Food & Drink

Serious Southern Steak

Atlanta chef Linton Hopkins shares his tips for cooking the perfect steak

Chef Linton Hopkins knows how to cook a steak. Hopkins, one of the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chefs in the Southeast this year (tied for the honor with another Georgian, Hugh Acheson), serves up choice cuts of locally-sourced beef alongside other seasonal dishes at Atlanta’s critically-acclaimed Restaurant Eugene.

“A steak is absolutely only going to be as good as the product itself,” he says, “and the better the product is, the better the steak will taste. We get grass-fed beef that’s finished on a diet of corn for a marbled texture and buttery flavor. The quality is amazing.”

In addition to quality, says Hopkins, cooking surface is key. “We put the old standard cast-iron skillet to use. It’s the only pan I’ve found that you can really preheat well. When you preheat a cast-iron skillet—and we practically just leave them heating on the range because they can take the heat—the caramelization on the surface of the seared meat can’t be beat, and that means lots of deep flavor.”

Chef Hopkins’ tips for cooking steak at home:

– Season the steak generously on both sides with salt and pepper and let it come to room temperature before cooking it.

– Preheat a large cast-iron skillet until it’s very hot, but not so hot that oil will burn. Add just enough peanut oil to the skillet to come between the steak and the pan’s surface, usually no more than a couple of teaspoons.

– Pat the steak dry with a paper towel or a clean kitchen towel before cooking. Any dampness on the surface of the meat will lower the cooking temperature, reducing the amount of caramelization.

– Be patient. Leave the steak alone to sear deeply on both sides, for a couple of minutes each, and develop a crust. Then turn the steak just a few times more, with tongs, to ensure even cooking. Use a meat thermometer to get the steak to your desired level of doneness.

– Let the steak rest, loosely tented with aluminum foil, for about 10 minutes after it’s done cooking. This gives the juices time to settle.

– Finish the steak with something simple, like a dollop of high-quality butter and a scattering of fresh herbs.

– Slice the steak thinly across the grain, and serve.