The secrets of how to cook the perfect steak

Ever since we both read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, Mrs Romance and I always take our steaks either rare or medium-rare.

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From this book, we gleaned that well-done steaks tend to harbour a number of meat evils that kitchens – unsurprisingly – don’t tell us.

A well-done steak is often an inferior piece of meat. It’s often not treated well either, as the long cooking time usually hides things like its age or any ‘floor time’ it might have encountered!

Chefs also tend to look down their noses at a well-done steak as a lot of the flavour has been burnt off it by the time its ready.

Mr & Mrs Romance - how to cook the perfect steak - 3 choose the right meat

It’s quite a science to cooking a steak properly though. Thankfully, Mrs Romance has been educated in the ways of the grill by Italian chef Danny Russo. He has created the new menus for The Oaks Hotel, Neutral Bay and was there to give a barbecue masterclass.

Mr & Mrs Romance - how to cook the perfect steak - 2 Danny Russo

Here are the pearls of meat wisdom Mrs Romance gleaned from Chef Russo:

  1. Don’t cook straight from the fridge – room temperature is best. The fat needs to soften so that it’ll caramelise and renders properly.
  2. Don’t use vegetable oil or extra virgin olive oil, instead use cottonseed oil or regular olive oil. Veggie oil can burn and virgin olive oil can interfere with the flavour of the meat.
  3. Salt crystals are very important when cooking. Rub salt on the fat so it absorbs in and reduces unwanted fatty moisture and adds flavour.
  4. Only cook steak with salt, not pepper. Pepper changes the characteristics of the steak.
  5. Salt the steak just before cooking not when marinating as this may dry the meat out.
  6. Don’t mix grass-fed and grain-fed meats. Grass-fed meat is usually better but grain-fed is often sweeter.

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Secrets of cooking a steak with chef Danny Russo

  • Choose the right steak – thickness is important
  • Good quality meat is key
  • Cooking temperatures – use a hot grill
  • Never put oil on the grill
  • Don’t move the steak. Put the steak down on the grill, leave to caramelise, then flip it. Don’t keep turning it – you’ll be left with no flavour if you keep turning it.
  • You want caramelized fat and salt.
  • Use the finger trick to test how cooked the steak is. Squeeze your thumb and index finger together and press the thumb muscle with a finger on the other hand. If your steak feels like this, it’s rare. Therefore:

Thumb and index finger = rare
Thumb and middle finger = medium-rare
Thumb and ring finger = medium
Thumb and little finger = well-done

  • Rest the steak covered for 5 minutes.
  • Always have a clean plate ready.
  • Use different cutting boards for the meat – no cross contamination.

Mr & Mrs Romance - how to cook the perfect steak - 4 hot grill

These are great tips from Danny Russo and I’ll certainly be using them next time I’m let loose on our barbecue.

Talking of barbecues, I was recently introduced to something that really puts the ‘man’ in romance!

The Yoder Smoker wood fired pellet grill is a competition grade barbecue that is starting to make its way into Australia from the States.

Mr & Mrs Romance - how to cook the perfect steak - 9 steaks

Americans are all over the low-and-slow grilling method, which is where things like pulled pork, brisket and lamb shoulder comes from.

These mighty machines use hardwood pellets which go into the silo on the left and are slowly released into the barbecue by the internal computer. This controlled release maintains the level of heat so you can cook at 70dC if you want.

There’s an ignition rod that sits in the wood pellets and heats up until they ignite. Then it’s all down the wood. No more firelighters and hands stinking of kerosene.

When I was a kid everyone’s barbecues in the UK were charcoal fuelled. It would take ages to cook all the charcoal down, wait for it to get to temperature… and then everything would burn. I think even my dad would be able to cook a decent dinner on one of these!

When I saw this thing, I really wished I had a bigger balcony. Especially when David Sprigg, who works for Australia’s only importers GrillPro, pulled out some pizzas. That’s right. You can use it as a wood fired pizza oven. It was all I could do to stop myself from giggling like a little girl!

Mr & Mrs Romance - how to cook the perfect steak - 7 Yoder Smoker + David

David also cooked up some hanger steak. It doesn’t sound very nice – and for a long time it was seen as a cut to discard, but it’s actually one of the most tender and rarest cuts to find. Not every cow has them and if they’re there, there’s only two whole cuts per animal.

David used the finger trick and produced some delicious steak with a beautiful smoky flavour. The wood burn gives the meat a really nice texture as well – compared to the gas fired grills popular in Australia.

Yoder Smoker collage

So if you’re in the market for a new barbecue, have a look at Grill Pro and check out the Yoder Smoker. Then tell me when you’ve bought one and we can become very close friends!


How do you like your steak cooked? Who does the barbecuing in your house (my mum had the grill skills)? Do you have any tricks for cooking perfect steaks?

Images of steaks by Mrs Romance, and of the Yoder Smoker grill courtesy of Men At Work Comms.


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