Steak Your Claim Transcript, Inc.

Mel Coleman's Cattle Ranch

[Alton's hat: "NECI," an abbreviation for the New England Culinary Institute]

    [eating a steak] Mmm. You know, I think it's safe to say John Wayne ate steak. I mean, if there's a meal more fundamentally American we can't think of it. I mean, steak is a food borne of wide open spaces and big skies. Even today, when the closest most of us come to a horse is the saddle on an exercise bike, steak still calls out to those with brave appetites.
    Now sadly, firing up a steak at home can end in disappointment. Sure, we can take refuge in the great American steak house; but something so elemental shouldn't be alien to the home plate and it shouldn't cost an arm and a leg.
    So join us as we search out the great American steak. We're going to learn what to look for, where to find it. We're going to outfit ourselves with some decent gear and when we bag our prey we're going to cook it up the way we like it best, nice and simple. So hitch up your appetite, this is Good Eats.

Raising the Steaks
Mel Coleman's Cattle Ranch

GUEST: Mel Coleman, Cattle Rancher

    For those of you who might have grown up in the city, these are cattle.

AB: Let's go. Tsk, tsk. Go, Go.

    And this is a steer, or a least a drawing of one.

[Click here to go to a copy of Alton's drawing of the steer from]

    Now, steers are where all great steaks starts. Now, steer is basically a bull that's been ... let's just say they don't make much time with the ladies.

  S: Mooooo.

    Ah, here comes Mel Coleman. He just happens to raise organic cattle on a few hundred thousand acres out in Colorado.

AB: Good morning, Mel.
MEL COLEMAN: Well, good morning, Alton.
AB: Good to see you.
MC: Good to see you.
AB: We're on a hunt for a great steak. We've got a road map going. Will you help us?
MC: Well, there's good steaks all over a steer.
AB: Okay.
MC: But the best steaks are right in here. [indicates the middle back]
AB: Okay.
MC: Now, when you quarter an animal, you quarter it right through there so all of this front part is a little fattier than from here back.
AB: That doesn't necessarily mean it tastes better, though, right?
MC: I don't think so because a lot of the taste comes from a steak that's very lean like the sirloin.
AB: Okay.
MC: Juicer steak, because it has more fat and marbling, comes from the rib eye.
AB: Okay. All right. So, basically your better steaks in the middle of the animal on the back.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Up toward the back.
AB: So what difference does grass make?
MC: Well, I think this grass, like this, I think that's the best thing there is. You know, 65% of the land mass of the world is grass and we can't eat it. I don't like it in my salad, anyway.
AB: Well, no. It's a little tough.
MC: And our cows are vegetarian. They spend most of their life eating this grass.
AB: What is your favorite steak?
MC: Well, I think ...
AB: I mean, if you could have one, just one.
MC: ... if I just ... I'd take the strip steak.
AB: Right.
MC: Now, that's the top part of the T-Bone. The other part ...
AB: That's like out here, right? That's right there.
MC: The other part of the T-Bone is very tender and most women like it but just because it's tender.
AB: Now we can't say that kind of stuff now, that women's stuff.
MC: Oh, that's right.
AB: They get really kind of ...
MC: A lot of people just like it 'cause it's soft and tender.
AB: Okay. How do you cook yours?
MC: Oh, medium rare.
AB: Medium rare.
MC: Oh, yeah. You don't want to cook it anymore than that.
AB: You like my drawing? You like my cow drawing?
MC: Yeah, that's a pretty good square cow.
AB: Would a steer have a nose ring?
MC: Uh, ...
AB: These days ...
MC: Not on our ranch, no.
AB: Uh, not on your ranch, no. Not on mine either.
MC: Now, these are antennas I guess.
AB: Uh, yeah. Those are antennas, Mel.
MC: AM and FM.
AB: Um, thanks a lot, Mel. That makes me feel great.
MC: Ha, ha. You are a heck of an artist, though.
AB: Ha, ha, ha. Mel, thank you.
MC: You bet. Good to see you again, Alton.
AB: See you soon.

    Oh sure, that looks easy, right? Well, don't get too cocky because just a few miles up the road is a place that can reduce a unsuspecting cook to a quivering zombie.

There are 300 Commercial Cuts of Beef ... 14 Are Steaks

The Grocer

GUESTS: Joe Illescas, Butcher
              Lady Behind the Counter
              USDA Agents

    Submitted for your approval, hundreds of mysterious pieces of meat—each an enigma in shrink wrap. Choose wisely and discover nirvana. Choose poorly and your dreams of a juicy steak disintegrate into a dry pile of gristle. How will you choose?
    Now, this is a beautiful sight, real live butchers. These folks are proof positive that we are not alone in the meat universe. They're here to help. They'll answer your questions. If there's any chance you could want something you don't see, odds are they're going to get it for you. Let's go talk to one.
    This is Joe. He's a butcher. He is the man. He grew up in the business. He could take a steer apart and put it back together and it would walk away.

AB: Joe, we're trying to find the perfect steak. What should someone look for as far as quality goes?

JOE ILLESCAS: Ah, like you can see in this steak we just cut a few minutes ago, they're still holding the moisture.
AB: Oh, yeah. It's just coming right up out of the meat.
 JI: Right. Right. And that is what you have to look when you go to the grocery or store ...
AB: Okay.
 JI: ... to see the moisture and the color has to be bright. It has to be the same on both sides.
AB: Okay, so ...
 JI: At the same time, excuse me, ...
AB: No, no.
 JI: ... at the same time when the steak is cut has to be cut equally even. One of the reasons we do that is because you don't cut even, [it] will not cook even.

AB: Okay. No smell.
 JI:  No smell.
AB: Nothing.
 JI:  This meat is fresh.


Bright Color

Even Cut


AB: So, let me see if I've got this straight. We've got the sirloin primal, the sirloin primal, right?

Primal: Large Commercial Cuts, from
which Smaller Consumer cuts are produced.

AB: And from that you can cut these big Fred Flintstone steaks here, tender as long as you don't overcook it. And we move on to the middle of the animal and the short loin and this is the short loin, kind of, in its entirety. And we've got ... you can see the cross-section of a porterhouse steak and that translates to this, right?
 JI: Right.
AB: Now, if we were to cut this piece and this piece away we would have this strip and we would have this tenderloin.
 JI: Right.
AB: So, if we've got a porterhouse, which is basically a strip steak and a filet added together, right, kind of like this ...
  JI: Right.
AB: Okay. If you had a bone there that would be a porterhouse.
 JI: Right.
AB: Four different steaks that can come off of one primal, that can come off the short loin: strip, T-Bone, porterhouse and filet. And most of us are used to having this one with a nice piece of bacon tied around it.
 JI: Right.
AB: And then we've got my favorite, the rib primal and from that we get the wonderful rib eye steak. If you were to put a bone on this you'd be [sic] prime rib.
 JI: Prime rib. Right.
AB: Now, it's got some nice marbling in it ...

"Marbling" Flecks or streaks of fat running through a Piece of Meat.

AB: ... which has a little extra fat, but if you cook it right, if you cook it really hot, a lot of that fat comes out.

    The farther the cut is from the head, the horns and hoof, the more tender it's going to be. Whereas you get closer to the legs of the animal, the animal does more work, more flavor but a little tougher.

    So, thanks to Joe we are set up with a juicy rib eye.

AB: Thanks.
LADY: There you are, sir.
AB: Heh, how do you like your steak?
  L: Charred. Medium rare.
AB: Sauce?
  L: Béarnaise.

    Sweet. Oh, you know, I've been asking everybody around here about this whole USDA inspection thing, but they keep telling me to ask the Feds.

USDA AGENT #1: All beef processed for commercial distribution in the United States is overseen by United States Department of Agriculture Inspectors who ensure that slaughter takes place under wholesome and sanitary conditions and that carcasses are free from any apparent disease or injury. This inspection is mandatory. Grading, however, is a voluntary process paid for by the packer or processor. Grade, such as select, choice, and prime are a function of color, weight, fat-to-body ratio, age and other physical considerations. Non-graded or no-roled meat is not necessarily an inferior product. The processor or packer has simply opted to save money by forgoing the process.

USDA AGENT #2: (to someone off camera) Pardon me, sir. Please step away from the steer.

S: Moooo.

Not Real USDA Inspectors.

Germ Warfare

The Kitchen

    Now, we might not like to think about it, but all meat, heck, all food, is pretty much full of microorganisms. There. I've said it. Now, most of these little guys are perfectly harmless but some bacteria like listeria, E. coli, and salmonella can do serious bodily harm. They can even land you in that Big Kitchen in the sky.
    Now, that doesn't mean that you've got to treat all red meat or white meat or poultry like it's asbestos, but you do have to follow some simple rules. For one, you can't just stick it in your trunk and go see a movie unless, of course, you live in Minnesota and it's January. Believe me, bacteria breed like bunnies so you want to get this stuff home and into the coldest part of your fridge as soon as possible. Now I like the bottom drawer.

    Now, your refrigerator should never get more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, for our European friends that's uh ... now, let them do their own math.

40° F

4.4° C

    Now, if you're in doubt, spend a few bucks and get yourself a refrigerator thermometer. This is cheap insurance. And believe me, when you throw that big dinner party what you want to get in the mail is thank you notes, not a court summons.

The average American eats 11 steaks a year.

Home On The Range

Kitchen Store

    [travels around store looking for something] Now when it comes to cooking gear, it's tough to get much more basic than a pan. Now, if you're not real sure where a pan ends and a pot begins just remember that a pan always has one straight handle and a pot has loop handles and almost always comes with a lid which is not to say you can't have a pan with a lid.
    Now, there are hundreds of pans out there designed for all kinds of jobs and made out of all kinds of stuff. But if cooking is going to be fun — and we're here to see that it is — you've got to have the right tool for the job. And since working in a cluttered, junked-up kitchen is about as much fun as coming down with Ebola, you need to make sure that the pieces you have are versatile. Now, sure there are plenty of pans that can handle steak, but the one that's best at it just happens to be the kind of kitchen essential that you should not live without. And for under $20, ... [not finding it, the scene jumps to ...]

Hardware Store

GUEST: Bob Members, Hardware Guy

... you don't have to.
    Now, to do our rib eye justice, we really need a pan that gets really hot, it's got to stay hot and it's got to distribute that heat evenly. What we need is cast iron. Now, unlike a lot of quality kitchen wares, this one you can find in some unlikely places.
    Now say you stop off at your neighborhood hardware store. You're looking for a new Saws All or, I don't know, maybe you need some telephone wire or maybe a talking yard frog like that. Now, chances are if you look around you're going to be able to scope a deal on a ... ah, cast iron skillet, like, say, this 10" model right here. Anything smaller than this is kind of awkward to use and anything bigger than, say, this 12 incher and you need a team of oxen just to move it around.

    Now, take a look around your grandmother's kitchen. I promise you there's at least one of these. Because back in the days before Teflon and extruded, anodized aluminum and surgical stainless steel, this is what you cooked in. Three meals a day. It's solid iron. It can go in the oven, on the stove, under a broiler, over a camp fire, over a jet engine, whatever. In short, a very versatile piece of cookware. And it's our vessel of choice for lots of jobs from cooking a steak to chicken picata to pancakes to corn bread.
    Now, this is an unfinished iron surface, okay, and it's got to be conditioned or cured when it's new so that food won't stick. Now, if you've been lucky enough to inherit one of these or pick one up at, say, a garage sale, you know that it's going to turn black, which is good. Now to just check out your grandma's skillet, if it's not jet black and slick as a mambo band, she's been sneaking in take-out all these years.

AB: Oh, hey, Bob. Come here a second. Could you tell us something about curing up this bad boy?
Sure, well the first thing you want to do when you bring it home is wash it in warm, soapy water. You don't want to use a scouring pad 'cause it will scratch up the surface.
AB: Okay.

BM: You lightly coat it with a vegetable oil, put it in the oven 350° for about an hour.
AB: All right.
BM: And then, you take it out, you pour out any excess grease, lightly wipe it down, cover it with a paper towel.

Coat with Oil or Shortening

350° for an Hour

Drain Wipe and Store.

AB: Um, how do you like your steak, Bob?
BM: I don't eat steak.
AB: How does your wife like her steak, Bob?
BM: We don't eat red meat.
AB: How do your kids like their steak, Bob?
BM: They don't eat red meat.
AB: Thanks, Bob.

The Kitchen

    Since we're going to be finishing our steak in a 500° oven, there's no reason not to chuck this guy in and give him a head start. It's cast iron. It doesn't care.

500° F

    Now, here at Good Eats, we don't like a lot of fancy flavors messing with our beef. Just a little ground pepper and a little kosher salt. And don't worry. The salt on the meat is not going to pull out all of the juices ahead of time. Besides, it's going to go straight into a hot pan.
    Now, a word about salt. Wars have been started over it. Gandhi's famed march to the sea was about making salt. It's mentioned more times in the bible than any other seasoning and yet, not all salt is alike.

    Now, this is sea salt which is made from evaporated sea water. It comes in a fine grind and also in crystals and it also taste great but it's kind of pricey. It's definitely for cooks who drive Porches.

Sea Salt

    Now, rock salt. Now this is not the stuff that you put on your driveway in winter. It's okay. It's got some extra minerals in it, which won't do you any harm, but you have to have a grinder for it and I have a hard time just keeping up with a pepper grinder. 

Rock Salt

    Now, this is good old table salt. It's got iodine added to it so you won't get a goiter and I know that's a major concern. Now, this stuff has got anti-clumping additives which, well, keep it from clumping. I don't like working with it because it's hard to pinch, it's hard to control and I think it just tastes funny.

Table Salt

    Now, kosher salt not only tastes great but the jagged little flakes stick together so that you can pick it up and control it which helps you season things. Now, these flakes also will stick to the outside of our steak and help give us that crust we're after. Table salt will just dissolve when it hits the pan. Kosher salt is a pantry essential. For goodness sakes, keep it near you always.

Kosher Salt

The word "Salary" comes from Salarium the pay
Roman Soldiers received for buying their salt.

Flash In The Pan

The Kitchen

    We have plucked our pan from the 500° oven but it's still not hot enough. So I'm going to put it over high heat and leave it there for at least another 5 minutes. Now, this thing is a branding iron at this point, okay, so please handle it with a folded towel or a pot holder, something or else you're going to end up in the burn ward. Now, to the steak. A little seasoning. We're going to use a good bit of kosher salt. Believe me. This isn't too much. Let have some on both sides. You really want it on there. A couple turns of black pepper.

    Now, we want to lube up the meat a little bit with some oil. This is going to help the heat get into the nooks and crannies and gives us that brown crust we're after. It only takes a few drops then just kind of toss it around on the plate a bit just to give the meat a nice glisten. There.

Canola Oil

    Now, into the pan. Now, here's the point where you're going to have to trust me. Do not touch this for 30 seconds. Now, because we're cooking with such high heat, the kind of oil we use is kind of important. You see, every fat has a temperature at which it burns and gets nasty tasting. It's called the smoke point and sure enough it's the temperature at which any given oil starts smoking.

    Now, we never could use butter or expensive extra-virgin olive oil for this because it burns really easily. A little higher up the scale you get corn and canola which are okay, but up at the top of the scale are oils like peanut oil and safflower oil and they are perfect for high heat cooking like searing and sautéing.

Safflower - 450°
Peanut - 450°
Canola - 435°
Corn - 410°
Olive - 375°
Butter - 350°

    It's been 30 seconds so I'm going to go ahead and flip this over. Now, see that brown crust. That's what we're after, so we're going to leave it for anther 30 seconds. A lot of complex physics and chemistry stuff goes on during searing but, heh, I want to eat, not write a dissertation. So here it is in simple terms: you need a really hot pan, a little bit of fat on the meat, and the patience to leave it alone to develop that nice brown crust.

    Now, it's been another 30 seconds and we've got a really great crust on both sides. But the inside of the meat is still not done.  So, I'm going to move the whole thing into the oven, right into the 500° oven.

500° Oven
not Broiler

    Now, I'm going to leave that in there for 2 minutes and then I'm going to flip it and let it finish for another 2. Now, why bother, you ask. Why not just do the whole thing on the burner? Well, if I did, by the time the meat was done on the inside that nice, brown crust we've got working for us would be pretty much a black shell. By doing it this way we let the relatively lower heat inside the oven move into the meat and finish it gently.

Cooking Supply Store

GUEST: Sally Bernhardt, Cooking Technician

    You know, I think a lot of people are intimidated by steak because of the whole doneness/temperature thing. But, contrary to popular legend it doesn't have anything to do with the phases of the moon. Nope. You can actually tell doneness by feeling the meat or you can take its temperature. My, what a big probe you have.

AB: Heh, good for steak?
No, this a candy thermometer.
AB: Okay, how about this little guy? This looks ...
SB: That's a cappuccino frothier thermometer so you don't burn the milk in your cappuccino.
AB: You're joking.
SB: No, I'm not.
AB: How have I lived without that all this time? Okay, I give.
SB: I'd recommend the instant read thermometer.
AB: Okay.
SB: It has a nice skinny probe so you don't leak the juices out of your meat. Has an on/off switch and it has a digital read-out that gives you a quick and accurate temperature reading.
AB: And a free battery.
SB: Comes with a free battery, too.
AB: Heh, how do you like your steak?
SB: Medium rare.
AB: Sauce?
SB: No, I don't care for sauce.
AB: A purist.

The Kitchen

    So, 4 minutes is up and our steak is done. It looks really great. Now, one of the things that's so terrific about using an insta-read thermometer is that you can literally teach yourself doneness, learn what to look for. So, whenever I use this thing I like to go into the side of the meat because I'm really interested in the temperature right in the middle. Okay, 137°. That's great. Pretty much medium rare.

-40 TO 300°F

Rare: 120° to 130°
Med Rare: 130° to 145°
Medium: 145° to 155°
Toast: 155° and up

    So, when you know you've got the temperature where you want it, take a minute and look at the steak. Feel it. Now, see there's some resilience there but it's still really soft. That's medium rare. Now, once you learn what you're after, you can save this thing for leg of lamb and roast pork.
    A steak or any piece of meat is kind of like this kettle. And when you're cooking it, you've got heat pushing on the tissues, forcing juice into the steak. Now, if you were to poke into it or cut it at this point, the heat would just push the juices out onto the plate and you'd be left with, well, a nasty, little, dried, piece of meat floating on a pool of juice which isn't so nice. By resting the meat, well, it's like turning the heat off of this kettle although not as fast. You take it away from the heat and give the pressure of heat time to recede and the juices redistribute through the meat. What could have been a piece of leather is now a juicy steak.
    Since we've violated its cellular structure with, oh, several hundred degrees of heat there is going to be some juice loss. What I like to do is to get that steak elevated and out of those juices so that brown crust we've been working so hard to get won't dissolve. I like to use a little plate. It can be a saucer, whatever. And just scoot it right under the meat so that those juices can drain away. Now, that steak is supposed to rest, not freeze to death, so I like to take just a little bit of aluminum foil and lightly cover it. Now, be patient. Leave it alone for 3 minutes and I promise you will be rewarded.

"Steak" comes from "Steik" the Saxon word for meat on a stick.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Caroline Connell, Dietitian

    Okay, here's a little helpful cast iron hint and this is my favorite feature about the pan: you never wash it. Just when you're done cooking, put a little fat in the pan if there isn't any, add about a tablespoon of kosher salt and scrub it with a wad of paper towels or an old rag. When the pan is clean, and you'll be able to tell because the salt will be filthy, just dump out the salt and wipe out the pan. You're good to go. Cool, huh?
    Now, this looks great. Now, you can tell that this steak rested because the juices are in the meat and not all over the board and the plate. Now, you might have to cook a few steaks before you nail your technique, but that's what's so great about this kind of cooking. Because when you start paying attention to what you're doing you start learning about the food and that's a lot more valuable than any recipe. Think of it as an experiment you can eat.
    Now, we've proven that there's no great mystery to a good steak. You use good meat, you use a heavy pan over high heat. You finish it in the oven and you don't move it around.
    Now, heh, heh. I know what some of you are thinking. How is going to eat that red meat? How can he put that poison in his body? Well, why don't you ask my dinner guest, a Dietitian?

AB: So, Caroline, how are you going to put that in your body?
CC: Well, considering that it's full of vitamins, iron, B-12, protein, no problem.

    Well, there you have it. Join us next for more good eats. Don't forget to bring your brain and your appetite and, in the mean time, play with your food.

AB: How's the steak?
CC: Great.
AB: Great. I don't do this every day, but 3 times a week is not bad.
CC: Heh, heh, heh. It's good.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010