about | contact | disclaimer | home   


In the Kitchen with Krause #15: Steak the Alton Brown way

Julie Powell undertook her Julie/Julia Project in 2002 it seems, stating that she would work her way through Julia Child's magnum opus. I had a more mild goal in mind when I decided to mimic season 1, episode 1 of Good Eats, in which Alton Brown cooks a steak.

One find's the Julie/Julia Project (the trek by Powell through Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking) as a Salon.com blog; Powell does, however, have another blog, What Could Happen?; after all, she has to market her book, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.

It's an admirable project; I have read neither the blog nor the book, though I heard about the project toward its end and before the book was published, probably via a combination of blogs, news sites, etc. Marketing and word of mouth, in other words.

Back to Alton.

At the beginning of the first episode of Good Eats Alton Brown introduces us to a steer—“Let's just say, they don't make much time with the ladies”—and the various cuts of beef.

store-bought steak

Since I grew up on a small farm and we raised our own cattle (steers, and once a heifer) for beef, I was privileged with hay-fed, non-rBGH modified, liquid-shits-against-the-stall-wall calves that became grown animals and, finally, food. The procedure was rather simple: we kept a side and sold a side, and the money from the side we sold tended to pay off the cost of raising the animal in the first place.

My aunt and uncle, as we called them, often held BBQs and parties, but usually bought their steaks from Albertson's, which is a fine grocery storey—“It's Joe Albertson's supermarket, but the meat department is mine”—but they rarely splurged on the better cuts of meat, the better sausage, or the better cheddar. I—we—might not have noticed much or cared if we hadn't been so spoiled by the great meat in our freezer.

I ate a lot of hamburger, steak, and roast as a kid.

raw steak on a plate

That having been said, I never paid much attention to the various cuts. Sure, I knew about the tenderness of rib-eye—who didn't—but except for the look and location on the steer, I didn't distinguish, say, sirloin and T-bone as to flavor or tenderness. They were all good, as the saying goes.

Back to Alton, again.

He had an aside about cast iron skillets, and I thought to myself, “Hell, self, let's do this the Alton way, and cook our steak in a cast iron skillet.” Since I didn't own one—I had one in Berlin, improperly cured as it was, but it's not like I brought it back with me on the plane—I stopped by my local hardware store this afternoon, which had a nice large one on sale for $15. I'm a sucker for a sale.

I cured (seasoned) it in the oven for an hour at about 350F, having coated it first in shortening.

For the steak itself, I followed the simple procedure in the episode itself:

a new cast iron skillet
  1. Preheat oven to 500F.
  2. Set heat on the stove/range to high; heat the skillet.
  3. Salt both sides of the steak liberally with kosher salt.
  4. Pepper both sides.
  5. Rub in a spoon or two of canola oil (or another oil with a relatively high smoke point; not butter of olive oil) on each side.
  6. Sear the steak 30 seconds on each side in the skillet over high heat. During those 30 seconds, do not touch the steak. It will brown nicely.
  7. Place the skillet and steak in the oven, cooking it for 2 minutes each side in the oven at 500 degrees.
steak with thermometer

I removed the steak for the oven, moved it to a plate, and tested it with a thermometer. It reported a steady 140F to 145F, right in the range for medium rare on the way to medium. It was firm but not hard to the touch, which is to say, resilient but still soft. I let the meat drain a bit (put it on a raised element so that it would not sit in its own liquids and become soggy) and covered it with foil so that it did not cool too much. A few minutes later I cut it, and it was nicely pink in the middle, and tender throughout.

How could I not think of Joe Pantoliano as Cypher in The Matrix talking across a table to Agent Smith, chewing and enjoying a succulent steak along the way, a harp in the background indicating the heavenly bliss of the moment? “You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”

Doneness scale
  Rare: 120 to 130
  Medium Rare: 130 to 145
  Medium: 145 to 155
  Toast: 155 and up

All temperatures in Fahrenheit

It was a larger cut that I was originally looking for, and I was glad to have the large skillet. That having been said, a tasty steak goes down quite easily and there was no need for leftovers, although I originally thought of saving half for later.

sliced steak

Served with a bowl of salad it made a great meal. The meat itself was flavorful and savory; I'm sure a better, more expensive cut might have been even better, but this decent cut from the supermarket, purchased this afternoon, did just fine. I consumed it with a $5.99 zin; it's hard to turn down that Giant 47 Pound Rooster, I tell you.

With a name like Giant 47 Pound Rooster—Pomona connection—and a winemaker named Michael Kafka—German connection—it was impossible to turn this wine down. And at that price per bottle it was even more impossible not to get it. Again.

More impossible?


The word “salary” comes salariam, the pay Roman soldiers received for buying their salt.

Cleaning the skillet is a simple process of not really cleaning it in the standard fashion.

  1. Put a little fat in it (if there isn't any already).
  2. Add about a tablespoon of kosher salt.
  3. Scrub with a wad of paper towels.
  4. Once clean, dump out the salt, wipe out the pan.

In episode 2 of season 1 Alton tackles potatoes. The whole deadly nightshade thing, you know.

—February 15 2007