Welcome back to Djalali Cooks Too. I’m Alex, Kelly’s husband. Turns out I missed my Saturday post last week. You’re probably not wondering why, but I’ll tell you anyway. Kelly was gone on a weekend trip with my mom. I thought time alone would be way more fun than it was. Like, I’d do all of these fun things I can’t do when she’s here, like turn up my music to 10. Turns out, I found new ways to do nothing. I did spend the weekend ruminating on one thing besides my wife’s return: six ways to improve your steak. And yes, I ruminate about not five; not seven; but exactly six ways in which to do it.
It turns out there’s a million ways to cook a million different cuts of steak. Kelly alone has shown you three different ways to cook a ribeye, as well as how to pan sear a New York strip. (Given my druthers, I’m cooking ribeye every single time.) So today, I thought I’d share some of the tips that have improved my steak cooking irrespective of method or cut. You may know one or even all of them, in which case apologies in advance. So here’s six ways to improve your steak you may or may not know. (Turns out it’s actually hard to contribute anything new in the present moment of constant content.)
Let it Sweat
Salt your steak at least 40 minutes, but preferably 1 hour per 1 inch thickness of meat prior to your cook. (In fact, you can salt your steak up to 4 days prior to cooking.) As others have attempted to show, that salting your steak less than 40 minutes leads to… Ok, it’s not the end of the world, but salting at least 40 minutes prior really does improve the quality of your cook.
Once you’ve salted your steak, let that bad boy sweat. By ‘sweat’, I simply mean let the salt draw out the steak’s moisture only to be re-absorbed by the meat. Why? Because someone somewhere told me, obviously.
Seriously though, the main reason to draw moisture out is to help facilitate that beautiful crust during cook time. I use a healthy amount of Kosher salt when seasoning, mostly because I have been accused of under-seasoning too many times at this point not to. But if you do under-season, finish your steak with sea salt. Finally, I add freshly crushed pepper right before cook time.
The 8 Minute Sear
All of the tips in this post are method agnostic except this one, because well, it is a method. I picked this up from my man Malcolm Reed. And if you don’t know who he is, get in the know. I absolutely love him.
Here’s how the 8 minute sear works. If
- you’re a backyard griller like me; and
- you’ve got a grill that can get up to searing temp between 600-700 Fahrenheit; and
- you’re cooking a steak at least 1.5 inches thick (preferably 2); and
- you’ve got a pair of grill grates (though not essential)
- throw your steak on the grill;
- after two minutes rotate it 90 degrees; and
- another two minutes flip sides;
- after which, you’ll leave it for two minutes more and then rotate 90 degrees;
- for a final two more minutes before you’ll pull it.
In sum, 8 minutes total: 4 minutes per side: 2 minutes per quarter turn.
After 8 minutes, give or take a 1 minute or so, you’re left with a pretty darn near perfect medium rare steak with a set of beautiful grill marks.
What’s this ‘give or take business’ you say? Well…
Use a Meat Thermometer
Say it with me: cook to temp, not time. Again: cook to temp, not time. And one more time: cook to temp, not time. Sadly, it took me a lot of time to internalize the most basic tenant of grilling: time is a flat circle. Or is it time is relative?
Feels like I’m totally contradicting myself given that I just advocated for the 8 minute sear above. Turns out that that 8 minute sear is sometimes a 7 minute one; or a 6 minute one; or, well, an 8 minute one. That’s why I use a meat thermometer. There are too many variables when cooking meat to use time as a reliable judge for when that meat is done. External temp, wind, grill type, meat thickness, meat cut, fat content, etc. etc. etc., can all affect the time your meet spends cooking.
I always have on hand two thermometers: an infrared surface one and a meat probe.
A surface thermometer is important because your grill’s thermometer is going to lie to you every.single.time. No, not really, but it’s given you the ambient temperature when in reality you want to know the grates’ temp.
I’ve been using the MEATER for my probe. (It feels like every internet chef is hawking one, so I broke down and bought it. I basically like it with a few gripes I’m happy to share in the comments.) We generally like to eat our steaks on the rare/medium-rare-side-of-things. So we’re looking about 125-130 Fahrenheit fully rested. This means when that probe reads 118, I’m pulling the steak, because I expect a 5-7 degree run up during rest time.
So however you like to eat a steak, from rare to well-done, just make sure you use a meat probe to give yourself a sense of where you are in the cook. ‘Cause even the 8 minute sear isn’t totally accurate every single time. And remember, pull that steak 5-10 degrees short of where you want the final temp.
As I learned from my mom watching Ina Garten: everything is better with butter baby. (Sorry, I’ve got Frank Costanza in my head.) But seriously, a little melted butter with fresh herbs goes a long way, not just for adding a little more flavor but also building that illusory crust you’re planning on snapping a picture of and putting on IG. Cause that’s the point of cooking, right? Wrong? Who can keep track anymore…
Pro-tip: save a little as a finishing sauce.
Let it Rest
You’ve come this far, maybe you’d come a bit further and let your steak rest for 10 minutes. Yeah, it’s tough to wait. I get it. But the goal, here, is to reduce the amount of juices lost during the cutting process. Less juices lost, the juicier the steak is. Almost tautological.
General rule of thumb: let a steak rest at a minimum for 5 minutes but as much as 20 if you’ve can hold out. The thicker the cut, the longer the rest time, again up to 20 minutes.
Slice Against the Grain
Five down. But I did promise you six ways to improve your steak. Here’s
Johhhhhhhhhhnnnnnnnnnnyyyy number 6. I said it two weeks ago weeks, and I’ll say it again: slice your meat against the grain. Why? Because it results in a more tender bite. No one likes chewy meat. Not me. Not you. Not anyone, as far as I can tell.
Sometimes, it’s hard to identify which way the grain is running, in which case you can make a pilot cut by slicing the steak in half and then cutting your individual slices from there. I kid you not: I’m always second guessing myself on what should be the simplest of tasks. So if you’re struggling with the basics, I promise you, I am and will continue to struggle too.
Six ways to improve your steak
Well, that’s it folks: six ways to improve your steak. If you’re not like me, and I hope you’re not, then you were probably doing all of these things all of the time. But for the people out there kinda sorta like me, I hope these tips help you help yourself to a better cooked steak. And if you’ve got leftovers, check out how to make the very best steak sandwich with ’em.
Finally, on a completely unrelated note, I just wanted to say, RIP Norm Macdonald. I’ve said this to a couple of people, but I’ll throw it out there one more time: When I was 13, Norm introduced me to what’s really funny. I didn’t always understand all of his jokes, but I knew then he saw life in a way I wanted to too.
So, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to do Norm doing David Letterman.
What a tremendous luxury, if you think about it, to be tucked in at night by Norm Macdonald. Until next time, Djalali Cooks Too.
TerrySeptember 28, 2021 at 10:28 am
WOW!! Alex you hit this one out of the park, I think I might actually want to cook a steak. Learned a lot from this one.
Norm was one of my favorite people on SNL I lived weekend update.
Have a great Tuesday ❤️Terry
Alex DjalaliSeptember 28, 2021 at 10:30 am
Thanks Terry as always. I was introduced to Norm on Weekend Update and never stopped watching him. Truly a loss.
MariSeptember 28, 2021 at 10:35 am
What do you mean we didn’t notice you went missing Saturday?! We look forward to your take on things, and we learn something new. There probably are women that are good with grilling, smoking meat and rare, but I’m not one of them. At one point my husband refused to take me out to eat because I always ordered things well done. He finally wore me down to medium and was working on rare. I think it’s just because my mom over cooked everything, and that’s what I was used to. We won’t talk about what she did to a pie crust. Let’s just say that leather belongs on shoes, but never pies. Thank you for another entertaining and informative post. When Kelly writes her cookbook, make sure that you get a chapter too!
I don’t usually pay much attention to celebrity deaths, but when Norm died, I was stunned. He was one of the funniest people that ever lived, and he did humor so effortlessly. Thank goodness for YouTube, where we can find almost everything. I remember that my youngest son compiled a lot of the SNL Jeopardy parodies for me several years back. My daughter who lived in Virginia, and I were driving around Georgetown listening to the disc, and we were laughing so hard that we had to pull over. We had tears running down our faces and stomach aches from laughing so hard. His style of comedy looks deceptively easy, and it was for him, but no one will ever duplicate him. When I was younger, I hated to meet new people because my friends always introduced me as Mari, who is really funny. Then of course the pressure to be funny is almost painful! I doubt that Norm ever encountered that. He just was extremely funny, lovable, and brutally honest. He will be missed.
Alex DjalaliSeptember 28, 2021 at 10:59 am
Mari, as always you’re far too kind. I’m really glad you enjoy the column. It’s been a lot of fun for me to do something, well, fun again. So much of my professional life has been stuffy, and if/when I do get to write, it’s of the technical kind. So, it’s been nice to “let my hair down” as they say.
As far a meat is concerned, I’m by no means a chef. But for whatever reason, the whole “grilling, smoking, etc.” thing appealed to me, and I’m running with it. And although I would never officially recommend this, I prefer things on the blue-to-rare side of things.
And finally, I totally agree with you about Norm. I’m not one for celebrities in general, and I was surprised how affected I was by Norm’s death. He’s been a staple in my life for the past 25 years or so. Everything from his time on SNL to his Dennis Miller call-ins to his “pod”cast Norm Macdonald Live. Hard to really put into words how much he changed the comedic game. I certainly can’t…
CarrollSeptember 28, 2021 at 5:43 pm
Good ideas! I’ll give it a try.
CarrollSeptember 28, 2021 at 5:46 pm
P.S. I would appreciate your suggestions on how to cook a good steak indoors, or if it is even possible.
Kelly DjalaliSeptember 28, 2021 at 6:09 pm
Hi Carroll, We have you covered! Alex will have an upcoming post where he goes through the method for cooking a super-thick ribeye in the oven and then searing it on the stovetop. I have a really, really great post on cooking NY strip steaks in a pan on the stovetop: How to Make Pan Seared NY Strip Steaks This method is awesome because since you start in a cold pan, there is virtually no splatter, sputter, or smoke. Give it a try! And tune in for Alex’s Thick Cut Ribeye post coming in the next couple weeks. Thanks so much for stopping by today! xo Kelly
Suzanne SmithSeptember 28, 2021 at 10:16 pm
Great tips! I already do some of these. I do salt the meat, and let it sweat, I do use a good digital meat thermometer, and I do let it rest after cooking. I’m not sure if I’ve sliced against the grain or not bill have to watch that next time. Saving this to remind me. AND too funny:my son and I were both just discussing Norm Macdonald! He was one of a kind. Did you ever see his wackadoodle roast of Bob Saget? Insane. Anyway, I have to catch up on Kelly’s posts, too, as I probably missed a few. You guys do a great job.
Alex DjalaliSeptember 28, 2021 at 10:23 pm
Suzanne, great to hear from you. I’m a slow learner, and even slower to utilize what I learned. Took me a while to incorporate all of these steps into my steak cooking.
Just a quick note on the seasoning: you don’t have to let the meat sweat. But if you don’t, just make sure to season right before or right after you cook the steak. Anywhere in that 3-40 minute region prior to a cook yields the *worst* results, as if eating steak could ever really be that bad. 🙂
I definitely did see his roast of Saget. I’ve heard two reasons as to why he did what he did. 1) The producers were riding him to tear into Bob, and that was his f-you to them; and 2) he was such good friends with Bob he actually didn’t want to roast him. So instead, Norm got some old 40s/50s retirement joke book, memorized it, and purposefully bombed. Pretty awesome IMO.
SuzanneSeptember 28, 2021 at 11:26 pm
Ah, more good tips. Will do. And yeah–we were discussing the same about Norm. He’s so bad it’s actually pretty hilarious. He was an interesting guy. I felt bad for him when SNL let him go. Sad he died so young…(well, at least young to me, who’s around that age!) Take care…