How Restaurant Steak Tricks Your Tastebuds

Because it is so commonplace in many people's lives, it can be easy to forget what a luxury going out to eat at a restaurant actually is. One way to quickly remind yourself about the opulence of the experience is by ordering a thick, juicy steak. With the tantalizing aroma, the decadent flavor, and the satisfying chew that's been tailored to your preferred level of doneness, one might assume that some steaks are achieved only by magic. But the steaks they serve at restaurants are no different from the ones you might make yourself at home — the chefs just have a few tricks up their sleeves to enhance the taste.


Good steaks start with good meat, but it doesn't take an exclusive cut of beef to make a restaurant-quality steak. In fact, most steakhouses don't even use USDA Prime beef, which is a thoroughly marbled, tender, highly sought-after beef classification. Instead, many restaurants opt for the category below Prime, USDA Choice. This type of meat is more affordable, and with a few simple techniques and common ingredients, it becomes absolutely mouthwatering.

The key is salt and butter

While it certainly doesn't hurt to start your steak with a quality cut of meat, the only way to take it to the professional level is with plenty of butter. Many people avoid cooking with large amounts of butter in their day-to-day lives for fear of its high-fat content. But as the late great chef Anthony Bourdain explains in his article for the New Yorker, "Don't Eat Before Reading This," there's no avoiding this ingredient if you want to make restaurant-level dishes. "In almost every restaurant worth patronizing," he wrote, "Meat and fish are seared with a mixture of butter and oil." Cooking steaks in a bath of butter, along with a bit of garlic, rosemary, and thyme, is what makes restaurant steaks so succulent.


Another important ingredient in creating a restaurant-worthy steak is salt. Seasoning thoroughly is a crucial step when cooking any meat, and a good coating of salt is perfect for enhancing steak's savory, rich flavors. To properly salt your steak at home, most chefs recommend applying a generous coating of salt to the meat 45 minutes before you start cooking. This way, the dry salt has time to start drawing the juices out of the steak.

Restaurant quality steaks have a nice sear

Salt is also essential because it helps facilitate the Maillard reaction, which is the chemical reaction that gives steak a nice brown crust. The Maillard reaction requires high heat and moisture in order to caramelize the proteins and sugars of a given food. Salting your steak in advance allows the salt to pull out the steak's juices, which then mix with the salt to form a brine. Tossing a well-salted steak into a very hot pan induces the Maillard reaction, and can create the perfect sear. Because the Maillard reaction requires such high temperatures (over 300 degrees Fahrenheit), it is best to use a heavy cast iron pan that can handle the heat. That's another reason restaurant steaks taste so good — the kitchens are stocked with equipment intended to deal with extreme heat.


Restaurants may employ a few tricks to make their steaks otherworldly, but they also employ talented chefs who have been salting, buttering, and searing steaks for years. Replicating a steakhouse steak in your own kitchen isn't impossible, but it will take the right equipment, practice, patience, and a lot of butter and salt.