So you've selected the best steak, seasoned it well, prepped it for the grill and then grilled it to a perfect medium rare. Is it ready to serve yet? Not quite. There's one more element to cooking a perfectly juicy steak.
A steak needs to rest for about five to seven minutes before you serve it. This has nothing to do with the steak being tired, and everything to do with wanting it to be as juicy as possible.
The Perfect Steak Is a Juicy Steak
If you were to cut into a steak straight from the grill, you'd see a huge pool of juices come spilling out all over your plate. But if you wait five minutes or so before cutting into it, you won't see that. The juices will be in the steak, not on the plate. Here's why.
Think of a steak as a bunch of little cells, each one filled with juice. When you cook it, the heat causes those little cells to contract, which in turn squeezes the juices toward the center of the steak where it's cooler. Imagine a water balloon. When you squeeze it at one end, the water shifts to the other end. So your hand squeezing the balloon is like the heat of the grill.
Fortunately, the way those little cells get squeezed is only temporary, provided you've cooked the steak properly. Given a few minutes to cool down, those cells will revert to their former shape and the juices will migrate back from the center to be redistributed throughout the steak. If you overcook a steak, those little cells won't bounce back in the same way, and thus cannot reabsorb those juices. Of course, in an overcooked steak, much of the juices will have evaporated anyway.
Resting a Steak Is About Cooling the Steak
As is the case with so much to do with cooking steaks, there is a key temperature involved in resting a steak. The idea with resting is basically allowing the hot steak to cool to about 120° to 125°F. At that temperature, the cells have relaxed enough so that the juices can flow back in.
Now that you know about the 125 F rule, be prepared to forget about it. Just like when you cooked a steak to 135 F for medium rare, you didn't measure it with a thermometer. Poking a hole in the meat will cause all the juices to come pouring out. This is the case whether the steak is on the grill or resting on a platter, and obviously, that's the exact opposite of what we're trying to accomplish here.
Guidelines for Resting Steaks
A useful guideline for resting a steak is to let it rest for approximately as long as you cooked it. Another guideline is to let it rest for five minutes for every inch of thickness. (The perfect steak is 1½ inches thick.) Some cooks talk about resting meats 10 minutes for each pound of meat. As you can see, all of these guidelines are basically saying the same thing. Rest your steak for five to seven minutes before slicing it.
One way to rest steaks is to take them off the grill, transfer them to a cutting board and then tent them under a big piece of foil. You can then use these five to seven minutes to prepare a sauce, make up a salad, get your baked potatoes ready, set the table or whatever. And if you're so far ahead of the game that you truly don't have anything left to do, you can relax for five to seven minutes with a refreshing beverage.
Speaking of sauces, here are a few sauces that go well with a grilled steak:
Alternately, you can serve a grilled steak topped with a pat of compound butter. Here are a few compound butter recipes you can try: