Pro Tips: How to cook the perfect medium-rare steak, according to Pat LaFrieda

A LaFrieda Meat Purveyors fillet, fresh off the grill.

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A LaFrieda Meat Purveyors fillet, fresh off the grill.
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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
  • Meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda is an old-school do-it-yourselfer, a formidable trait that bleeds into his cooking. He is precise and foolproof in his methodology.
  • We asked the man behind the meat at places like Boucherie, Minetta Tavern, and, yes, Shake Shack, for his tried-and-true instructions on how to cook the perfect medium-rare steak.
  • Rule number one? A good steak, as any cook worth their salt might contest, is already so rich in flavor that very little needs to be done in the way of preparation and seasoning.
  • Here are his stern but simple instructions.

This is Pro Tips, where industry experts share their secrets. Here, we asked meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda how to cook the perfect medium-rare steak.

Pat LaFrieda is an old-school do-it-yourselfer, a formidable trait that bleeds into his cooking. He is precise and foolproof in his methodology. Rule number one? A good steak, as any cook worth their salt might contest, is already so rich in flavor that very little needs to be done in the way of preparation and seasoning. Other tidbits? High heat is essential. A thermometer, unless your very vocation is grilling steaks day-in, day-out, is a very good idea. Have a resting rack ready. And for the sake of all things good and decent in the wide, wonderful world of meat: Do not jab your steak with a fork to judge whether it’s cooked to your liking.

We’ve sat down with LaFrieda multiple times to discuss, among other things, the finer points of meat preparation and grilling. We like to think we’ve gleaned a thing or two. Ever the students, here’s what we’ve learned from the meat man himself.

Seasoning

A LaFrieda tomahawk steak catching a generous helping of salt before being fired.

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A LaFrieda tomahawk steak catching a generous helping of salt before being fired.
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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Some meat enthusiasts believe in bringing a steak up to room temperature before tossing it on the grill. Now, as a meat purveyor, Pat LaFrieda is not exactly encouraged by the FDA to invite the associated bacteria to the party, but he claims it’s pointless to leave a steak out. How do you prepare the perfect medium-rare steak? “Straight from the fridge at 38 degrees [Fahrenheit], douse it in salt.” If you’re cooking with an overhead oven, “Lower the grate down from heat (on high), and cook it for about three minutes on each side, if you’re cooking, say, a 1.5-inch porterhouse. Once finished, pepper it.” Some say that peppering your steak ahead of cooking will cause it to burn and impart a bitter taste.

Searing

There's nothing like a crispy golden sear. Salt helps.

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There’s nothing like a crispy golden sear. Salt helps.
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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

As for guesstimating the doneness of your steak? Probably not the best move for most of us. “This whole thing about ‘If you touch it and it feels like your cheek,’ I never got that,” LaFrieda says. “Stick a thermometer in the center where it’s toughest and where the bone is. If it’s 125 [degrees Fahrenheit], I’m taking it out. If you rest it for more than 2 minutes, then it’s going to continue to cook through.”

And when you pull that steak out? Get it on a resting rack. “You don’t want the meat to rest in its own juices. Whatever’s going to fall, let it fall.” Otherwise, he tells us, “You’re now steaming the steak again – what we’ve worked so hard to do, and now we’re going to lose it. Let it sit for two minutes on the rack, then make sure you cut into it and stop the heating process.”

Slicing

It just doesn't get much better. Pro tip: If you plan to save and reheat your steak, leave it a little less than medium rare so it won't overcook the second time around.

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It just doesn’t get much better. Pro tip: If you plan to save and reheat your steak, leave it a little less than medium rare so it won’t overcook the second time around.
source
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

“Slice it at 2 minutes and the cooking procedure ends. The moment you cut through a steak, the resting period is over. No juices get redistributed through the product. The exterior temperatures are equaling the interior temperatures. That’s just physics. This gets you a nice sear and one solid color throughout.” As for the right knife? A meat slicing knife works, but LaFrieda prefers a butcher’s knife to get the job done. Pat’s brand of choice is Victorinox.

Serving

Once you’ve sliced your steak, or let it rest as long as you’d like, it’s time to add fresh-ground pepper, if you want it. Then there’s really only one question left: To use sauce, or not to use sauce? “I love sauces, LaFrieda says. “They bring a different dimension to something that I’ve eaten most likely plain for most of my life.”

His favorite sauces? “Mine. It’s a little sweet, and it’s got a lot of reduced balsamic and sautéed Vidalia onions, which you can use as a marinade. If you just use it for steaks, a little bit goes a long way because it has that potency of the balsamic and the sweet Vidalia. My whole life I’ve been eating steak au poivre from Raoul’s.”

(Editor’s note: Unfortunately, we can’t find or buy Raoul’s Steak au Poivre recipe, but we’re working to send Owen deep undercover into Raoul’s in SoHo to obtain this highly coveted recipe for all the world to share. In the meantime, Pat’s sauce, as well as this 1950s recipe from Epicurious, should do.)

On reheating leftovers

If you’re going to have leftovers, “Make sure the meat is very rare, to begin with,” LaFrieda implores. “If you’re going to make a whole fillet and you know you’ll only eat a few slices, make sure you refrigerate the rarest parts so when you reheat it, it’s not overcooked. And keep it out of the microwave for crying out loud. Stovetop.”

And there you have it.

For more meat tips, read Pat LaFrieda’s Meat: Everything You Need to Know, and check out his list of the 8 grilling tools he cannot live without.