If you’ve ever ordered a steak at a restaurant and been amazed at how tender it was, you may have wondered what the secret is. Those of you who have cooked a steak at home know that it can be tricky to get restaurant-quality results. So, how do restaurants make their steaks so tender?
Restaurants make their steaks tender by using the best quality meat from reliable sources, ensuring it has been sufficiently aged, and preparing the steak properly. Such things like letting the meat come up to room temperature before cooking and resting it after can make a huge difference.
With the price of steaks being so high when eating out, learning to make the best steaks at home is a valuable skill for any home cook.
I did some extra research to find exactly how restaurants make their steaks extra special. In this article I’ll give you some tips on how to copy their process. Let’s dig in.
Why Are Restaurant Steaks More Tender?
The first and most important factor is the quality of the meat. Restaurants typically use higher-quality beef than what you would find at your local grocery store. They also tend to buy their meat from specialty butchers that source their beef from specific farms or ranches. This allows them to get the exact type of meat they want, which usually makes it more expensive than what you’d find at the store.
Price is usually a good indicator as it reflects the supplier’s costs of raising the animal. The quality of the meat depends on how it’s been raised and what kind of diet it was given. For example, grain-fed beef has more fat marbling throughout the meat, which helps to keep it moist and tender during cooking. Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, has less fat marbling but is often more flavorful.
The best restaurants will also typically use steaks that have been dry-aged. This is a traditional process where the beef is stored under controlled temperature and humidity conditions for a period of time, typically at least 21 days. During this time, the steak’s natural enzymes break down the muscle fibers, making it more tender and flavorsome.
Top restaurants may often undertake this process themselves so that they have complete control over the tenderness and flavor of their steaks. Others will buy meat that has already been dry-aged by their suppliers.
Some restaurants prefer to use wet-aged steaks instead as they can be aged in less time, typically between 4 and 10 days, and is a much more cost-effective process. This relatively new technique involves sealing the beef in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag and then refrigerating it. The resulting steak will not be as tender or have the same depth of flavor as dry-aged meat but is still very effective.
Wet aging is suited to some cuts better than others. It’s best for leaner cuts such as filet mignon or strip steak which don’t have lots of fat marbling.
Chinese restaurants often use a technique called “velveting” for their beef. This makes it extra tender by a trick with baking soda – see how it’s done in my post on how Chinese restaurants make meat tender.
Overall, once a top-quality piece of meat is sourced, it’s then important to prepare and cook it properly to end up with a great-tasting steak.
Why Do Restaurant Steaks Taste Better?
Restaurant steaks have maximum flavor from using a prime cut, seasonings well, searing it over high heat, and basting it with butter, garlic, and fresh herbs (if pan frying).
The secret to making a delicious steak is proper preparation. The chefs at the best restaurants know how to properly trim and tenderize their meat so that it cooks evenly and is as tender as possible.
The first thing chefs will do is make sure to not cook a cold steak. Take the meat out of the refrigerator at least 20 minutes before cooking to allow it to come up to room temperature, and ideally more like 45 minutes. Next, season the steak all over with lots of salt and pepper before cooking.
One of the simplest cooking techniques chefs will use is to cook it in a hot pan on the stovetop, but they also have access to the best equipment including charbroilers and grills. Cooking in the pan works great and allows you to baste with butter and juices. A grill will give you that flame-grilled effect.
Finally, something that you may forget to do at home is that restaurants will let your steak rest after cooking for 5 minutes or so before serving. This is one of the most important things to remember for an outstanding steak as it allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, making it even more flavorful and tender.
How To Cook Steak Like A Restaurant
By following this simple process, you can ensure that your steak is as delicious as the ones served at the best restaurants.
First of all, make sure you’ve selected a quality piece of beef that has been aged for at least 21 days. This should mean you have a quality piece of meat all ready to go without having to tenderize it using other methods.
Remember to bring the steak up to room temperature rather than cooking it cold – at least 20 minutes. The first step is to trim off any excess fat or sinew. This helps prevent the fat from burning during cooking.
Next, season with salt and pepper all over fairly heavily. You can choose to cook the steak straight away or allow the salt to “dry brine” the meat for 45 minutes. In short, osmosis gets to work and pulls water to the surface of the meat after about 10 minutes. This dissolves the salt and this salty liquid then gets absorbed back into the meat, making it more tender.
You need at least 45 minutes for the liquid to be reabsorbed – the surface will dry up when it’s ready, otherwise you are cooking a wet steak which isn’t good for browning the meat.
Now it’s time to cook the steak. Most restaurants use one of two methods: pan-searing or grilling.
Pan-searing is probably the easiest to get consistent results and is done by cooking the steak in a hot skillet on the stovetop. This method works well for most types of steak:
- Make sure your pan is smoking hot
- Oil the steak rather than the pan to prevent too much excess oil smoke
- Gently lay your steak in the pan – it should sizzle when added
- Sear the steak on both sides for a minute each to form a nice crust
- Turn down the heat slightly and continue turning the steak every minute until it’s cooked to your liking. Around 3-4 minutes in total on each side for a steak cooked medium.
- Add some butter a few minutes from the end and baste the juices in the pan with a spoon
- You can also add things like garlic and fresh thyme to give it extra flavor
After the steak has been cooked, it’s important to let it rest for a few minutes before serving so the steak relaxes and retains its moisture before being sliced up. Rest it on a warm plate and cover it lightly in foil.
Try to resist the temptation to cut into your steak right away – it’ll be worth the wait!
Why Do Chefs Put Butter On Steak?
Chefs put butter on steak because it helps to add a rich flavor and a juicy glaze. Butter is usually added during the cooking process and is used to baste the steak with it as it melts. This gives the meat a lovely nutty, caramelized flavor and helps to keep it moist as it cooks.
Another common technique is to put a sliced of flavored butter on top of the steak after it has been cooked and let it melt over the meat. Either way will help make your steak taste great.
Why Is My Steak Tough And Chewy?
There are a few reasons why your steak might come out tough and chewy.
Quality of meat will play a role – cheaper, tougher cuts of meat are less likely to turn out tender, even if you do everything right. Try tenderizing cheap cuts beforehand by hammering with a meat mallet or rolling pin, or try using acidic marinades or brine to see if you get better results.
Tough steak could be an indication that you didn’t cook it long enough or maybe even too long. Lean cuts like the tenderloin require less cooking as there is little fat to protect the delicate meat. Try cooking this medium-rare – about 3 minutes on each side.
Check out my useful post on how to tell if your chewy beef is overcooked or undercooked.
Hopefully you now know how restaurants can make their steaks so tender and tasty. One main reason is that they often buy better quality meat to start with, and another is that they know how to prepare and cook them properly.
Restaurants also usually let the steak rest for a few minutes after cooking, which helps the juices find their way back into the whole steak making it even more tender and juicy.
By following the simple tips I’ve provided, you can make restaurant-quality steaks at home every time.