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We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

How to Make a Perfect Steak

If you have ever wondered how to make the perfect steak, or just an edible one, this is the article for you.
A great steak is often paired with a side of greens. Asparagus is a favorite of mine. (Photo Credit: Ashley Byrd)

While some aspire to climb Machu Picchu or dive with a great white shark, some only dream of savoring a well-cooked steak. While the steak might be more simple or perhaps incomparable to these activities, it still creates a world of delight that can parallel even these more adventurous journeys. But why? Why does steak taste so good? 

Many people believe that steak starts in a pan. Or a grill. Maybe on a hanger or vacuumed in plastic and submerged in hot water. But it starts on a cow far from being seared, dry-aged, or cooked sous vide. Ideally, the cow gets to enjoy a grass-fed diet and bask in the sun, which is beneficial to both the animal and the consumer. The cow’s diet and environment dictate almost everything about its meat. 

The health of the cow and of its consumer depends on whether the cow consumes grass or grain, added hormones, and exercises. Grass is easier to digest by cows compared to grain – an unnatural counterpart –  but grain is often used by farmers to increase the rate at which cows grow, boosting meat production. The negative effects of injecting hormones on the cow are understood, but the horrible effects after human consumption are less noteworthy to many. 

Steak comes from the Latin word steik, meaning stick or meat on a stick, a thick cut of muscle fiber from a variety of animals: mainly red meats like cow and bison, or large fish such as tuna, salmon, or marlin. However, in this article, I will only discuss the art of beefsteak – steak from a cow. 

The relationship between cattle-rearing practices and beef quality dates back thousands of years. Different cultures developed methods to optimize flavor and tenderness. For instance, the Japanese perfected raising Wagyu cattle, known for their high intramuscular fat content, giving the beef its famed marbling and melt-in-your-mouth texture.

In Europe, cattle were historically raised on small farms and grazed on natural pastures. This grass-feeding method promoted animal health and welfare, producing beef with a rich, complex flavor. However, 20th-century industrial farming introduced grain feeding, which altered the taste and texture of beef. Grain-fed beef is sweeter and fattier, while grass-fed beef is leaner and has a more robust, earthy taste.

There are nine grades of steak, but only grades 2 through 4 (prime, choice, and select) are available in local supermarkets, with grade 1 – also known as wagyu – almost solely available online or at specialist butcher shops, and grades 5 through 9 rarely sold for their lack of appeal. Grading steak is predominantly based on intermuscular fat, commonly known as marbling, which creates a rich flavor and balance of solid crust and tender meat. Wagyu, the highest grade, has the most dispersed intermuscular fat, while. The grade is also based on a meat’s age, color, and texture. Looking at a steak and grading it yourself, is as important as its United States Department of Agriculture’s assigned grade. Examining the marbling, age, and color of the meat oneself will help to notice marketing tricks by both the USDA and the butcher. 

The filet Mignon and the Ribeye are the kings of fine dining, renowned for their rarity and flavor. There are only two Filet Mignons – the leanest corner of each tenderloin – in an entire cow. The ribeye is not nearly as rare, but it has many other appeals.  

The most significant factor is the ribeye’s abundant marbling, which refers to the intramuscular fat that melts during cooking, infusing the meat with a rich, succulent flavor and providing a tender, juicy texture. Cut from the rib section of the cow, an area that doesn’t get much exercise, ribeyes retain a natural beefy flavor and tenderness. This cut includes the longissimus dorsi muscle and the exceptionally tender spinalis dorsi, referred to as the ribeye cap. Their high-fat content allows ribeyes to remain juicy and flavorful when cooked using various methods, from grilling to pan-searing. The combination of fat and muscle provides a rich, luxurious meal, with a succulent mouthfeel that enhances overall enjoyment. Additionally, the distinctive marbling of a ribeye makes it visually appealing, adding to the anticipation and pleasure of eating a high-quality steak.

The filet mignon is often cut thick, maintaining the general cylindrical shape of the tenderloin. If the marbling is good enough, salt and pepper is often enough to serve as seasoning. (Photo Credit: Madie Hamilton / Unsplash)

Despite the rarity of the filet mignon or the fame of the ribeye, many other cuts of steak offer a lot to any chef or home kitchen extraordinaire. Steaks like the skirt, sirloin, and strip offer a variety of flavor and texture. 

Certain cuts are more forgiving than others, with the sirloin being known for its delicious taste at any temperature. Additionally, grass-fed beef is more of a challenge as it generally has a lower fat content and requires additional precision. The challenge is worth it as grass-fed cuts offer a richer, deeper flavor. 

After deciding on a steak, refrigeration is vital. This prevents the growth of harmful bacteria in the steak for 3-5 days. 

When your taste buds call, remove the steak from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking to bring it to room temperature, ensuring even cooking. Pat the steak dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture, which helps achieve a good sear.

Season the steak generously with salt and pepper just before cooking. Preheat your skillet or grill to high heat, and add a small amount of oil with a high smoke point, like canola or vegetable oil if cooking a lean cut. Once the skillet or grill is hot, place the steak on it, and let it cook without moving it for a few minutes to develop a flavorful crust. For a medium-rare steak, cook for about 3-4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness.

About ¾ of the cooking process through, or when your steak is 20°F below your desired temperature, add butter, rosemary, and sage into the pan and baste the steak generously. Essentially, tilt your pan so that the melted butter, steak juices, and aromatics are on one side, and throw the liquid over the steak repeatedly, ensuring the steak absorbs each flavor.

To check for doneness, use a meat thermometer — 120°F for rare, 130°F for medium-rare, or 140°F for medium. Alternatively, use the finger test for a rough gauge of doneness (if you’re not ready to invest in a thermometer). The finger method uses the feeling of your hand right below your thumb as a measurement. An open hand will have a similar feel to a raw steak, and a hand with the thumb touching the pinky will behave similarly to well-done. Additionally, any hand position in between mimics the respective internal temperature. After cooking, let the steak rest for five to ten minutes to allow the juices to redistribute, ensuring a juicy, flavorful result. 

When the steak is finished resting, cut at an angle against the grain to ensure tenure but solid pieces of steak. Serve your perfectly cooked steak alongside your favorite sides, as a fine cut of meat can go well with anything, from mashed potatoes to broccolini.

Tacos are an amazing way to repurpose steak that was cooked days prior. A green salsa and lime go a long way. (Photo Credit: Christine Siracusa / Unsplash)

To preserve the steak, you can put it back in the fridge and repurpose it in sandwiches, on rice bowls, or reheat for a new, albeit slightly more cooked, filet. Steak is delicious and luxurious, and while some cuts are more desirable, it’s important to stay curious. If you follow these steps, the perfect steak is just around the corner. Share it with your friends or family, or keep it for yourself. Either way, the secrets of cooking a steak will serve you for years to come.

Steak is delicious and luxurious, and while some cuts are more desirable, it’s important to stay curious. If you follow these steps, the perfect steak is just around the corner. Share it with your friends or family, or keep it for yourself. Either way, the secrets of cooking a steak will serve you for years to come.

About the Contributor
Maximilian Duravcevic, Staff Reporter
Maximilian Duravcevic is a Spotlight Editor for 'The Science Survey.' In his role as a Spotlight Editor, he revises and helps rewrite articles within the Spotlight category. A spotlight article focuses on a specific person or a small group. In the field of journalism, Max enjoys assisting people in learning, but more than that, he relishes the opportunity to learn for himself, to uncover hidden knowledge, and to share it with his readers. Moreover, he places significant importance on narrating stories and conveying the significance of empathy to his readers. He takes great pleasure in telling stories through photography, often capturing photos himself and embarking on journeys to document the perfect moments. He has a deep love for food, as evidenced by his very first article being about food. Whenever the chance arises, he visits restaurants all over the world, valuing the stories and the satisfaction that good food provides. His daily swimming routine sometimes hampers his eating habits, but he enjoys it nonetheless, and he also indulges in drawing whenever he can. Maximilian continuously values and hones his journalistic skills and is committed to keeping them sharp in his repertoire.