I think I have finally found the perfect cooking method for steak. I've tried just about everything over the years - grilling, pan frying, broiling, baking, searing in a pan then finishing in the oven, etc. While some methods have on occasion produced a decent steak, none have done it consistently in a way that could even begin to compete with your average steakhouse. That is, until now.
Several months ago, Cooks Illustrated published a technique for cooking steak that turned convention on its head. Instead of following the advice to first sear the steak, then finish it (either on the grill or in the oven), Cooks Illustrated recommended raising the internal temperature of the steak to about 90 degrees in the oven, then finishing it off by searing it on all sides. The reasoning is that by first bringing the internal temp up to 90 degrees, the final sear is able to give you a nice caramelized crust without the usual band of overcooked gray meat that sits just below the surface and the undercooked, often raw center that follows. I've tried this technique twice now - once on a prime NY strip and a second time on a Kobe NY strip steak, and both times the steak has come out absolutely perfect - seared on the outside with a nice caramelized crust, and completely medium-rare on the inside - all the way through. The steaks have been buttery soft and extremely flavorful and juicy. I'll probably never cook steak another way again.
Want to try it at home? Here's all you need to do:
Preheat your oven to 275 degrees (use center rack). Meanwhile, remove your steaks from refrigerator, pat dry, and rub gently with salt and pepper on both sides (be careful not to use too much salt). After the steaks have rested for about 15 minutes, place them on a wire cooling rack inside of a standard cookie sheet. This will allow hot air from the oven to evenly circulate around the steaks. Place the steaks in the oven and allow to warm until their internal temperature reaches about 90 degrees. This should take 20-25 minutes for a 1 1/2 - 2 inch NY strip steak.
When the steak is almost at 90 degrees, heat about 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a pan over medium-high heat, until it begins to smoke. When the steak has reached the correct internal temperature, remove from the oven and sear in the pan approximately 2 minutes per side. Once the two sides have been seared, be sure to sear the edges of each steak by holding the edges against the pan using tongs. Each edge should only take 30-45 seconds. Be warned, the searing will probably generate a good amount of smoke. You want a good steak, this is the price you have to pay. Open some windows and turn on your exhaust hood!
As soon as the steaks are done searing, remove them from the pan and place them back on the wire cooling rack. Tent with foil, and allow about 10 minutes before serving.
I'll put steaks cooked using this method up against any steakhouse steak I've had.