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How to cook the perfect steak

The following guidance has been adapted from BBC Good Food, you can see the full article here:

Types of steak available in packs of 2 from A May's Farm (starting top left going clockwise): fillet steaks, sirloin steaks, beef shin steaks (for braising), rump steaks and ribeye steaks

Whether your preference is a butter-soft fillet steak, flavour-packed sirloin or a thriftier cut like rump, quick-cooking and constant attention should be paid when cooking your beef. With only a few minutes leeway between rare and well-done, timing is key. BBC Good Food have put together some tips to help you from start to finish. Once you've mastered the art of the perfect steak, check out their favourite steak sauce recipes for the final flourish.

Types of steak

The cut of steak you use is down to personal preference and budget. Different cuts will deliver different levels of tenderness and flavour. BBC Good Food’s handy steak infographic shows you what to expect from each cut and gives advice on how best to cook it.

Sirloin: Considered to be a prime steak, like fillet, but with more flavour. Best served medium-rare.

Fillet: Prized as the most tender cut, it's also the most expensive. It has little fat and is best served as rare as you like.

Rib-eye: Boneless and each steak usually serves one, best cooked medium-rare. Excellent marbling.

Rump steak: The least expensive of prime steaks, it will be tough if cooked anything beyond medium.

See BBC Good Food classic recipes for sirloin, rib-eye and fillet steak or check out their full steak recipe collection.

Best pan for steak

For indoor cooking BBC Good Food recommend frying your steak, although you can grill it if you'd rather. A heavy-duty, thick-based frying pan will achieve the best results. A heavy griddle pan or cast iron skillet is another great option for cooking steak. These types of pan get really hot and retain their heat, making them ideal for getting that charred, smoky finish on the surface of your steak.

Steaks should be cooked in a roomy pan – if a pan isn’t big enough for all your steaks, don’t be tempted to squeeze them in anyway. Cook them one or two at a time and leave them to rest as you cook the rest of your batch, or cook a much thicker steak and carve it and divide the slices to serve.

How to season steak

Beef purists may prefer to take in the unadulterated, rich flavour of a quality steak by adding nothing more than a sprinkling of salt and a generous twist of pepper. Contrary to popular belief, seasoning your steak with salt ahead of time doesn't draw out the moisture but actually gives the steak time to absorb the salt and become more evenly seasoned throughout. Salt your steak in advance – 2 hrs for every 1cm of thickness. For a classic steak au poivre (peppered steak), sprinkle lots of cracked black pepper and sea salt on to a plate, then press the meat into the seasoning moments before putting it in the pan.

Some people like to enhance flavour and tenderise meat with a marinade. Balsamic vinegar will reduce down to a sweet glaze, as will a coating of honey and mustard. See BBC Good Food’s easy steak marinade to use on a variety of cuts.

Many chefs add whole garlic cloves and robust herbs like thyme and rosemary to the hot fat while the steak is cooking, which adds background flavour to the steak subtly, without overpowering it.

Best cooking fat

Flavourless oils like sunflower, vegetable or groundnut work best, and once the steak is searing you can add butter to the pan for flavour. A nice touch if you’re cooking a thick sirloin steak with a strip of fat on the side is to sear the fat first by holding the steak with a pair of tongs, then cooking the beef in the rendered beef fat. You’ll need to use your judgement when you heat the pan – you want the oil to split in the pan but not smoke.

How to sear

Searing a steak until it gets a caramelised brown crust will give it lots of flavour. For this to happen, the pan and the fat need to be hot enough. The conventional way is to sear it on one side, then cook it for the same amount on the other side. This gives good results but the second side is never as nicely caramelised as the first. To build up an even crust on both sides, cook the steak for the total time stated in the recipe, but turn the steak every minute.

How long to cook steak

BBC Good Food’s cookery team have outlined what you can expect from each category of steak.

  • Blue: Should still be a dark colour, almost purple, and just warm. It will feel spongy with no resistance.

  • Rare: Dark red in colour with some red juice flowing. It will feel soft and spongy with slight resistance.

  • Medium-rare: Pink in colour with some juice. It will be a bit soft and spongy and slightly springy.

  • Medium: Pale pink in the middle with hardly any juice. It will feel firm and springy.

  • Well-done: Only a trace of pink colour but not dry. It will feel spongy and soft and slightly springy.

It’s very important to consider the size and weight of your steak before calculating the cooking time.

Fillet steak cooking times

BBC Good Food recommend the following cooking times for a 3.5cm thick fillet steak:

  • Blue: 1½ mins each side

  • Rare: 2¼ mins each side

  • Medium-rare: 3¼ mins each side

  • Medium: 4½ mins each side

Sirloin steak cooking times

BBC Good Food recommend the following for a 2cm thick sirloin steak:

  • Blue: 1 min each side

  • Rare: 1½ mins per side

  • Medium rare: 2 mins per side

  • Medium: About 2¼ mins per side

  • Well-done steak: Cook for about 4-5 mins each side, depending on thickness.

How to cook steak

1. Season the steak with salt up to 2 hrs before, then with pepper just before cooking.

2. Heat a heavy-based frying pan until very hot but not smoking.

3. Drizzle some oil into the pan and leave for a moment.

4. Add the steak, a knob of butter, some garlic and robust herbs, if you want.

5. Sear evenly on each side for our recommended time, turning every minute for the best caramelised crust.

6. Leave to rest on a board or warm plate for about 5 mins.

7. Serve the steak whole or carved into slices with the resting juices poured over.

How to check steak is cooked

Use your fingers to prod the cooked steak – when rare it will feel soft, medium-rare will be lightly bouncy, and well-done will be much firmer. BBC Good Food’s picture guide to checking steak is cooked shows you how to use the 'finger test', or a meat thermometer inserted into the centre to ensure it's done to your liking.

Blue: 54C

Rare: 57C

Medium rare: 63C

Medium: 71C

Well done: 75C

How to rest a steak

A cooked steak should rest at room temperature for at least five minutes and ideally around half the cooking time – it will stay warm for anything up to 10 minutes. Here, pure science comes into play – the fibres of the meat will reabsorb the free-running juices, resulting in a moist and tender steak. Any resting juices should be poured over the steak before serving.

What to serve with steak

You're sure to find an accompaniment in BBC Good Food’s guide to steak side dishes. Plus, they have 10 steak sauces you can make in minutes, from cheat's peppercorn to spicy chimichurri.

How to buy steak

You'll see these terms in many places where you can buy meat, from us at A May’s Farm, at the butcher's or on restaurant menus – here's what they mean.

Grass-fed beef: Our animals are predominantly grass fed, which means for the majority of their lives they walk around and graze on pasture, as a result the meat has a richer flavour that tastes of the environment it was reared in. This is why our Exmoor predominantly grass-fed beef will taste different to beef from other areas of the country.

Marbling: Marbling is the fat found interlacing the inside of a cut of meat. As the meat cooks, the ‘marbled fat’ melts – without this, the meat would be dry and flavourless. Meat with a lot of marbling mostly comes from the back of the animal where the muscles get little exercise.

Ageing: The ageing process improves the taste and tenderness of meat. We dry hang our meat for 21 days, a traditional process where carcasses are hung in a cool place to intensify the flavour and cause the meat to shrink.

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