At OpenTable, we understand that sometimes nothing satisfies more than a juicy steak and we’ve got thousands of restaurants ready to accommodate your craving. But did you know that steak snafus are among the most common reasons diners send dishes back to the kitchen?
“My steak is overdone.”
“Not dry enough.”
“Let me hear it moo.”
Chefs have heard it all. Sometimes a steak mistake originates in the kitchen, but, all too often, the wrong cook on a steak is a matter of communication. Steak aficionados speak the language – they know exactly what they want and how their steak should arrive at the table. For other diners and the cooks who have to interpret them, it can be confusing. Then there’s the topping debate. Marinated or seasoned with salt and pepper only? Which dry-aged steak is most flavorful? And for goodness sake, what is the ‘it’ cheese to add to a burger these days?
Good thing OpenTable chefs are brimming with tips for ordering the best beef. And, these helpful tips apply to restaurant orders and on the grill at home. On this they all agree: knowledge is power when it comes to ordering and cooking great steaks and burgers.
The oft-described ‘meat mastermind’ at RARE Steakhouse (pictured below), chef Marc Hennessy is the brains behind the intricate dry-aging program. Here diners can even take Hennessy’s dry-aging class for a deep dive beyond the basics of how to order the world’s most flawless steak. Hennessy’s knowledge of climate, aging length, mold, bark utilization, UMAi bags (for dry aging), fridge inoculation, how beef is raised, and artisan butchery is a model for learning and tasting.
Hennessy’s idea of the perfect steak is highly subjective. He prefers beef be 100 percent grass-fed and Black Angus for its full and clean flavor plus health and ecological benefits. Next, he prefers a steak that’s been dry-aged for 60 days or more to bring out its most concentrated flavor and tender yet firm texture. “I love a bone-in ribeye, charred and medium-rare that is very well seasoned, by which I really mean salt – salt is key,” says Hennessy. “Dry-aging takes very good meat products to the next level of greatness and is a transformative process.”
Hennessy strives to make the best steak he can, rare or well-done according to the guest’s preference. But oftentimes, diners struggle to identify those preferences. “Diners should know what they like, full stop – do you like fat or not at all, texture or do you prefer softness, flavor or sight of a bone? If you know these things and can share that with your server they can guide you to the best cut for you,” says Hennessy.
Each steak has its own flavor profile, but chef Will Savarese at Robert’s Steakhouse in Atlantic City, New Jersey, loves a ribeye. “Some are leaner than others and some have the fat, which I enjoy, so lean steaks such as a filet mignon can really use the addition of fat to help cook it properly,” says Savarese, who tends to use cast iron pans at home for a great sear. “The filet is best eaten medium-rare and finishing with a really good olive oil and some quality salt such as Fleur de Sel, while I recommend ordering a ribeye more to medium, which gives the meat a chance to get cooked while the fat dissipates.”
Savarese dry ages the porterhouse at Robert’s Steakhouse in-house in what he suggests is the best of both worlds in a filet and strip, cooked over high heat for that magic sear and finished more slowly for the best flavor.
“Another steak which can’t be discounted is a good skirt steak, with more intense beefy flavor – for some diners it may seem gamier, so look for skirt steaks marinated in an Asian-style marinade and order it grilled rare or medium-rare,” he says. “Try different cuts of meat and experiment to come up with your own special blend of favorites.” For any plain steak, a simple garnish of a top olive oil, good salt, and a few fresh herbs is perfection. Savarese enjoys pairing compound butters with steak as well, like roasted garlic, citrus, and herb. And when diners see the option of wild mushrooms on the menu of choices, go for it. Naturally, says Savarese, pick a heady Cabernet to go with any steak.
In the hands of a top chef, the simplest of patties becomes a masterpiece for burger-obsessed diners. Chef Sylvain Aubry of Brooklyn’s La Cafette (pictured above) plies guests with indulgent French comfort food. Aubry prepares the La Cafette burger zing with a touch of France. “It’s a twist on the classic burger available on our dinner and brunch menus, crafted with seven ounces of housemade beef blend and served on a brioche bun,” says Aubry, who reminds people to look for burgers prepared with organic and sustainable beef, if possible, for the best flavor. “I recommend switching up American cheese with Camembert and Monterey jack cheeses because both impart unique earthy flavors and melt really well.” That’s how Aubry serves his burger at La Cafette, with lettuce, tomato, and housemade seeded mustard-mayonnaise.
At Il Solito (pictured below) in Portland, Oregon, executive chef Matt Sigler features a rotating steak special on the menu. He loves sharable, large-format steaks, bone-in preferably, for more flavor and enough for the table to enjoy. “One of the easiest mistakes to make when making steak is to go straight from the fridge to the grill, so we temper out a 22-ounce bone-in ribeye for 20 minutes and season it liberally with salt and pepper right out of the fridge,” says Sigler. “The longer the steak tempers seasoned, the more the salt will penetrate the meat, creating a better flavor, and while I prefer to cook steaks on the grill, you can form a similar crust using a cast iron pan.”
Isaac Toups is the chef and owner of Toups Meatery (pictured below) and author of the award-winning book Chasing the Gator: Isaac Toups & the New Cajun Cooking from Little, Brown. This meat friendly eatery is carnivore heaven, from the burgers to housemade charcuterie and steaks. “Be open to different cuts of beef because a ranch steak is a great everyday steak while short ribs are terrific for braising,” says Toups, who endorses field trips to your local butcher where you can ask questions to familiarize yourself with new and exciting cuts to order. ”Know your buzz words; for instance dry-aged is a key word I look for, meaning concentrated flavors and more tender beef, while grass-fed means the beef will be leaner and have an earthy flavor profile.”
When it comes to cooking beef and ordering it the way you like it, nothing beats a grilled steak. But there is one result diners should avoid at all costs: too well. “The worst thing when cooking meat is to overcook it because you don’t want to wind up with shoe leather, so for the home, buy a great meat thermometer – I love my Thermapen and couldn’t survive without it,” says Toups.
Diners who have never ordered a marinated steak find out why it’s such a hit at Gabriel Kreuther restaurant (pictured below). Chef Joe Anthony wows diners with a marinade of soy sauce, Worcestershire, garlic, and grapeseed oil. “Both the soy and Worcestershire have natural sugars that caramelize when the steak is roasted or grilled,” says Anthony. “In addition, it adds a complex depth of flavor from the umami they create.” On the menu look for dish descriptions that specify marinated steaks.
Ocean Prime (pictured below) may be known for seafood, but Ian Rough’s steak program is every bit as worthy of equal praise. In cities like fabulous food-frenzied Philadelphia, there’s no shortage of succulent steaks. Rough aims for a nice, deep caramelization and crust that seals in the juices. “In our steaks, the crust is slightly charred but isn’t a dark black color; there’s just a slight texture difference – note, there is a fine line between a nice char and burnt,” says Rough. “At Ocean Prime, we season our steaks with pepper, clarified butter, and finishing salt, though there are accessories to enhance the experience.” Rough highly recommends adding au poivre, a black and green peppercorn crust mixture – a black pepper spice and fresh green peppercorn soaked in a brine, which gives the steak a more tender, vinegar flavor. He also suggests diners take the plunge into a Cognac cream sauce for a rich and creamy finish.
“The filet mignon is the most user-friendly steak; its name, tenderloin, explains why in that the meat is tender, not tough and chewy or high in fat content, and I suggest ordering it medium rare or less to maintain the soft texture and prevent the meat from drying out,” says Rough. “That said, the prime ribeye has more fat and a complex muscle structure, which adds a richer depth of flavor and makes the ribeye more interesting.” Rough’s formula: more medium, less chewy. More rare, more chewy. “When the marbling starts to melt down, it tenderizes the steak and there is less melting when cooked medium rare, which gives the prime ribeye more chew,” he adds.
Now that you’re a pro at the steak game, visit OpenTable.com to find a restaurant that’s right for you. You can also filter search results using the cuisine filter for steakhouse.
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Photo credits: Aubrie Pick (Il Solito); Molly Tavoletti (La Cafette); Danny Culbert (Toups Meatery).