Introduction: Stove Top + Oven
Cooking on the stove is a little different than cooking on the grill. Though both use high heat to sear steaks, the stove top gives you the ability to capture the juices from the steak while it's cooking and allows for basting (pouring the fat back on top of the steak), making stove top steaks the best!
Here's what you'll need for this lesson:
- 8-12" Kitchen knife
- Knife steel
- Large cutting board
- 10-12" cast iron skillet
- Pot holders
- Instant-read thermometer
- Probe-style thermometer
- Stainless steel kitchen tongs
- Aluminium foil
- Kitchen tea towels
- Salt (Kosher is best but sea salt is great, too!)
You could use any old pan to cook your steaks, but there's a tried-and-true way to get steaks perfect. The secret? A cast iron skillet. Though a cast iron skillet isn't necessary for cooking a steak, there's a marked difference due to heat retention. The large heavy cast iron skillet can retain the high heat when a cool steak is placed on top, giving a deeper searing crust on the outside of the steak, and a seared crust is what makes a great steak.
The brown crust on food is called the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its desirable flavor. The Maillard reaction can be found in loads of foods, like the crust of bread, the browning of onions, and even the dark color from roasting coffee beans.
I can hear you now: "But Mike, isn't cast iron cookware super difficult to clean and maintain?"
Testing Cooking Methods
There are a few different ways to cook a steak with your stove and oven, and people swear by their favorite. In this lesson we're going to explore the 3 most common cooking methods and show the results. There is no "best" way, since it all depends on how you like your steak cooked.
The 3 methods we're going to examine are stove top only, the stove top-to-oven, and oven-to-stove top. Since we want a sear on our steaks we're omitting the oven-only method as it would not give us a sear.
We'll prepare each of the steaks the same way to make things even and ensure delicious results.
The trick to making a great steak is to prepare ahead of time, allowing the seasoning to work it's magic on the meat before cooking. All you really need is salt.
To get the best benefit salt your steaks at least 45 minutes prior to cooking. Adding salt to the meat pulls moisture up from inside the steaks through osmosis. The moisture and salt mix and form a brine that breaks down the muscle fibers in the steak. After about 45 minutes the brine has been absorbed back into the steak.
This brine makes the steak much more tender, and 40 minutes gives it plenty of time to work its magic. If you want to let your steak rest overnight in the fridge after salting the brine will have even more time to sink into the steak and be that much more tender, but for most occasions 40 minutes is plenty.
As discussed in in the previous lesson, I don't bother to acclimatize my steak to room temperature before cooking, but if you prefer to do this then now is the time to rest your steak, right after salting.
Pepper isn't added here as we're going to rinse the steak of any salt and brine after 40 minutes and the pepper won't have much impact if used now.
After 45 minutes (or more), the brine has worked it's magic and we can start getting ready to cook our steak.
Rinse the steak to remove any salt or brine which would make the meat too salty if it were left on.
If you examine the steak now and gently pull at the edges, you should notice how much the steak has opened up, with fissures visible on the top and bottom where the brine penetrated.
Pat the steak dry with paper towels and set aside. Wash your hands to prevent cross contamination. We're now ready to tackle the comparison test of cooking methods.
Steak Done 3 Ways
The 3 methods we're going to examine are skillet on the stove top, skillet-to-oven, and oven-to-skillet. Since we want a sear on our steaks we're omitting the oven-only method as it would not give us a sear.
To complete the experiment I've chosen strip steaks, all as close to the same weight as I could find.
Each cut was prepared the same way so we can examine the results with certainty that the steaks were as equal as possible before cooking. It might seem like there won't be much of a difference, but the results might surprise you!
All the cooking methods we're examining use the skillet to sear the steak and create a tasty crust that's so desirable. We'll start by trying the skillet-only method first. While skillet cooking isn't difficult, it does require attention and a few key steps.
Aside from a cast iron skillet that is well seasoned, high heat is critical . Cast iron retains heat so well it doesn't matter what the heat source is, it'll work well with gas, electric, or even induction burners.
Turn your burner on high and place the skillet over the heat, letting heat up for about a minute. When your skillet is hot it's time to add oil which will help lubricate your pan and give your steak the nice brown crust you want.
If you use an oil with a high smoke point, like canola or sunflower oil, you'll prevent yourself from getting smoked out of your kitchen. Though a high smoke point is not a requirement for cooking great steaks in a skillet, having great ventilation is - so set your hood fan on before oiling up your skillet. Different oils will have slightly different flavor, experiment with a few and you'll determine your personal preference.
An alternative to oiling up your entire skillet is to oil the steak directly. Though this does consume less oil, I find that you really need a shallow level of oil in your skillet to really achieve a good crust on the steak. Try thiis for yourself and decide what works best for you.
Use tongs to gently lay your steak into the skillet away from you. Laying it towards you will spit scalding oil onto yourself and you'll have a really bad day. Laying away will direct the oil spatter away from you.
There's debate among experts on how many times to flip your steak when cooking. Once, twice, never?! The truth is that it really doesn't matter that much. We're going for a caramelized browning on each face of the steak, the Maillard reaction we learned about at the beginning of this lesson.
After laying the steak in the skillet, give it time to develop the crust. Examine the seared side after about 30 seconds to see how things are doing, adjusting the heat as required.
It's important to know that you're not sealing in the juices when you sear steaks. You're cooking steak, not a waterproof boot. Searing gives a crust, nothing more. Length of time on heat impacts the internal moisture of the steak - this is discussed in the Cooking Basics lesson.
When you've got a nice crust formed on the first side flip over the steak with tongs and crust up the other side.
After a nice crust has formed insert a thermometer to determine the internal temperature. If you have a crust but not the temperature you want reduce the heat and continue cooking until desired doneness is reached (don't forget about caryover cooking). Once you have achieved a nice crust there's no harm in multiple flips, or even standing the steak on its side to crust up the edges.
The next part is finishing the steak. This method will be the same for the skillet-to-oven and the oven-to-skillet techniques, but is shown here for clarity.
You could take your steak off right now and call it done, but you'd be missing out on a small trick that takes your steaks to the next level by adding a buttery herb finish. All you need is butter and a sprig or two of your favorite herb - I like to use rosemary.
While the steak is still in the skillet, cut a knob of butter and apply directly to the top of the steak. As the butter melts, add the rosemary sprig to the pan.
Once the butter melts, tilt the skillet using pot holders and then spoon up the juices and pour them back over the top of the steak, this is called basting and it delivers a huge flavor punch to your steak. Baste a few times then remove from heat to let the steak rest.
Next up cooking on the skillet first and then into the oven.
Pan to Oven
The next cooking method to examine is the skillet-to-oven. This method is similar to the skillet method mentioned above, but uses a preheated oven to complete the internal cooking to reach the doneness you want.
Start by preheating your oven to 350°F (175°C). Then sear your steak on the skillet using the method above to make a nice crust on the steak using very high heat. Once the crust is achieved take the skillet off the stove top and place the entire skillet directly into the oven.
Let cook in oven for a few minutes until internal temperature is reached using your thermometer (medium-rare: 135°F (57°C) and medium: 145°F (63°C)).
See the previous step on finishing your steak. The skillet-to-oven cooking is complete.
Next up we'll cook in the oven and finish on the stove top skillet.
Oven to Skillet
Similar to the previous method, except now backwards: oven-to-skillet. We'll start by cooking in the oven and then transferring to a hot skillet to create the seared crust.
Start with a preheated 350°F (175°C) oven and place steak in a skillet on the middle rack, cook until desired doneness. While steak is in the oven, heat up your skillet on the stove top with oil. When the steak has reached the desired temperature remove from oven and transfer to hot skillet to sear the crust on all sides.
It's important to be mindful of the thermal carryover that we learned about in the Cooking Basics lesson, so remove your steak from the oven before you reach your desired doneness temperature since you'll be applying more heat from the stove top skillet after.
For example, if I wanted a final medium-rare cooking temperature of 135°F (57°C) I'd remove the steak at about 115°F (46°C), knowing the temperature will rise from skillet searing and float to the final temperature thanks to carryover cooking.
Now that we know the methods of cooking on the stove, let's examine finishing the steaks to really get that beefy flavor.
Give It a Rest
After cooking your steak needs to rest. If you cut into the meat right off the heat the saturated center would spill all the juices, robbing the steak of its full juiciness. As learned in Cooking Basics, remove from heat and wrap your steak with foil (shiny side in) and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes. During this time the juices concentrated in the center of the steak are evenly distributed.
Now that we've learned the different ways to cook and then finish steak let's see the results!
All three strip steaks were cooked using different methods, but finished with butter and herbs, and allowed to rest the same time before cutting into. The differences were subtle, but since perfection is a goal worth striving for, the small differences between the steaks makes a big difference to the eater.
From left to right skillet, then oven-to-skillet, lastly skillet-to-oven.
Skillet: rich crust with big flavor, and internal meat as rare as you like it
Oven-to-skillet: more uniform internal cooking, crust is not as pronounced but could be deepened with longer skillet time
Skillet-to-oven: "bullseye" appearance with internal meat rarer in the middle and more cooked towards the edges.
Knowing how these three methods cook is important as you will develop your own preference for how you like your steak done. Some like a very rare center; others prefer it more cooked. However you prefer to cook steak it's important to think of the internal and external as two entirely different things that you are cooking.
A great byproduct of cooking in skillets are the little bits stuck to the bottom, this is called fond (French for "base" or "foundation") and these caramelized skillet leftovers can form the base of a great sauce to serve up as a topping for your steak. Adding a liquid to the pan to make a sauce is called deglazing. Fond should be brownish bits, if it's black it's burnt and you don't want that in your sauce.
The classic deglazing liquid is usually wine; the alcohol will burn off and you're left with a rich sauce that has traces of whatever you cooked in the skillet and new flavors from the wine. Any liquid will work, like beer, vinegar, or broth.
Turn on the heat and get your pan hot again, then add about 3/4 cup of your liquid and stir while scraping the bottom to dissolve the fond. Alcohol will evaporate while the pan is hot, so make sure the vaporized alcohol doesn't catch fire and take out your eyebrows. Let the liquid reduce to about half, and add a knob of butter and other herbs to suit your taste. Mushrooms, garlic, or even onions are a fun way to deglaze your pan and make a richer sauce.
You're now armed with the knowledge to master the stove at home. Really, it's one of the best methods to cook steak.
Up next, we'll look at the grill and how to make great steaks on any type of grill, even a campfire!