4. The most delicious cut you could cook for your steak-loving valentine is cook them a BONE-IN RIBEYE.
WHY IT’S GREAT: The ribeye is a tender cut of meet with plenty of fat marbling, which makes for a super moist, satisfying steak. Between the fat and the bone — both of which add flavor — a medium-rare ribeye is perfectly juicy and intensely beefy.
COST: About $30 or less. For two people, buy a single steak that weighs 1.5 to 2 pounds ($12 to $16 per pound, including the bone).
5. Many people prefer FILET MIGNON for its elegance. It’s less fatty but still tender and delicious.
WHY IT’S GREAT: The filet mignon comes from the beef tenderloin, which, true to its name, is the most tender part of the cow. It is boneless and has very little fat, which means it doesn’t have as much flavor as other cuts of steak, but its extreme tenderness makes up for that. Also, the filet mignon is a thick cut that’s easy to sear on all sides and cook to a perfect medium rare.
Note: Often, a filet mignon from the butcher comes tied with string to help it keep its shape while cooking. Cook the filet with the string on, then cut the string off before slicing.
COST: About $25 or less. For two people, buy two 8-ounce filets ($16 to $25 per pound).
6. If you’re looking for something that’s less expensive but still has great flavor, go for a TOP SIRLOIN STEAK.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Top sirloin is not the same cut as sirloin (top sirloin is far more tender), so make sure you ask the butcher for the correct cut. It is less expensive because it’s not as marbled as a ribeye and not as tender as a filet mignon. But, top sirloin can be great; just be sure to choose a steak that is at least an inch thick, with as much fat marbling as possible.
COST: About $16 or less. For two people, buy a single 1- to 1.5-pound top sirloin steak ($8 to $12 per pound).
7. The best grade of steak is PRIME, followed by CHOICE, then SELECT.
Prime beef is the absolute best. It’s produced from young, well-fed cows, and has lots of marbling (fat). Only 2% of the beef in the U.S. is labeled Prime, and most of that goes to restaurants. If you can get your hands on a Prime steak (they’ll occasionally carry it at higher-end grocery stores like Whole Foods, or you can order it online here) and are willing to pay a little bit extra, go for it. Otherwise…
Choice beef is widely available and still pretty high quality. Just make sure to look for the steak with the most marbling (fat), since this is what adds flavor and keeps the steak tender during cooking.
Select beef is leaner and typically not as juicy and flavorful. It’s also available in supermarkets, and it’s an OK choice. But, this is Valentine’s Day we’re talking about. If cost is a big issue and you go for Select beef, make sure to cook with plenty of fat and baste with butter at the end.
(Yes, there are lower grades of meat, but these are ground, chopped, or used for pet food.)
9. Once you’ve procured your steak of choice, you will need kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, oil/fat* (for cooking), a bunch of fresh thyme, and butter (to finish)…
*DO NOT USE OLIVE OIL. Canola oil or another vegetable oil will work well for cooking, as they are neutral-flavored and have a high smoke point (meaning they can stand up to the high heat required for cooking steak, unlike olive oil or butter). If you want to go all out, cooking steak in lard (pork fat) or tallow (beef fat) — both of which have high smoke points and great, meaty flavor — will result in the best steak you’ve ever had.
10. …plus a 12-inch cast iron skillet*, tongs, a meat thermometer**, a spoon, a cutting board, and a very sharp chef’s knife.
*If you don’t have a cast iron skillet you can buy a good, relatively inexpensive one here for $25. It’s a great multipurpose pan and absolutely worth the investment. If you really don’t want to buy a cast iron (silly you!), you can use a 12-inch stainless steel, ovenproof sauté pan instead.
**The meat thermometer is a non-negotiable necessity, and you can buy one at Target (or Walmart, or probably your grocery store) for $15.
11. Forty-five minutes before cooking, take your steak out of the fridge and dry it thoroughly with paper towels.
Excess moisture on your steak makes it nearly impossible to get a nice, dark crust on the outside of the meat.
12. Then season it with LOTS of kosher salt, and some pepper.
Seasoning your meat 45 minutes in advance intensifies the flavor and draws some of the moisture out. This is a good thing, since a drier surface area means that a better crust will develop.
14. Let your seasoned steak sit out at room temperature for 45 minutes.
Letting your steak come to room temperature will lead to faster, more even cooking. (There’s some debate over whether this is really true, but since you need to season it 45 minutes in advance anyway, leaving it out on the counter can’t hurt.)
15. Before you start the actual cooking, open all of your windows, turn your hood fan on, and figure out a way to keep your smoke alarm from going off (this is not a joke).
Although the BEST, EASIEST way to do this is to just put a plastic bag over your smoke alarm and secure it with a rubber band, that is probably illegal and I cannot TECHNICALLY tell you to do it.
BUT: If you do choose to go the “plastic-bag-rubber-band” route, make sure you take the bag off IMMEDIATELY AFTER COOKING. Smoke alarms are no joke.
Also, make sure your windows are all the way open and your hood fan is on. If you have a standing fan, you can point it up toward your smoke alarm to help keep the smoke away from it. If the alarm does go off, fan it with newspaper until it stops.
I wish I was kidding about this, but properly searing a steak results in a lot of smoke. If you’ve ever had a great steak at a steakhouse, know that there was a LOT of heat and a LOT of smoke involved — and your job is to get as close as possible to that heat and smoke in a home kitchen.
16. When you’re ready to cook (about 20 minutes before you’re ready to eat), put your cast iron skillet on a burner over high heat.
Get it ripping hot before you even think about putting the steak in.
17. Dry your steak again with paper towels.
Don’t worry about wiping the seasoning off; because you seasoned the steak almost an hour ago, the salt has absorbed into the meat.
18. Add about 2 tablespoons of cooking oil to the pan.
You need just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
19. Get it ripping hot before you even think about putting the steak in. Your pan is hot enough when the oil starts to just barely smoke. Use tongs to place your steak(s) in the pan, working away from yourself.
You should see a couple of little wisps of smoke. Then it’s GO time! Lay down the end closest to you first, then carefully lower the other end into the pan. This way, if that sizzling-hot oil splashes or splatters, it won’t splatter right onto your skin.
Since the filet mignon is a smaller steak, you don’t really have to lay it down. Just place it in the pan, carefully, with tongs.
22. Keeping the heat super high, let your steak cook for 2 minutes without touching it.
24. After 2 minutes, flip your steak and start to brown the other side.
27. Continue to flip every 2 minutes until your steak reaches an internal temperature of 120°F (rare). A 1½-inch-thick ribeye steak will get to 120°F in about 8 minutes.
28. A 1-inch-thick top sirloin steak will get to 120°F in about 6 minutes.
Yes, this means that it’ll brown for 4 minutes on one side and 2 minutes on the other. Don’t worry about it; when you baste later on, make sure the second side (the side that’s only been browning on the pan for 2 minutes) is down.
29. If you’re cooking a filet mignon, there are more than 2 sides (the top, the bottom, and the edges), so it’s a little more complicated.
For the first 2 minutes, sear one flat side of the steak. For the next 2 minutes, sear the other flat side. Then, turn the steak onto its side and sear the edges, rotating every 2 minutes until the steak is cooked.
Cooked this way, a 2-inch-thick, 8-ounce filet mignon will reach 120°F in about 8 minutes.
31. To check the temperature of your steak, stick a meat thermometer in, diagonally, so that the tip of the thermometer is in the middle of the steak.
32. When your steak is at 120°F, it’s time to start basting.
The temperature for a rare steak is 120°F. You’ll baste with butter to bring the temperature up to medium-rare.
33. To baste: Turn your heat down to medium, and add 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter to the pan.
36. Let the butter melt and just barely start to bubble, then add about 5 sprigs of thyme.
39. Then, baste the steak by spooning the melted butter over the top of it, repeatedly.
Basting with hot butter helps to flavor your steak, speeds up cooking a bit, and gives the meat a better crust.
41. After a minute, flip the steak and keep basting.
42. Check the temperature of your steak again. It’s done when it’s at 130°F (the low end of medium-rare).
If it’s not at 130°F, keep basting for another minute and check again.
43. Now put your steak on the cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Patience is key; as your steak rests, it’ll continue to cook and will reach an internal temperature of about 135°F, which is a perfect pink-but-not-bloody medium-rare. Also, all of the juices will settle into the meat instead of just running out onto the cutting board when you slice.
47. After 10 minutes, your steak is ready to be sliced. If you cooked a ribeye, the first thing you need to do is cut the meat off of the bone.
Cut as close to the bone as possible, so that there’s almost no meat left on it.
49. Slice your steak against the grain. Your blade should be perpendicular to the wrinkly lines on the meat.
52. Cut slices half an inch thick, using a single downward stroke for each slice.
Using one stroke keeps your cuts more precise; sawing back and forth can tear the meat up and make it tough.
53. Transfer your meat to a serving platter or plate.
Present the ribeye with the bone, as well. FYI: Anyone willing to tear the meat off the bone with their teeth on Valentine’s Day is probably (definitely) worth marrying. If not, it makes an excellent dog treat.
56. Arrange the slices on a serving platter, making sure to fan them out so that your valentine can appreciate the beauty of the perfect medium-rare.
This 2-pound ribeye serves two.
This 1.5-pound top sirloin serves two.
This 8-ounce filet mignon serves one.
59. If desired, pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan over the sliced steak.