Steak Perfection
SJ chefs dish on how to cook that number-one dish

SJ chefs can do amazing things with a steak, and meat lovers all around our towns wish they could too. We asked for some insider tips and tricks for making a magnificent steak, and our talented chefs happily shared their cooking wisdom. Get ready to make the steak of your dreams – cooked to perfection.

Choosing the perfect cut of meat

The amount of time a steak is aged will drastically change the taste. We carry prime cuts aged 21 days and choice cuts aged seven to 10 days. The best piece of meat you’ll ever have is a piece of Wagyu strip loin; it’s an Australian beef. The best thing you can do is ask somebody behind the counter to tell you what they can about the meat. The more room the cows have to graze and move around, the better that steak will be.

If you can, buy meat from cows that haven’t had steroids and antibiotics. A smaller animal produces steaks that are much more tender.  –  Mike Roth, Meat Cutter, Wegmans, Mount Laurel

The meat should be a vibrant red color. The very best cut really comes down to individual style and taste. My favorite for this season is a Delmonico. It has a great flavor profile and cooks relatively quickly, so I’m not chained to the grill.  – Jack Connor, Executive Chef, The Madison, Riverside

As a guy who sells steaks, I’m partial to the New York strip. Yes, fat adds to the flavor, but I like my steaks a little leaner. It should be about an inch thick – just a little wider than your thumb.  –  Pete Burgess, Owner, McFarlan’s Market, Merchantville

Distrito’s carne asada

Distrito’s carne asada

I look for marbling, and I tend to go for the rib eye since it has such a nice distribution of fat versus protein. That cut is always super tender. The rib eye to me is the perfect cut of steak, but I also love skirt steak. It has a good fat distribution and takes well to marinades and rubs. It’s my favorite cut for tacos.  –  Jose Garces, Chef and Owner, Distrito, Moorestown

You can base your choice on what you’re drinking. If you like a certain wine, pair your steak with that. Something dry like a cabernet should be served with fattier grilled meat, and a sweet merlot goes better with something leaner like a filet.  –  Rick Rutherford III, Executive Chef, Rio Station, Rio Grande

Find a very good butcher who can guide you through the different cuts of meat to find what you’re looking for and what you want to spend. Sometimes people just look for the reddest piece of meat, and that won’t be the best one.  –  Robert Cipollone, Chef/Owner, Tre Famiglia Ristorante, Haddonfield

Look at marbling – the white fat that runs through the muscle. My favorite cut is the rib eye. I like the big pieces of fat, which give you a nice char on the outside. You want it to have not too much gristle, but plenty of marbling.  –  Jeff Michaud, Chef/Culinary Director, Osteria, Moorestown

Preparing the steak to be cooked

If you have a beautiful, 35-day aged prime Wagyu strip loin, I wouldn’t marinate it. But if you have a piece of choice sirloin, a marinade or dry rub would enhance the flavor. My go-to wet marinade combines dried red chiles, rosemary, freshly ground black pepper, honey, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. In terms of a dry rub, I use a mixture of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder and brown sugar.  –  Jose Garces

Take the steak out of the fridge, and let it come to room temperature. Never put it on the grill cold – that’s probably the most common thing people do wrong. You’ll end up cooking the outside and leaving the inside cold.  –  Pete Burgess

A true steak does not need marinade. Sometimes when you marinate, the steak becomes very salty, because you’re seasoning it twice. When you take it out of the refrigerator, brush it with some oil and simply season it with salt and fresh pepper.  –  Aniello Capuano, Executive Chef, Carlucci’s Waterfront, Mount Laurel

Flank steak, which is inexpensive, does very well with marinating because it’s not the best cut of meat. It also does well on the grill. Something like a London broil you may want to marinate. When you get into the nicer cuts, the sirloins, filets and rib eyes, it’s better not to marinate. The pieces of meat I’m using are very expensive, and I don’t want to camouflage that flavor.  –  Robert Cipollone

I don’t marinate. If you want to use some rosemary or a little garlic, that’s great, but for the most part I stick to salt and pepper. If you’re going to smother it in teriyaki sauce like my dad, no thank you.  –  Jeff Michaud

Cooking your steak to perfection

Start by building a fire in your grill with wood charcoal and hardwood, and from there create two zones of heat: a hot searing zone and a cooler cook zone. Sear the steak on the hot zone of the grill for about two minutes per side, or until the meat begins to caramelize and turn a golden brown color. Slide it over to the cooler zone and allow it to roast for six to seven minutes, until medium rare.  –  Jose Garces

I am really all about a hot cast-iron pan and a steak liberally seasoned with salt and pepper that will get a nice, charred crust.  –  Carlos Torres, Executive Chef, Braddock’s Tavern, Medford

The Capital Grille’s sliced filet

The Capital Grille’s sliced filet

Dry the steak off well before cooking. This will help it get a nice sear.  –  Joey Medellin, Executive Chef, The Capital Grille, Cherry Hill

The worst thing you can do is overcook it. You’ve probably spent a big chunk of money on a fantastic steak – if you cook it too long it’s going to get dry, and you’ll lose all the incredible flavor of that piece of meat.  –  Mike Roth

Know the difference between rare, medium-rare, medium and well-done. A rare steak will be dark red with some juice flowing and will feel soft and spongy. A medium-rare steak will be pink with a little pink juice flowing and will feel slightly springy. Medium is pale pink in the middle and will feel firm and springy. Well-done has only a trace of pink color in the center and feels spongy and soft and slightly springy.  –  Aniello Capuano

Cook your steak over very high heat, but it’s important that while it’s cooking you respect the steak. That means no poking with a fork or pressing down on it as it cooks.  –  Mirko Loeffler, Executive Chef, Redz, Mount Laurel

There’s something called carryover cooking. If you take your steak off the grill or out of the oven and it’s a perfect medium rare, it’s not just going to instantly go to room temperature. It’s going to continue cooking while it rests, so cook it to a temperature about five degrees under what you actually want it to be.  –  Rick Rutherford III

Cook it on a wood grill; it imparts so much flavor to the piece of meat. When you cook over gas, the fat drips and you get some of that gas flavor. With a wood grill you get the smoke from the wood. It adds a whole new dimension of flavors.  –  Jeff Michaud

Finishing Touches

If you season your steak at the end of cooking, when all the sides are seared closed, you get your other flavors but still keep the flavor of the meat alive. I personally like to make compound butter – with flavors like herbs, peppers, roasted seeds and mustard – to melt over the steak as I serve it.  –  Mirko Loeffler

Let the meat rest. The steak needs time once it’s fully cooked for the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. This will ensure that those juices stay inside the steak when it’s cut and not leak out and lead to a dry, flavorless meal.  –  Joey Medellin

When it’s reached a perfect medium-rare, your steak should have the same firmness as the lower part of your palm, on the pinky side closer to your wrist. Remove it from the grill and allow it to rest for five minutes. This is when I like to add what I call a “resting butter” to the top of the meat – my version is an herb butter with rosemary, garlic and thyme.  –  Jose Garces

Side dishes

To me, classic is always best. Pair the steak with crispy potatoes au gratin and Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar. Always have a starch and a vegetable.  –  Joey Medellin

Keep it simple, and keep it fresh. Nothing beats some Jersey corn and a loaded baked potato.  –  Jack Connor

For a great spring and summer meal, I toss some asparagus and tomatoes on the grill along with the steak.  –  Pete Burgess

Personally, I love a baked potato filled with sour cream, butter and maybe some crumbled bacon.  –  Aniello Capuano

I like the way they serve it in Italy. You get the tagliata (Italian for sliced steak), and they serve an arugula salad with Parmesan and lemon. In the summertime, pair your steak with some heirloom tomatoes with vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and some fresh basil.  –  Jeff Michaud

Since the coals are already going, I like to cook seasonal vegetables over the cool zone on my grill. Steak is already so rich on its own, so I prefer lighter accompaniments like simply grilled asparagus, zucchini or corn.  –  Jose Garces

You can’t forget a fresh baked potato to catch all the juices from your perfect steak.  –  Mirko Loeffler

In my world, a perfect steak comes with French fries and two fried eggs.  –  Carlos Torres

June 2015
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