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Cooking Basics

The secret to cooking the best steak ever

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Could the secret be in the sizzle? (iStock)

For something as simple as cooking a steak should be, we sure love to overcomplicate it. Should they be room temperature or cold? Butter or oil? Pan-fried or grilled or finished in the oven?

The Sporkful podcast recently introduced another way to be self conscious about your steak — does it sound right?

On the episode, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science,” argued that ensuring your steak is making the right sound, a powerful sizzle, is key to making it taste good. The idea is that sound is an indicator that the Maillard reaction is taking place, the chemical reaction that makes caramelization and searing happen.

So, do you need to add this to your checklist of steak concerns?

"Although sound plays a role in the perfection of a steak, the primary senses remain sight and touch. Our chefs would not recommend cooking a steak entirely on sound," says Lesa Sorrentino of Perry's Steakhouse. Sound can be an important factor — if you’ve got sight and touch under control.

"For the home cooks who are cooking in a pan, sound can be a factor, because it indicates if your pan is at the proper temperature," says Chef Craig Koketsu at Quality Meats, who is participating in Food & Wine's Meatopia this year. 

"For example, if you don’t hear anything when you initially put the steak in the pan, it means you need much more heat."

However, both Koketsu and Chef Joe Gerardi of Perry’s Steakhouse say that visual cues are the most important. 

"When you notice the ring of crust forming around the edges and moving up or down the side of the steak, that’s a great indicator you are cooking your steak correctly," says Gerardi. 

To achieve that crust, don’t move the steak during the cooking process, until you see that crust forming around the sides. "Sight, touch, and smell will give the cook much more information" than sound, agrees Koketsu.

Ultimately, both chefs had similar advice on how to cook a great steak at home: Season heavily with salt and pepper, sear it for a few minutes on each side in a heavy pan, and let it rest before serving. And if you want to know if that pan is hot enough, yes, check for the sizzle.