Flat Iron Steak is, the grand scheme of things, a “newer” steak. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if you haven’t heard of this cut or seen it listed on a menu at a steakhouse.
A flat iron steak is cut from a part of the chuck, the shoulder, on a cow. Chuck is probably familiar to most people as either a type of roast or as the prime choice for grinding into hamburger patties. The more recent innovation that created the flat iron steak was to remove a strand of connective tissue in the chuck and to part out the meat on either side of that tissue as separate cuts, one being the flat iron steak.
This means that the flat iron steak boasts a fair amount of fat marbling coupled with a more affordable price point, which in the age of skyrocketing beef prices is more important than ever.
Compared to Other Steaks, is a cut of flat iron steak tender or tough?
A lot of marketing materials will claim that flat iron steak is the second most tender steak after a filet mignon. This, I have trouble believing. To me, it’s more reminiscent of a NY Strip or a fattier flank steak. It has a bold, beefy flavor with a fair amount of fat but also doesn’t tolerate overcooking very well.
Actually, the comparison to NY Strips and flank steaks is very illustrative of the cooking techniques that apply to both of those types of steaks. Respectively, don’t try to cook it at over medium rare (as it will quickly become tough and loose flavor, a lot like a NY Strip) and feel free to use your favorite marinade on it if grilling (just like a flank steak).
Does flat iron steak need to be marinated?
A flat iron steak can be prepared either plain or marinated. I’m going to share my personal steak cooking technique that I use for almost all steaks, other than the marinated ones. Though if you prefer to make something more akin to carne asada, go for it! The flat iron steak is a great option for that as well.
I personally prefer to sear steaks in cast iron pans, primarily because that allows me to baste the steaks with butter as they cook to improve the final sear and impart a ton of flavor. I even sometimes use clarified butter (frequently sold as ghee at Indian supermarkets, but also not too difficult to make at home) infused with my herbs of choice. I simply add the herbs and spices of my choice into the clarified butter, leave it over low heat until fragrant, strain out the herbs or spices, and then use that final product to baste the steak.
A big bonus of using clarified butter to baste is that it has a much higher smoke point than normal butter, since it lacks milk solids. This nearly completely eliminates the risk of burning the butter while basting.
Flat Iron Steak Recipe
My easy flat iron steak recipe
First thing first. Leave your steak out for at least 30 minutes.
I mean really leave it out. Set it out on a plate or ideally a roasting rack on your countertop for at least 30 minutes, though I prefer to leave it out for even an hour or more. This will ensure that the steak comes up to room temperature. The closer it is to room temperature it is, the better. It’ll let you cook the steak faster than you would be able to from cold and it will also help minimize the risk of the steak sticking in the pan. It also has the added benefits of drying out the surface of the steak, leading to a better sear, and also “re-oxygenating” the steak. You may have noticed that packaged steaks have lost their red color and turn brown or even gray. Leaving a steak out will help it reabsorbed oxygen and turn red again.
Heat up your pan.
Let that pan get ripping hot. Don’t add any oil yet. Just let the pan absorb all that heat until it’s ripping hot.
Salt (and if you like, pepper) your steak.
Salt right before you get to work on your steak. Salting too far in advance doesn’t do you much favors. Salt will draw the interior moisture of the meat to the surface if you let to sit for too long, potentially ruining your sear. You want to maintain that dry exterior.
Put oil in your pan, and be generous.
Pick a neutral oil with a high smoke point. I like to use canola oil personally.
When you see the oil start to smoke just barely, put your steak in the pan.
If you did it right and got your pan ripping hot ahead of time, the oil should come up to temp rapidly. The big benefit of having super hot oil is that it will immediately transfer its heat to the exterior of the meat, starting you down the road to a great sear. Too low of a temp will make it take longer to get a good sear, which in turn will also wind up over cooking the interior.
Flip that bad boy.
Sorry dad, but you were wrong. Don’t worry about flipping the steak too early. Heck, flip it as many times as you’d like. Just try to make sure each side gets an equal amount of time face down in the pan to ensure even cooking, but go ahead and turn it pretty much at will. I find that moving the meat frequently in the pan helps create an even better sear and is also a good way to make sure the meat is searing well and not sticking to the pan. I’ve noticed (anecdotally of course, though I spend my days cooking 50+ steaks a night which I think is pretty fair sample size) that exposure to oxygen quickens browning in general.
Butter it up
When you see the sear beginning to really form on both sides of the meat, turn down the heat and add a generous amount of cold clarified butter (ghee), or at least solid room temperature butter.
The addition of butter will drastically drop the temperature of the oil and the pan itself, giving you more control over the final cooking process.
Get a big spoon, and baste, baste, baste.
Cover the whole chunk of meat with butter using the biggest spoon you got, flip, and continue basting. Don’t stop. Keep splashing butter over the whole thing. Butter also does wonders for the browning process and Maillard reaction, leading to an even more beautiful and, of course, delicious sear.
Read the Temp of your meat
Using a thermometer, check the temperature of the meat. When you start to hit right about 145°F, you’re done. If you like your steak cooked rare then pull it out at 125 – 130°F, but it might not kill all of the bacteria.
Let it rest.
The golden standard is just about 8 minutes, minimum. This will also let carry over cooking from the residual heat do it’s job and take the steak right up to that perfect 135F medium rare you’re looking for in a flat iron steak.
The resting also always the muscle fibers that have stiffened in the heat reabsorb the moisture they have pushed out. When you finally slice the meat after resting, you won’t be left with all the best parts of the meat running across your cutting board instead of in the meat.
There you have it, the best way to cook a steak at home outside of a sous vide or maybe reversing searing, in my honest professional steak cooker opinion.
Now you have the choice of sauces. A bright, acidic, and herbal chimichurri is always a good bet, but if you like something a bit heavier and spicier, a poivre sauce is another classic bet that will allow you to use the “fond”, or the meat residue left in the pan after cooking, to create an amazingly rich classic sauce.