The perfect steak. None of your bull please…

Rib steak How many of them have you read? The recipe for the ‘perfect steak’. Every (male) idiot who ever owned a barbecue believes that he holds some mystical secret that makes his steak better than every other. They (you, if the cap fits) are almost all wrong. I have seen grown men squeezing the base of their thumbs and then poking their flaming steaks in an effort to prove perfect doneness. Most don’t know what they are doing. If I try that approach, I mess up the arthritis in my talon-like hands. I can prove nothing except that I can inflict some pain on myself. Blokes with fat hands only demonstrate that the steak is as thick as themselves. 

Others insist on frying the steak in butter. This is the behaviour of an idiot. Butter burns at a pretty low temperature. A tasty steak needs lots of direct heat and is not enhanced by the acrid taste of burnt butter.

Some say that one should “cover the base of the pan with oil”. Even assuming that they mean the inside surface rather than the base, this is also daft. The steak stands a good chance of being oil-logged and the chef blinded by thick, black smoke.

People who live in countries where good quality beef is unavailable tend to cook their meat on the barbecue, hiding all their crimes in a thick crust of carbon. With apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, a great steak is to them an unknown known. Given that they think they know, we will leave them to their own devices. It really is a no know.

Having got all that off my chest, it’s time to steak my claim and claim my steak’s position at the head of the herd. To cook a great steak, you need to start with great steak. One of my cycling buddies, James, is a butcher. He runs Lawlor’s Butchers in Rathmines. I consulted him on the steak. He supplied me with (sold me at full retail) a pretty chunky Bone-In Rib cut.

I know we are metric. But, 3 inches is 3 inches (as the actor said to the bishop).

I know we are metric. But, 3 inches is 3 inches (as the actor said to the bishop).

It had been properly dry aged for over 35 days. To make it a bit more manageable, he cracked the rib bone in a couple of places.

Thanks be to goodness he cracked the rib. It wouldn't have fitted in the skillet otherwise.

Thanks be to goodness he cracked the rib. It wouldn’t have fitted in the skillet otherwise.

Here’s what I did to produce the best steak I (or anybody else) have (has) ever cooked. Mine ended up in a sandwich so I needed a half a dozen onions to go along with the steak. Long before I got to cooking it (2 hours long) I took the hunk of meat out of the fridge. This was to allow it to reach room temperature. While it was resting, I wasn’t. I chopped the onions into nice big slices.

The sight of the beef in the background will bring a tear to your eye.

The sight of the beef in the background will bring a tear to your eye.

The onions were placed in a frying pan (skillet), on a low heat, with a good dollop of olive oil.

Side note on what oils to use: Only a buffoon would use olive oil to seal a steak. The oil burns in the hot pan and then fails in its primary role of acting as a barrier between the pan and the meat. It also sets off the smoke alarm. However, for onion reduction, it is perfect because the temperature is much lower and the oil doesn’t burn. It also adds a nice flavour to the onions. 

The onions occupied pretty well all of the two hours while the meat rested. I just had to stir them every couple of minutes. This ensured an even result and prevented the onions from burning. If you think burnt oil is acrid, burnt onion is enough to make you spit. I enhanced the onions by adding a half teaspoon of brown sugar and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar near the end of cooking.

Yes, that big pile of onions is reduced to this. The flavours are intense.

Yes, that big pile of onions is reduced to this. The flavours are intense.

Next, I heated the oven to 200ºC. Then placed a cast iron frying pan (skillet) on the stove top and heated it until the handle was too hot to touch (Work it out or burn your fingers). Next, I seasoned the beef. I added enough oil (peanut or sunflower are good) to let me rub the meaty bits of one side of the steak – No more than that.

Add more salt and pepper than you think you need. Lots more.

Add more salt and pepper than you think you need. Lots more.

I placed the steak seasoned (and oiled) side down in the dry frying pan. I didn’t touch it again for 5 minutes. I seasoned, but didn’t oil, the other side while it was in the pan. Then I turned it over. This was a huge beast of a thing and needed two of us to turn it.

No chance of cooking this monster through on the pan.

No chance of cooking this monster through on the pan.

I browned it for a couple of minutes on the second side before sliding the thing, on the pan into the oven. I left it there for 35 minutes (until the internal temperature reached 48ºC) and took it out to rest. The temperature continued to rise to 55ºC while it rested. This took about 10 minutes. At that, it was cooked. Thanks be to goodness for the meat probe. I carved (Cut into big meaty slices) the steak.

Perhaps not the most elegant carving. But, what the hell!

Perhaps not the most elegant carving. But, what the hell!

The Wife and I enjoyed the steak in big sandwiches.

I chucked the lettuce after I took the photo.

I chucked the lettuce after I took the photo.

A big hunk of beef needs a big powerful red wine to balance the occasion. This bottle of Aurelius didn’t let the side down.

Big beef flavour balanced by a big St. Emilion wine. Perfection.

Big beef flavour balanced by a big St. Emilion wine. Perfection.

The net result of all this steak bravado was that both the Wife and I completely over-ate and possibly over-drank. I wouldn’t/couldn’t do this every day. But, once in a while it is a carnivore dream come true. It was fantastic. So, if you want to cook the perfect steak, follow this guide and ignore the bull.

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  • I don’t think I’d have the nerve to approach a chunk of meat that size and treat it as a steak… Your method sounds entirely logical, and I agree about the oil; my own favourite for steak cooking is peanut. Unlike millions of Australian men, the Husband doesn’t consider himself God of the Barbie, and prefers the ones I produce: thick, with crispy brown bark on the outside and tender pinkness in the middle. Frying pan on the gas hob only, but after the initial sealing, longer time on moderate heat. To each his – and her – own!

    • A pretty excellent approach Kate. The moderate heat bit iw where it lives or dies. You obviously have it off pat.

  • Very nice! Some time ago the butcher had a 1lb slice of rib leftover from a joint, which I took off his hands and fried. It was delicious – I’m sure yours was too 😉

    • Thanks MD, If one starts out with a decent chunk of meat, one ends up with a decent steak, unless one breaks the rules….

  • God that looks good!

    • Donna,
      It was, for the brief period that it lasted!

  • I believe the only hard and fast rules for steak are choose a good quality cut and don’t overcook. I personally like a nice charring here and there, especially the fat, but beyond that there are dozens of ways to get to delicious… I like your idea for cracking the bones. I don’t know why I never thought of that before.

    • Thanks John,
      The idea was not mine but James, the butcher. He expleted and assured me it had to be done to get it to fit in any normal sized pan.

      • I was thinking of the bone-gnawing afterwards … It’s always messy with a huge length and I can never resist… even in upscale steak-houses.

  • Have not seen as well aged a steak for a long time. And had learned the oil went on the steak and not in the pan from another great male cook a long time ago . . . hmm, I must admit to it on both sides . . . and I like it a tad more rare . . . but my claps from springlike south to autumnal Ireland for a superb result . . . I hope all your Irish voters see it and do some more ticking!!

    • Thanks Eha,
      In truth, I might have had it a bit more rare but, I depended entirely on the temperature probe for the ‘doneness’. It was still pretty awesome.
      Best, from a chilly Dublin,
      Conor

  • We always grill steaks over charcoal, with butter, salt and pepper, but if we had to fry one, this would be the way. Of course, with a 35 day dry aged steak like that you could probably cook it over a book of matches and it would still melt in your mouth like butter! 🙂

    • Hi Debbie,
      There is very little to compare with a nice piece of Irish beef. We are so lucky in having the lush deep green pastures and a moderate temperature so the cattle stay outdoors for a very good portion of the year. The end result is really excellent meat. I like the book of matches approach too!

  • That’s some nice looking dry-age you’ve got there. I finished 10 years in steak houses a few months ago, and that’s up there with the best.
    It’s the most common question a chef gets asked by other men. ‘How do you cook a good steak?’
    Uurghh. Makes me cringe.
    I love those guys who try and put garlic in or on the steak. Make a sauce please.
    A good steak starts with the farmer and then the butcher.
    You can’t turn a bad piece of meat into a good steak, only good sausages or stew.
    I have to disagree (in only the kindest of ways of course) on a couple of points.
    I love to put butter on my steaks near the end, I think it’s the only oil that does taste nice burnt. Plus it really helps keep the meat moist when resting.
    I’m also a big fan of indirect heat after the initial browning. Long and slow, particularly for a big cut.
    But whatever, this is another great post of yours and I’ve no doubt you and the wife enjoyed some pretty amazing steak ‘sangas’, as we would say here in Oz.
    Cheers.

    • Thanks Adam,
      Nothing wrong in your comments at all. Butter towards the end is fine. Even a bit of butter burning is fine (as long as it is not the only fat used to cook the steak in a hot pan. Then it is a disaster. You are right, we scoffed it and it was wonderful.
      Best,
      C

  • this is why i’m veg and still read your blog faithfully. i love your prose, and this post is particularly outstanding. and the photos… my mouth watered over those gorgeous onions. keep the great stuff coming.

    • You make me laugh too. The idea of a vegetarian salivating over my pictures (even onions) is great!
      Best,
      C

  • Nice one Conor … I love to cook thick slabs of beef (min 4/5 cm(!) thick) and have used a similar technique for boneless slabs of sirloin, striploin and ribeye. Room temperature beef, heavy seasoning, heated pan and finishing/resting in the oven are the key elements for me.
    Breathe deeply before reading the next bit … I sometimes soak “lesser” cuts in an orange juice, soy sauce, garlic & herb marinade (overnight); then drain and dry prior to cooking as above… based on experience I’m confident the taste will convince you that this is ok too …

    • Ronan, I like it (I’m just not sure how much). I posted a sous vide beef with coffee and orange a week ago. I really enjoyed the flavours. I suspect that the orange and soy soaked beef could be delicious. It reminds me of an oriental dish I enjoyed about 25 years ago. It was thinly sliced cold beef fillet, cooked very rare, with chili and caramelised orange crust. I must experiment with it….

  • Way hay C-Bomb kicks out – there’s nerves shredded all over the place!! Someone has fed you one too many manky steaks fella!! And here’s me thinking you were a mild mannnered Advertising type bloke…but God dam it you have a set of conkers after all. I agree with everything you say….except for 2 bits (the second is less a dissagreement more a correction of sorts).

    1. True only arse hats and idots try the finger-thumb method and get it wrong usually because they only cook steak maybe once twice a month and have no ‘sense’ for what they are doing…trained chefs actually know how this works..I know I am one – cooking 30-40 steaks to exact doness every day takes speed and skill – your eyes, touch and even smell – so I wouldn’t discredit this method as harshly as you have Gandalf 🙂

    2. Cooking in butter – never seen that – do you mean ‘finishing with butter’ maybe? I agree attempting to cook anything in butter alone is nuts…but adding oil to the butter as is often done solves this (but not for steak cooking)

    The BBQing comments have me also thinking you haven’t been to a good one C – if you attend ‘carbon cook-outs’ then you need to …well…stop! Any good cook worth salt can produce a perfectly cooked – uncharred steak on a charcoal grill – I’ve yet to see a carbonised steak in any steak house in Dublin that uses kitchen char grills or even coals.

    You did tell me that this blog would have my interest tweaked Conor – you weren’t wrong and I also agree that ‘everyone’ has their own perfect this and perfect that but I don’t think it makes them wrong…..I know a guy that boils his meat in bags for 12 hours before…hang on…wait..that might be………….

    • Excellent stuff Rory,
      On point 1 – I agree completely. It’s the guys who cook a steak once in a blue moon and try this method that are destined to make a hash of it. The harshness is for dramatic effect and to get the conversation (like the barbecue) started.
      On point 2 – Finishing in butter – Mmmmmmmm Delish! But I have seen the big knob of butter thrown on to a hot pan and then the steak added in a cloud of carcinogenic fumes. Not good. Butter and oil for a nice bit of fish. Yes please.
      On the BBQ, I did qualify it by pointing the finger of blame at the poor meat available in lots of the western world. Not her of course. We have the best, as both you and I know.
      As for the bag boiling. Wait till you see what I did with a huge piece of fillet. post following over the next couple of weeks.
      Best,
      Conor

      • Brilliant! Look forward to it Conor, if you think cooking steak entirely in butter is bad………..my best friend insists on covering his burnt steaks in Ketchup or packet pepper sauce……freak.

  • First: The steak looks excellent. To me, a steak is supposed to look exactly like this one, delicious!
    And now I`m doing my husband a favor: When it comes to reading food blogs he`s the last one who wants to look into articles (He does read mine, but that`s it. I guess, I`m quite lucky, right?! ) This article is the first one he ever read! And he loved it. He told me I should write you a comment, so I am doing it now. Steak is one of my husband`s favorite foods. You could chase him with “fancy” steaks, loaded with all kinds of toppings and sauces. BUT: He would stop for yours! That`s a compliment, he`s picky 🙂

    • Excellent to see that I have started to convert him to reading the lovely stuff around on the food blogs. Thank him for the kind compliment please.
      Best,
      Conor

  • Beautiful photographs, wonderful writing, and one sweet-looking piece of meat. To echo what others have said, a good steak is already good before you cook it. I love your minimalist approach.

    • Hi Jeff,
      If one starts with great meat, like this was, there is no need to mess around with it.
      Thanks too for the visit, link and comment.
      Best,
      Conor

  • That steak is big enough to feed a community!!! lol that would cost at least a million HKD’s. But my boys are already packing their suitcases and on their way over… To join you at your dinner table. Have a super week!

    • Our little community of Wife and myself saw most of it off. Our eldest did come in later and make a couple of sandwiches too. It was lovely. Those boys are welcome any time. Just get them to bring some of that beautiful stuff I see in BAMs Kitchen!

  • I suspect, Conor, that most or all of us fall at the first hurdle. Supermarkets shouldn’t sell steak. Or they should at least call it something else. Leather should about cover it.

    • The sad fact is that they sell what most people are happy to buy. They and their customers do a little frying together as they go down the plug-hole of mediocrity into the drain of culinary ambivalence.

      That’s in the sink of despair, beside the draining board of indifference etc, etc….

      • As long as the metaphorical steak looks as good as yours does, Conor, I’m on (the draining) board.

        • You’ll en up on the chopping board Sparling! No indifference allowed.

          • Whatever you say, Conor. I don’t mind.

  • Another great post, Conor. That sure is a huge slab of beef. Good to see the meat probe gets some use. Because of the thickness, I would cook it sous-vide (but only to 48 or 50) instead of allowing it to come to room temperature. Which is in fact quite similar (but slower) than cooking it sous-vide at 20C.
    PS: Talking of carnivores, my next wine-dinners will be for carnivores. You know you have a standing invitation. I’m going to set the dates when we get home.

    • Stefan, I can always depend on you for sage sous vide advice. I have just done some beef fillet and it was fantastic. Post to follow. Do please let me have the dates. If at all possible, we would both love to be there.
      Best to Kees,
      Conor

  • Very good advice….in this land of meat we get very good ribs of Charolais and Parthenay beef. That’s the way to cook it, no question. Very wise to remove the lettuce….no point overdoing it:)

    • I really should have more courage in my convictions Roger. What was that lettuce doing there in the first place?

  • Now Conor, just because we have abundant and high quality beef doesn’t mean we don’t know how to cook it. It does however mean we have a tremendous amount of bu[[$h!t to spare. 😀 Just look at our politicians. 😉 In fact, that’s why we have 10 gallon hats. 🙂 When you produce THAT much bu[[$h!t you gotta hide it somewhere. 😀 😀 😀
    Now, a piece of meat that large is more of a roast than it is a steak, even in the Great State of Texas where EVERYTHING is bigger including our imagination, i.e. I ate that steak for breakfast with a dozen eggs and flap jacks – :o. Further, you simply cannot cook a 3″ steak over direct heat without devastating consequences. A good sear (either on a cast iron skillet or grill) to develop a nice crust and then indirect heat is what is required. I like to cook large chunks of meat like this in my smoker over mesquite (or pecan/oak or whatever) and finish them in indirect heat over the same wood until they reach 120 – 125 F internal temp. Then they must rest a minimum of 5 minutes. Further, I agree that the thumb technique for doneness just doesn’t work on a cut of beef 3″ thick. Having spent several years in the restaurant industry (including working in steak houses) I can do a standard steak (1-1/2 inches or less) with great consistency and correctness with the thing technique. It just takes LOTS and LOTS of practice and then mistakes DO happen. The backyard cook simply doesn’t have the necessary repetition to ensure even 90% accuracy. The only way to be completely accurate (as you have pointed out) is through a digital thermometer which, on thinner steaks, has it’s issues as well. Finally, I love a good nob of butter and a dash of Worcestershire sauce at the end to finish a good steak (unless, of course, it’s a fine red wine sauce) or you have a wonderful rub. Oh, there are so many variations.
    Great post Conor and that really is one fine looking piece of beef even if it did come from Ireland. 😉 Baby Lady doesn’t eat red meat and she’s even impressed. 🙂

    • Richard,
      Both the Wife and I had a good chuckle at this. I like the idea of the dash of Worcestershire and nob of butter. I now know what’s inside those hats too!
      Give my best to Baby Lady.

  • What a hunka! You can come cook my steaks any day, Conor!

    • It was a bit larger than one might have for Monday night dinner. But, what the hell!

  • Oh Gosh! Never seen such huge steak! I should show this post to my husband, he will be so hungry! 🙂

  • Looks like a wonderful piece of beef, treated nicely. I use a good cast iron pan at heat that requires welding gloves (which I do use by the way) with appropriate results. Try and sous vide one some time. Nothing like a piece of steak off of a wood fired grill, though. I must have cooked a thousand if not two that way. But as you say, a grill in the wrong hands is a good way to destroy an otherwise perfect steak. Nicely done.

    • You just had to go one better. Welding gloves! I love it. I will be posting sous vide fillet very soon. It was divine.

  • Another wonderful post, Conor! I have only had aged beef once before. I bought it the day of thanksgiving last year and I cooked it very similarly as how you described here. It was amazing. Me and my girlfriend ate it while making the actual turkey dinner that day at around 10am… it was better than the turkey but don’t tell her I said that.

  • G’day
    Due to your excellent food photography, I can detect an unnecessary layer of grey overcooked meat adjacent to the crust – suggest this is because you zapped one side of the steak for 5 mins. Have you tried ’20 sec to 25 sec flipping’ ?…thats how I get medium rare edge to edge.

    I am amazed that you left the steak in a 200c oven for 35 mins….typo??.

    More seriously, just discovered your blog and added you to the bookmark bar within a minute.

    cheers
    ps. I’m half Irish and half smart-arse aussie.

    • Hi David,
      Thanks for that. The steak was over 3″ thick. A nice bit of crispy outside never did any harm. I used a meat probe to ensure the temperature at the core was correct. I would have been inclined to take it out sooner if I had not had the probe. Also, I used our small oven for that and I suspect that the huge steak going in dragged the effective temperature down quite a bit. All good observations that I am delighted to get from you.
      I have a few friends and some family living in Perth and one in Melbourne. I would love to visit if I could manage to take a couple of months off work.
      Thanks for visiting and for the thoughtful (for an Aussie) comments.
      Best,
      Conor

  • You nailed it. Smoking hot cast iron frying pan and a thermometer. Never failed us.. The last time I used our gas BBQ for a steak was 5 yrs. ago. As a matter of record the gas BBQ is now toast. Waste of space. Now have a tiny one. Thx.

    • Hi David,
      I use the gas BBQ less and less too. It’s fine for sorting out a feed for a crowd if they come over and decide to drink all your beer. But for a big rib, there’s only one way…

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