Unless you're a cowgirl or rancher, steak night at home is probably a special, once-in-a-while occasion. So you definitely don't want to screw it up.
Cooking a great steak seems like it should be easy. After all, you only need a few ingredients. And the basic steps couldn't be simpler: Just toss the meat in the pan, flip it once, cook it until it reaches your desired doneness, and viola! Your tender, juicy, succulent dinner is served. (Stop dieting and enjoy that meal. Here's how you can naturally retrain your fat cells to lose weight for good.)
That's what's supposed to happen, anyway. In reality, home-cooked steak often ends up tough, bland, or both. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Steer clear of these common mishaps, and you'll be rewarded with a delicious steak every time.
You bought the lean steak.
There's a time and a place for tough, lean cuts of meat like chuck roast or top or bottom round. (We're looking at you, beef stew.) But when steak is the shining star of the meal, it's worth splurging on tender cuts with a good amount of fat marbling, like filet mignon, New York strip, T-bone, or rib eye. That way, your steak will be moist and flavorful, not tough or dry.
You didn’t season your steak in advance.
Adding a generous sprinkle of salt and fresh cracked pepper to both sides of your steak 30 to 40 minutes before cooking gives the seasoning a chance to get absorbed into the meat, resulting in juicier, more flavorful meat. But if you wait until the end to add salt or pepper, all you’ll taste is, well, salt and pepper.
You didn’t blot the raw steak.
The wetter the surface of your steak, the more likely it is to steam when it hits the hot pan. (Uh, yuck.) So take a paper towel and give both sides a quick pat before tossing it in the pan. That’ll get rid of any residual moisture, ensuring that the outside of your steak gets crisp and caramelized. (You also need to pat fish dry before cooking. Avoid these 7 mistakes that will ruin your fillets.)
You used the wrong pan.
Save the lightweight, nonstick skillet for your scrambled eggs. Steak needs a heavy-duty pan that will retain plenty of heat and help the meat form a deliciously crisp outer crust. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is the best tool for the job.
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You didn’t let the pan get hot enough.
We said the pan needs to retain plenty of heat, and we weren't kidding. A screaming hot cook surface is non-negotiable in order to achieve a crisp, caramelized crust—anything cooler means the steak will steam instead of sear. You'll know you've reached the magic temperature when the pan just starts to smoke.
You didn’t use a meat thermometer.
Unless you're a seasoned pro, it can be tough to tell whether a steak is done just by looking at it. So forego the visual cues in favor of a simple meat thermometer. (Cook your steak to 140°F for medium-rare, 155°F for medium, and 165°F for well done. It'll continue cooking and reach its recommended final cook temperature while it rests.) It's quick, easy, and always accurate. (Burger night? Here's how to build the burger of your dreams.)
You sliced into it ASAP.
Muster all your self-control here, people. Tearing into your meat the minute you pull it off the pan will result in all of those flavorful juices spilling out of your steak and onto the plate—leaving you with a sad, dry piece of meat. But when you let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes, those juices will make their way back to the center of the meat. And you'll be rewarded with a moist, mouthwatering steak.
This article originally appeared on Prevention.com.