May 30, 2019

NOTES FROM A PRO

A chef’s tips on cooking the perfect steak this summer

Now that we’ve rounded Memorial Day and summer is officially a go, backyard grillers are out in full force. Veggies, chicken, burgers, sausages… the grill masters on our team have the standards down. But when it comes to steak, there’s a long list of questions, myths, and complicated techniques. Plus, when you’re working with premium cuts—grass-fed, Texas-raised, dry-aged—the stakes feel higher. (Pardon the pun.) You really don’t want to pick up a beautiful 44 Farms ribeye and then burn the dang thang.

So what to do? We called Chef Richard Blankenship at Commissary to ask for some professional advice. (He previously worked in a fine dining steakhouse for four years, so he definitely knows the deal.) The simplicity of his approach might surprise you.

“Choosing the right steak is half the battle.”
That’s right. By selecting a quality steak, you’ve gotten a major head start. Blakenship recommends doing a little homework to find local ranchers who raises their cattle ethically. Key words like “organic” and “grass-fed” are important, but knowing more about the specific rancher can foster a connection that will make you feel more confident and intentional in what you buy. Does that mean paying more? Yes, but not as much as you’d anticipate. Plus, Blakenship is a firm believer in quality over quantity. “You’re not going to have steak at every meal; I’ll cook vegetarian or vegan, too. It’s about balance.”

“Grill or pan doesn’t really matter—but I prefer a pan.”
You can get a great steak on the grill or in a pan, but Blakenship’s favorite method uses a searing hot cast iron pan and lots of butter. (“It gives the outside a great crust,” he says.) However, if you’re grilling and want to add extra flavor, opt for a wood fire. (Texas oak is some of the best in the country.)

“Invest in a meat thermometer and use it.”
There are lots of guides in cookbooks and online about how to decipher the doneness of your steak. Some based on touch, time, sight… For a foolproof, scientific approach, get a digital, instant-read thermopen. “There are a lot of ways to cook a steak to your perfect liking,” says Blankenship. “But I like using a thermometer because you can nail it every time. Medium or medium-rare are just shorthand ways of saying a specific internal temperature. Rare is 115℉, medium rare is 125℉, and so on…”

“But don’t cook a steak until it reaches the exact degree you want.” 
“You have to understand the way heat transfer works,” he says. You exert energy to raise the meat’s internal temperature, but the process doesn’t stop immediately when you remove it from the heat. “It’s like a shuffleboard,” he explains. “You have to stop short of the target to account for the glide.”

That’s why it’s essential to let a steak rest. Pull it off the heat before about 10 degrees before it reaches your desired temp, and give it 10-15 minutes.

“Don’t over sauce, over spice, or over do it.”
Blakenship is a purist. “Salt, pepper, and not much more than that,” he says. “The magic of steak is that you don’t need to complicate it or do much to it. With the right technique, keep it simple, and nail it.”


Commissary, 1217 Main Street. Check out their butcher counter for summer grilling essentials and info on Father’s Day specials.