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Cooking steak / smoke point

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
I tried cooking a steak but it didn't come out too well.

I actually don't know exactly what kind of steak it was - the label said "skillet steak."

I used a ss pan (I'm starting to get the hang of some of the abbreviations) and put in a tablespoon or two of EVOO. Then I brought the pan to a smoke point.

At the smoke point, I put the steak in and let it cook / sear for two or three minutes; I then turned it and seared the other side.

I thought it was also cooking the inside of the steak but my thermometer registered only about 110 degrees and when I cut the steak in the middle it was not cooked.

I did this a few more times with some small cuts (I was practicing) but they either came out undercooked or they were overcooked and tough to eat.

I asked a couple of people I work with what they thought (one of them had gone to a culinary school somewhere) - one comment was that EVOO is not good for searing steaks because it's smoke point is too high.

Also - unless the steak is thin enough to be cooked inside from the searing - I should consider that the searing in the fry pan will not be sufficient to finish the cooking of the inside of the steak and that I then need to put the steak in the oven. If that's the case, I'm wondering if I use the bake or the broil setting and what temperature do I use?

post #2 of 16
You'll finish it on bake.

Did you let the meat come to room temp before you started cooking it? It takes about 1/2 hour for a steak to come to room temp.

As your steak was at 110, you were only 10 degrees away from rare, so the main thing you should change would be to give it a little longer on the two sides in the pan.

Also let it rest for at least 10 minutes after you cook it.

But also consider some tricks in taking a steak's temperature. You must use an instant read thermometer. The little steak button thermometer or other roasting thermometers will not do the job right.

A steak is too thin to read accurately from sticking a thermometer in from the top. YOu need to stick it straight into the middle from the side. If you're using a dial instant read thermometer, the temperature is sensor is spread over about an inch at the end of the thermometer so it's important to get that part of the thermometer in the right part of the meat to get an accurate reading. The digital types use a smaller sensor a bit up from the tip, but should still be inserted from the side on steaks and other thin chops, cutlets, chicken breasts and so forth.

Also see
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #3 of 16 comment was that EVOO is not good for searing steaks because it's smoke point is too high.

phoohie. fergit'about smoke point. get the pan hot to a point you can't hold your outstretched hand over the oil more than 2-3 seconds and star cooking.

the only important thing to know / use about "smoke point" is:
if you heat me any higher it's gonna go to brown sticky bad tasting goop.

don't go there - did you do the shimmer experiment?

for normal (1 inch plus/minus) thick steaks, pan cooking cannot all happen at the same temp. brown / sear the two sides; reduce the temp. I quite frequently finish meat dishes in the oven - set at 275-325'F - everything is already "hot" so you don't need an 850'F oven.

..."skillet steak" - time to look for a more honest butcher / meat department. sometimes pipple think everything about food labeling is legally regulated. it is not. marketing hype & intentional confusion abounds. learn the cuts, learn what the cuts look like, ignore the label - well, check the dates.....
post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 
When I finish the meat in the oven, does it matter what kind of pan I use, and does it matter if it is covered or not covered?
post #5 of 16

Beef cut names can be very regional. I'm not sure what a "skillet steak" is off hand, and can't find it on the two butchers' websites I normally use for research -- Ask the Meatman and Bovine Myology. My suggestion is: If you don't know what it is, find someone who does, or don't buy it.

No. Wrong. Preheat the pan fist, then add the oil. Cold pan, cold oil makes for a bad cook.

Do NOT take the oil to the smoke point. It tastes bad, is unhealthy and you aren't cooking in a dinner crush. What possible reason could you have for taking evoo to the smoke point? You used too much oil. You're not trying to fry the steak, just lubricate the pan and facilitate some of the other cooking processes. A teaspoon would have been enough. It isn't "health," this time, it's just making it taste good. Priorities kicked in.

Smoke point is too hot for the oil -- but not for the steak. The searing process was (presumably) correct.

You were cooking the inside of the steak, but not enough. If the thermometer read 110F the center of the steak was at least 30 degrees hotter than it was when it went into the pan. Bigger question: Why did you cut into the steak? Didn't you believe the thermometer? Oh well, there's next time.

Also, don't cut into a steak to check for doneness. Cut into it when it's hot, the juices will run and the steak is ruined.

You have to learn to find medium-rare with the push test or with a thermometer. Time, temperature, and meat thickness are in a dynamic relationship with doneness. Change one, and you have to deal with the others.

It's smoke point is the lowest of all commonly used cooking oils. Was your pan too hot? Not for the steak, but it was for the oil. Again, you don't sear the steak in the oil. You sear the steak on the bottom of the pan. The oil takes care of some other issues.

You've got the thickness - thinness thing down. Good. Now let's bring this home. There are a couple of ways to go -- depending on thickness.

One -- for a fairly thin to medium steak (1/2" to 1-1'4"):
Pre-heat the pan on a medium high flame. Add a little oil. When the oil SHIMMERS, add the steak. Sear the first side of the steak for 2 minutes. Turn it sear the second side for 1 minute. Reduce the flame to medium and cook for two more minutes. Turn the steak again and cook for one more minute, and check for doneness. Continue cooking the steak as necessary. If your steak is overdone, cut the times down next time.

Two -- for any steaks greater than 1":
Note the weight of the steak. Preheat the oven to 425F. Dillbert's method may work for him, but it is way outside the mainstream. I've never heard the recommendation to finish in a sub 300F oven and don't believe it would work well unless the steak was almost done anyway. It seems to be a hybrid of finish and rest. Also, "steaks" are generally cooked hotter than "roasts." But even roasts, from good enough cuts, are cooked hotter than low and slow Dillbert suggested.

Preheat the pan, and when the pan is hot add the oil. Sear both sides of the steak, 2 minutes on the first side, 90 seconds on the second. Put the skillet in the oven. To determine your oven time, figure 12 minutes per pound to medium rare, and subtract 3-1/2 minutes (for the time spent searing) from the total. So, a one-pound steak would take 8-1/2 minutes in the oven. (A steak smaller than a pound, probably shouldn't be finished in the oven.)

What about finishing the steak in a pan on a medium flame? Isn't that like using a low oven? No. Contact conduction is more a efficient form of heat transference than convection. This difference in efficiency is enough to make even a medium pan much faster than a slow oven. The overarching idea is to cook the steak through, without overcooking the outside.

Use a thermometer to check the temperature, 2 minutes before you expect the steak to be done, then check every two minutes thereafter. Do this a few times and you'll get used to how fast the temp rises with an almost cooked steak of given weight and thickness.

Touch test: Remember -- when it's soft, it's raw. When it's hard, it's overcooked. When it pushes back, it's done. Take it out, let it rest, and it will be right around medium-rare - medium every time. Do the thumb pad calibration thing after you get a more general feel. It's ironic though, about the time you get good at guaging your thumb, you don't need it anymore.

There's a sort of no man's land between 1" and 1-1/4" where either method will work. But you've got to be careful.

Why the uneven searing times? Because the pan is hot, will release stored heat and continue to sear the steak, even as it goes into and sits in the oven, or for a little while after the flame is turned down.

When figuring cooking times for two steaks, use the weight of the heaviest -- don't add them together.

No matter how you cook the steak, it should rest before serving. The thicker the steak, the longer the resting period. Five minutes for a 3/4" steak. 10 minutes for a 1-1/2" steak. 7 minutes for normal thickness.

Hope this helps,
post #6 of 16
I agree with the touch test, and pretty much use that for all my steaks (and other meats like chops). I cook just at home, my issue is, everyone likes their steak done to a different degree. So its touch touch and touch again.

Mine - blue - just a nice sear and I'm good to go, my daughter -rare so its pretty springy, better half, medium to well, so its got some give, son - he'd rather not have steak (he's nuts) but usually medium, so its got a bit more spring than my husbands. Its a bit of a juggling act, but the more practice you get, the easier to judge it. (We get thru a lot of pans!!!)

But yes, always get the steaks to room temp first - most important, along with buying a steak which you know what it is, and that its suited for frying.

Resting the steak makes the world of difference.

One thing I don't think I've noticed mentioned - does anyone else oil the steak and put it into a hot pan, instead of oil in the pan? This method is, to me, preferable and gets better results. Works for me :)

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

post #7 of 16
I'm venturing a guess that the 'skillet steak' was some sort of flank, flatiron or skirt that would best be used in making fajitas. But without actually looking at it, who really knows?

Is it just me, or have there been a few more steak threads than usual around here lately?

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #8 of 16
I think I saw that at the store the other day. It was chuck steak if I remember right. I agree with the rest, hot pan, cold oil, drop steak in and sear, flip, into the oven at 450 to finish but I like my steak to moo :lol:
post #9 of 16
This is straying off topic a bit, but a lot of folks crank up the oven for the first bit of roasting a roast, then turn it down to finish cooking. I used to do it that way, but lately I've been more into starting at the lower temp, 325 - 350 F until the roast is close to done, then shoveling in the coal, so to speak, 450 F or so in order to brown and crisp up the crust. But I like my beef quite rare, so my cooking times and techniques tend to reflect that.

Steaks, roasts? I think that it wasn't that long ago I asked 'how thin is the thinnest roast, how thick is the thickest steak?"

mjb the carnivore.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #10 of 16
More a statement about how you intend to cook it rather than a description of the meat. Sorry to get all physics on your bad self, but the words are packed with meaning. Steaks are usually cooked by contact conduction (touching a pan), and high direct radiant (over coals, under a broiler). Roasts are cooked by convection (oven), immersion conduction (completely covered by liquid), vapor conduction (steam), and mid to low direct radiant -- slow cooked over coals). Of course sometimes there are hybrid cooking methods. But if you look at the predominant method, I think you'll see identify with it.

You can make a great sauerbraten with a piece of round thinner than a piece of sirloin you cook California Barbecue (Santa Maria) style. Yet one is a roast, the other a steak -- Most def.

We identify thick with roast and thin with steak, because that's how we usually cook them. Indeed, if you look at the etymology. A "steak" was a "roast" into the 16th Century.

My 2 ryo,
post #11 of 16
Sorry I didn't cover these in my previous post.

You should cook the whole thing in one pan. Sear the steak in a pan that can go into the oven -- in other words a pan with a handle which won't melt. Typically, after a steak is cooked in a pan, the cook makes a pan sauce with the fond the meat left stuck to the bottom of the pan by deglazing.

Yes it matters if it's covered. DON'T COVER IT!!!. If you cover it, it will be something other than a pan roast. (If you put no or very little liquid in it and cover, it's a poele. If you put a fair amount of liquid in it and cover, it's a braise. You aren't trying to do either.)

post #12 of 16
Thread Starter 
BDL - thanks for all the great information; and everyone else also. I am thankful that someone with me - who doesn't even have enough cooking experience to be called a novice, can post questions to this bulletin board and get feedback from experts.

Regarding the pan and the EVOO, I'm glad I can use the EVOO. I'll make sure to heat the pan first and not to put the EVOO in the pan while the pan is cold.

Regarding the smoke point - if I don't wait until the smoke point to put th steak in, then how do I determine when to put the steak in? That's the shimmy and hand over the pan method?

For the oven part of the cooking - the second part - I'll try toe 425 degrees. Am I using the "bake" setting in teh oven rather than the "broil" setting?

Also, regarding oil, my son's nutritionist told us that that coconut oil is the best oil to use for him - it withstands high temperatures without breaking down, and nutritionally it is best for him given his compromised digestive tract. She said there was a study decades ago that made coconut oil look bad but that they had used a poor quality coconut oil and that it had been hydrogenated. She said that the powers that be didn't want coconut oil to come out looking good.
post #13 of 16
Yes! [fist pump]

If the pan is hot to begin with, it won't take long to heat a teaspoon of oil -- like 30 seconds, so it's not a big deal. I put the oil in the pan and swirl the pan to coat it. If the oil runs slow and doesn't want to coat the pan, it's too cold to cook. If it runs fast and coats the pan without leaving blank spots, it's hot enough.

Yes. Let me explain the difference between roasting and broiling as done in a home oven. "Broiling" is cooking with radiant heat -- heat source above the meat." By "Radiant" heat we mean really the infra-red energy coming from the burner. It's considered "direct" heat.

Roasting" is cooking with heat energy that's transferred by thermal convection. That is the source heats the air, and the air cooks the food.

Both these definitions are situational and limited to your home oven. There are other ways to "roast."

AFAIK, which isn't a lot, coconut and palm oil have both been studied and are considered very fatty in the bad way (low density lipids = LDLs) in their hydrogenated and non-hydrogenated forms. My understanding, which is very rudimentary, is that dietary sources are not the primary source of serum (blood stream) LDLs, and that LDLs can be managed as well by a high protein/low carb diet as they can by a low fat diet. Let me add that my understanding is primarily based on studies comparing the Atkins diet to other diets across several "health" axes. That my interest was piqued because I've used Atkins fairly successfully in the past (source of bias?), and because I'm interested in the math/statistics part of epidemiology. Always interesting to see how those clowns collect and interpret data. And also on work a micro-biologist friend is doing comparing how bears deal with serum cholesterol compared to humans -- which I don't understand very well.

Yes, it's true that the medical establishment clings to the "low fat" diet model, in the same way it clings to aggressive sodium management in cases where that's been shown to be not particularly important either. I think this is more about "makes sense," "doesn't hurt," and general inertia than anything else. The medical establishment will pivot pretty quickly if it finds out that what it's doing is harmful or there's something different and effective where before there was nothing. But if they're doing something that kind of works and there's nothing much better, they'll just keep right on doing it.

Personally, I discount the whole "powers that be" conspiracy stuff. If you want to tell me that some pharmaceutical faked a study to keep a drug on the market or dodge liability for placing greed uber alles -- sure. Every chance they get. But if you're telling me Wesson Oil dominates the world by keeping it's hobnailed boot on the neck of tropical oils -- no. That's me. Your nutritionist obviously sees the world differently.

FWIW, the nutritionist's right about tropical oils' heat tolerance. They're supposedly very digestible too.

post #14 of 16
Thread Starter 
BDL - my nutritionist's position is that the correlation between the fattyness of coconut oil and some of the ill health effects is not there. I don't know if she can cite a study but it's her view. She said that the study showing the ill effects of coconut oil was funded by corn oil people.

I am pretty political, and very cynical, and don't have a soft spot for the pharmacueticals. I also don't trust them at all but think it may be hard to fake a study right now, because of legal disclosure procedures. However, I do think they can choose to ignore information that is not favorable to their studies.

Corn oil producers being involved in a study of coconut oil is also not something that seems beyond belief to me. I don't think the FDA does a good job of whatever their job is - not by a long shot. Look at the recent stories - better word might be scandals - of the beef slaughterhouses keeping sick cattle as part of their product.
post #15 of 16
There are a zillion studies. I think if there was a meta-study that your nutritionist would probably be right that coconut oil isn't a problem. The "corn oil people" study is myth. As I said there's a zillion studies.

The problem, such as it is, with coconut oil is that it's high in saturated fat. Medical dogma from the late sixties and early seventies was that saturated fat was always a bad thing. Modern understanding of biochemical processes is a little more sophisticated now, and the consensus is that saturated fat isn't necessarily bad. But that doesn't mean that medical practitioners and main stream practitioners as a class have moved with the times. As I said, they tend to cling to ideas which aren't actually harmful because ... why not?

There are numerous other examples, too -- not all of them in nutrition but nutrition is particularly rife because cause and effect are so far separated with so many intervening factors.

Anyway, the weight of current studies is that coconut oil is fine... healthier than many oils lower in saturates and higher in polyunsaturates. If there's some way ADM (Archer Daniel Midlands) is controlling the information, it's not apparent. If your nutritionist wants to send me a check for half of what you pay her for a consultation, I'll be happy to sent a list of approving studies.


They frequently do. We can go into what the pharmaceuticals are up to some other time. It doesn't relate to cooking a steak at all.

As I said, if there's some "corn oil" study it's got little to do with the net disapproval of tropical oils. It's all about "saturated fat."

Another set of issues entirely. I can't go too deeply into it without talking about science, science education, politics and a bunch of other subjects which I have no interest in discussing here. Suffice it to say that we agree.

post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 
BDL - The gist of it is, as I understand it, is that there may not be a link between the saturated fat of coconut oil and the ill health effects typically associated with saturated fats.

Not to prolong the discussion, but I think that nutrition is absolutely a political issue. A lot of people would feel that the food pyramid has a great deal to do with politics in addition to any substantive nutrition foundations.

I raise this because it has a direct effect on what I look to put in my son's body (and mine and my other family members, of course).

Thanks again for your feedback.
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