Steak Myths: 3 Rules Not to Follow

by in How-to, July 23rd, 2014

Steak is not like other foods; it is sufficient in itself, or very nearly so. Add salt and heat (fire preferably), and you have something no culinary sleight of hand can improve on. Does a steak need a recipe? Heck no. But recipes abound, and with them come all manner of tips, tricks and techniques, most of which diminish your likelihood of cooking a great steak.

Frankly, most cookbooks are full of it on this one particular topic. Even great ones can’t seem to stop themselves from perpetuating falsehoods that don’t hold up to the most-casual application of scientific method. Here are some examples, culled from books that are, in every other aspect, totally estimable. (For the curious, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt penned the definitive work of steak demythification for Serious Eats a few years back. Read it and change your life.)

Noooooo: “Season steak at the end of cooking, not before.” – Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Joy of Cooking (1975)

Great book, terrible advice. This is a crime against steak. Don’t just season before, season well before — an hour, a day, even two! Salt needs time to penetrate meat; salt added at the end just tastes salty.

Nope: “Allow the meat to come to room temperature.” – Marion Cunningham, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (1990)

Not egregious, but don’t waste your time. After 30 minutes, even an hour, the steak will be nowhere near room temp. Anyhow, it’s a fool’s errand: The room-temperature injunction is intended to promote even cooking, which makes sense if we’re talking about a roast chicken, but not when steak is the issue. If a nice, crusty exterior and a juicy, tender interior are what you’re after, then even cooking is precisely what you don’t want in a steak.

Nuh Uh: “Don’t stick a fork in it. You’ll let all the juices out!” – Your Know-It-All Uncle George, Your Life (Every Summer for the Last 25 Years)

We’ve all heard this one before, and it does make intuitive sense. Sure, juice leaks when a piece of cooked meat is punctured — but not that much. Uncle George mistakes a steak for a water balloon, which it is not. Structurally, a steak is more like a collection of thousands of little water balloons. Popping a few does not have any discernible effect on juiciness. So, yes, stick a fork in it if you like. And while you’re at it, stick a knife in it, too, because a little nick and peek is a sure-fire way of determining doneness, and not the end of the world in terms of juice.

Now that you know the rules not to follow, check out these great steak recipes for ideas and get grilling.

Jonathan Milder is the research librarian in Food Network Kitchen.

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Comments (7)

  1. Mike says:

    I like how this article begins by saying steak doesn't need a recipe, then ends with a link to steak recipes.

  2. Dave V. says:

    I am glad someone else pointed out the obvious when it comes to meat at room temp. I love mine medium with a great char on it. I never let it get to room temperature before I throw it on the grill. I am lucky to live on a farm and raise our own beef. Often times, I pull it out of the freezer in the morning and let it sit at room temperature for a few hours then put it in the fridge and pull out 20 minutes or so before grilling. This is about the only way that I have found to get it cooked the way that I want. Put it on the hot side of the grill to get the crust and grill marks, then move to the low side to get the perfect medium. PERFECTO!

  3. Ruth Ann says:

    Hmmmm….I wonder if their FN Chefs/Cooks have read this. Almost all of them advise you to allow a steak to come to room temperature.

  4. ariettehk says:

    “Season steak at the end of cooking, not before.” -> Even newbies knows that steaks must be marinated hours before cooking. Thanks for busting this myth Jonathan!

  5. angusparvo says:

    It's hard to believe the definitive work on steaks was penned by a person whose last meal would be tofu and ramps

  6. Steve Kowalewski says:

    lots of garlic and pepper bv sauce and wistishire dont have time to go to the kitchen to see correct spelling. fridge over nite and grill on a wood fire different woods give it different flavors i like to experiment with them.if you really want a tender steak dry age it in the fridge for a week between two papper towels in a container with holes in the lid !!!

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