How to cook a perfect steak for dad
Thursday, June 15, 2006

On Father's Day, after the bad ties are unboxed and the newest bottle of after-shave joins its previously given and ignored predecessors in the top shelf of some closet, Dad's supposed to go outside and fire up the grill.

Morton's Restaurant Group Inc.
Morton's 14-ounce filet mignon. The chain has released a cookbook, Morton's Steak Bible, with many of its once-secret recipes.
Click photo for larger image.

Then he makes everyone's food and just before shutting it down, when the coals are hot and even, he throws on his steak. On Mother's Day, Mom gets a (usually bad) tray of breakfast in bed and goes off to the spa, but on Dad's day he often has to cook.

The steak, at least, is a good idea.

But given Pittsburgh's unpredictable weather, whatever the forecast, and the simple fact that most of us don't feel like firing up the grill all the time, a closer look at preparing a good cut of meat seems timely -- and if someone else makes it, at least Dad will get one gift he likes.

The best thing about a steak is that it really is hard to mess one up. Of course it is possible to ruin a quality cut of meat in a number of ways: overcook the entire steak or over-char the exterior, over-salt the steak, pick a horrible cut of meat, or quickly cook the meat with too much liquid, which is why you sometimes hear people refer to a bad steak as 'leathery." But all of those mistakes are easily avoided.

You begin by picking your cut of meat. New York strip, filet mignon, ribeye, T-bone and porterhouse (which are nearly the same cut -- the eye on a T-bone has simply been cut smaller) are all excellent choices and nearly foolproof.

Sirloin is harder to get right because it depends more on the sort of beef, especially its marbling (or visible fat running through the meat), which will determine how easily it is kept tender. Even more difficult is a flank steak, which is very lean and inclines toward toughness, especially if cooked more than medium. They are also almost always cross-cut, which adds carving to what we're hoping will be a more simple meal.

If you want the easiest way to give Dad what he wants, drag him out somewhere nice that serves great steak, like Ruth's Chris or Morton's steak houses. (Morton's just released a cookbook, rather weightily titled Morton's Steak Bible, by co-founder Klaus Fritsch. The cookbook gives the restaurant's once-secret recipes to the public for the first time. The recipes range from simple sandwiches to more complex dishes such as Steak Oskar, and a few of them are easy enough to accomplish with a trip to the grocery store and a broiler.)

There are, though, a million ways to make everything, and everything includes steak. In any case, the core routine should go something like this:

Take your steak out of the fridge or home from the store and set it on the counter. Now go away. You don't want to be putting a cold steak in a pan or under a broiler. It simply won't cook in a predictable manner, and is inclined to leak congealing beige juice -- and thus flavor -- from its edges. Be responsible about it, of course, and observe safe handling of meat procedure by not leaving it out for more than an hour. But don't try to cook a cold steak.

Next, oil the meat and not the pan. Firing up the broiler is nice, but many ovens don't have a broiler and for most of us, a really hot pan and oven will make an exceptional steak.

The oiling of the steak itself makes it easier to get a really hot pan, because you can get close to the smoke point without actually burning the oil.

When you oil the steak, this is also the stage where you'll put the marinade on the meat, or your spice rub, but not your salt. Salt leaches moisture from the cut. Salt your steak after it's at least been turned, and preferably after the meat has rested for a few minutes, and right before serving.

Resting the meat is just that, allowing the steak to cool a bit, unmolested on a platter or cutting board so that the moisture that's been pushed to the center of the cut by the meat's constriction during cooking doesn't stay in the middle. If you let the steak sit for a few minutes, the juiciness will redistribute and you'll avoid releasing it onto the platter with the first cut.

As for the cooking itself -- best case scenario, you'll have a seasoned cast iron skillet, or at least an all-metal frying pan. You can't have plastic or rubber on the thing because to do this well, you'll need to be able to finish cooking the steak in the oven. To prepare for that stage, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Then take your skillet and put it on medium-high heat. Let it get hot enough that a drop of water doesn't sizzle, but instead skates and bounces over the surface of the pan. Then take your oiled, room-temperature and seasoned (just pepper is fine, actually, but spice rubs are good) steak, and place it in the pan. You might want to put it over to one side of the pan, so that when you turn it (45 seconds or so later) you have a fresh surface, which will not have been cooled by the cooking of the first side.

When you flip your steak, use tongs, or if you have the balance for it, a spatula. Piercing the meat leads to lost juiciness. After 20 seconds on medium-high, reduce your heat to medium, wait 30 seconds or so, then flip the steak again and throw the pan on the center rack of the oven.

Leave it for 2 minutes, flip once more and cook for 3 minutes. Given a 11/2-inch thick cut, it should be medium.

But then, it might not be; you have to develop a sense for your oven and range to get the temperatures just right.

Below are some recipes to get you started with your new technique.

Vodka and Green Peppercorn Steak


  • 4 pounds strip, sirloin or T-bone steaks (3 steaks)
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons basil, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed or crushed and chopped
  • 3 teaspoons green peppercorns (pickled in brine, if possible, available at Whole Foods and in the Strip District)
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/8 cups olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 cup tawny port
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Mix everything together except for the olive oil, salt, port and butter. Put it in a bag and leave it in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.

When you take steaks out, reserve the marinade and leave steaks to warm to room temperature. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat your pan at medium-high heat until a drop of water skitters across the surface rather than sizzling in place. Place steaks in the pan and cook for 45 seconds, flipping them then cooking them for an additional minute.

Place into oven and cook for 2 minutes, then turn and repeat. Take the pan from the oven, remove the steaks and set aside so they can rest.

Return the pan to medium high heat, add olive oil, salt and reserved marinade, then scrape drippings. After the pan is scraped and the oil heated through, add port, and if necessary for consistency, water. Reduce heat and simmer until incorporated. Remove from heat and stir butter through the sauce. Serve steaks with sauce.

Serves 3.

-- Philip A. Stephenson

Morton's Cajun Ribeye

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Morton's Cajun Seasoning (recipe follows)
  • Six aged ribeye steaks, each about 1 1/2 inches thick
  • 4 1/4 cups flavorless vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower

Put seasoning in shallow glass or ceramic pan. Press each side of the steaks into the seasoning to cover completely. Remove the steaks and lightly pound each four to five times on both sides with a meat mallet or small, heavy skillet to soften but not flatten more than a little.

Pour the oil into the pan and add steaks. Make sure they're covered with oil. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.

Remove steaks from marinade and pat off excess oil. Set the steaks aside for 30 to 60 minutes at room temperature.

Heat grill or broiler. On a grill over medium hot coals cook for about 8 minutes, turn using tongs and grill the other side for 8 to 9 minutes. If using the broiler, broil 4 inches from heat for 8 minutes, turn and repeat.

Serves 6.

-- Morton's Steak Bible

Morton's Cajun Seasoning

  • 1/2 cup paprika
  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 1/3 cup freshly ground white pepper
  • 1/3 cup garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup onion powder
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper

-- Morton's Steak Bible

First published on June 15, 2006 at 12:00 am
Philip A. Stephenson can be reached at or 412-263-1419.