How to Cook a Steak to Perfection

"Great steaks are really synonymous with great American food. They're like the grand meat dinners that politicians had at the end of the 1800s. So there's a visceral component to this," says Michael Lomonaco, whose career as top chef and innovator at New York's 21 Club, Windows on the World, Wild Blue, and now Porter House New York, traces the thread of New American cuisine, with its modern techniques and ingredients, and bolder flavors.

The steaks that come out of Lomonaco's kitchen are cooked to perfection. And justifiably so: "I've been thinking about this kind of cooking for a long time," he says.

Naturally, cooking on a professional kitchen's grill that can reach 1,600 degrees ("You can almost make glass on it," he jokes) is different from a home grill that tops out at 500–600 degrees. And not every home cook can afford the pricey prime steaks he grills at Porter House. With those things in mind, Lomonaco offers the following advice for cooking the perfect steak at home.

Choice Meat: Use American beef. Prime is best, but choice is a close second. Highly graded choice is preferable to lowly graded prime, he says. Important: It should be raised naturally with no antibiotics or hormones.
Marbling: Steak should be well marbled for a tenderer, juicier result. Animals that are "finished" (raised the last 60–90 days) on corn or grain bulk up with fat and produce more highly marbled steaks.
Optimal size: 1–1 1/4 inches thick, 12–16 ounces boneless for a single serving, or shared family style.
Temperature: Take the steak "from the fridge directly to the grill," he says, to get a crusty exterior and better control the interior. "If a steak is room temperature, it will be harder to cook, especially on a hot day."
Checking doneness: You can press the flesh; medium rare feels like a half-clenched fist (with one finger, press the muscle between the thumb and forefinger on the opposite hand). But this doesn't work well for dry-aged beef, which has 15–20 percent of its moisture removed and naturally has less give, he explains. To be sure, use an instant-read meat thermometer to test doneness. Medium rare is Lomonaco's preference since meat toughens as it cooks.
After cooking: Meat continues to cook after it comes off the fire, and the internal temperature can go up another five degrees in five minutes. Also, let the meat rest 7–10 minutes before serving so the juices are redistributed into the interior of the meat.

Michael Lomonaco's Rib Steak with Adobo Rub (Serves 4)

Ingredients

4 boneless rib steaks
Coarse salt (Kosher or Maldon)
Coarsely ground black pepper
Olive oil
Adobo rub:

  • 2 tbsp. ground ginger 
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp ancho chili powder (dried poblano chilies)
  • 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

1. Prepare the adobo rub: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl or on a platter. 
2. Dip each rib steak in the adobo rub and coat both sides evenly, allowing steaks to marinate in rub at least one hour before cooking. Keep refrigerated till needed. Rub may be eliminated, if desired, and steaks just seasoned with salt before cooking. The rib steaks may be grilled or pan roasted for maximum flavor.
3. To cook the rib steaks: Clean and heat your grill. Or prepare a skillet over medium heat for a minute before adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil. 
4. Season the adobo-coated rib steaks well with coarse salt. If using a pan, sear the first side for 3–4 minutes before turning to cook the second side. If grilling, grill on one side and then the other using standard grilling procedures.
5. Cook to desired doneness. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to test doneness: 120°F–125°F for medium rare, 130°F for medium, and 145°F for well done. Season with cracked black pepper only after meat is off the fire. (It turns bitter when heated.)
6. Allow the finished steaks to rest a few minutes before serving.
7. Serve by slicing the steaks into thin slices; place on a platter. If desired, also include tomato and onion slices, and a small bunch of watercress. Optional: Serve with a fine sauce such as Lomonaco's red wine and shallots, peppercorn, and barbecue sauces.