read thermometer as the easiest, least hassle method of getting steak done correctly. Time/thickness tables don't always work. Get a Temperature/Doness table from any number of places on the Internet , print it out and display by your grill/stove.

                                      Do not cook good steak on the stovetop. That's for crappy cheap things like "breakfast steaks" or quick cooking thin sliced beef for a Philly steak .
                                      Use your outdoor grill or your "indoor grill" - the broiler. Cook on medium heat; it's more forgiving that high heat. Generally sepaking, I cook 3 minutes per side of a completely thawed 1" thick steak, then turn back to the first side and start temping until I get what I want.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: KiltedCook

                                        I've got a friend who is a caterer who uses one of those meat thermometers all the time and raves about it. I completely forgot them... I didn't realise so many people cooked steak differently!