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November 13, 2005

How to Cook a Great Steak

Laurent Tourondel, executive chef and partner of BLT Restaurant Group, and Bon Appétit's Restaurateur of the Year, shares his secrets for making a great steak.

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Find a Good Butcher. The right butcher can make all the difference. Find one with real knowledge of retail cuts of meat, aging, and, yes, even cooking. He or she can guide you on the right cut of meat to buy for whatever you are making, and save you a lot of disappointment.

What Do You Prefer? Some people like their steaks so tender that they can be cut with a fork, while others like meat that is a little chewy. Some prefer a mild flavor, while others want their meat full of beefy richness. There are cuts of steak to satisfy every taste, but it is important to know what you want.

Understand Meat Grades. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspects meats for wholesomeness, but grading for quality is voluntary and paid for by individual packers. Steaks graded Prime are of the highest quality. Most Prime meat goes to restaurants or better meat markets. It is well worth seeking out a source for Prime meat in your area. Choice and Select grades are the most widely available. Choice meat can vary greatly, so it pays to know what to look for. Select grade meat has the least amount of marbling and tends to be dry, tough, and lacking in flavor. It is the most common grade found in retail stores.

Shop Carefully. Look over the steaks in the meat case and be selective. What you want is a thick, even cut. It won’t cook evenly if the meat is thick in one part and thin in another. Except for certain cuts like hanger or flank steaks, the meat should be at least one-inch thick, and preferably two. When buying more than one, choose steaks that are of the same size so that they will cook in about the same amount of time.

Fat Is Your Friend. At least as far as steak is concerned! An even distribution of fat flecks throughout the meat will ensure good flavor, tenderness, and juiciness. Don’t trim off excess fat before cooking a steak. Fat around the edge helps to keep the meat moist and adds flavor. You can always trim it away when you eat the steak.

Storage. Store meat in the coolest part of the refrigerator (at the back of one of the center shelves) or in the meat compartment (usually at the bottom). The temperature of the refrigerator should be between 35 degrees F and 40 degrees F. Use the meat within one to three days of purchase.

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