I have seen some articles in the past talking about cooking a steak that is frozen but I always dismissed it and never really thought it would work. Cook’s Illustrated has done it and Nathan Myrhvold from Modernist Cuisine suggest freezing a steak before cooking to avoid overcooking. I had some frozen steaks sitting in the freezer and because I didn’t plan ahead and take some out to thaw I figured now would be as good a time as any to test this out.
Here is the basic theory behind this cooking method: Sear the frozen steaks for about ~2 minutes per side and then cook them in a fairly low oven until they reach the proper temperature. Some of the theory behind this is since the steaks are frozen the searing process will have very little effect on anything except the outside of the meat so you will avoid the grey band you get around most seared steaks. Since very little of the steak will end up above 140 degrees (the temperature where the steaks really start to squeeze out moisture) they will also be juicier. The outside of the steaks need to reach ~300 degrees for a good sear to occur so with the frozen steak you can achieve that without the rest of the steak getting above 140 degrees. That is the theory anyway. How does it play out??? Read on…
I started with some 10 oz Top Sirloins from Snake River Farms. These are some excellent quality steaks to begin with so that helps the finished product. I normally wouldn’t freeze a steak I bought at the grocery store or the butcher shop but since these steaks are flash frozen using a much better process than you can achieve with a home freezer there isn’t much degradation in the quality of the meat.
I was curious on if the salt would stick to the outside of the steaks or just roll off but it stuck just fine. Stands to reason though since salt lowers the freezing point of water so I guess the salt melts the external moisture enough to stick. Be sure to salt your steaks, especially thick ones, more than you think you need to.
Now it is time to sear the steaks. This is where the flavor happens. I will talk about this more in a future post but above 300 degrees some magical transformations happen with proteins and sugars where they create some very complex and varied flavor compounds that are delicious. When you are searing a frozen steak you want to make sure the steak is as flat as possible so you can get maximum contact with the oil in the pan. If you have some slightly crooked steaks you will need to use a bit more oil.
I put about 3/4 cup of vegetable oil in my 10 inch cast iron skillet and let it get hot, just below where it starts smoking. Since the steaks are frozen I wanted to use more oil than with a regular sear since the frozen steaks would cool down the pan and oil more than a thawed steak. I probably could have gotten away with 1/2 cup but you want the steak to be right about 1/8-1/4 inch deep assuming your steaks are pretty flat.
These steaks will splatter quite a bit more than a thawed steak so be careful. You can try to pat them dry but since they are frozen that won’t do much. Just be prepared for some splattering oil and take extra care to make sure it doesn’t catch fire.
I seared these for about 100 seconds per side which is about what I do with a thawed steak. Pretty interesting they sear at about the same rate. Here is what they looked like after they were seared:
I found it weird that the steak on the left seared so much better than the one on the right. They were very similar size-wise and were both had good contact with the oil. Could have been a hot spot on the stove. Anyway, they got a pretty solid sear overall. Now it is in to a 275 degree oven. Cook’s Illustrated said their steaks took about 20 minutes to cook to 125 degrees in the oven but these ended up taking about 45 minutes to cook all the way through. Maybe their steaks were a bit thinner.
Anyway, when my thermometer read 120 degrees I pulled the steaks out and let them rest for about 5 minutes. In that time the internal temperature increased to 125 degrees which is right were I like my steaks. Letting them rest lets the temperature on the outside of the steak redistribute to the interior thus raising the internal temperature a few degrees. A rest also allows the meat fibers to relax a bit and reabsorb some of the juices so they don’t run all over your plate.
Here is what they looked like when they came out of the oven:
A couple things here… 1. They were pretty wet on the outside which I thought was interesting 2. The outside took on a wonderful color. So far so good on the appearance of the steaks. But a beautiful looking steak on the outside can be pretty horrible inside so with baited breathe I cut into the steaks to see how the middle was and here is what I saw:
The first thing I noticed was there was practically no grey band around the outside of the meat. It was a great dark pink color from edge to edge. Having the steak frozen to begin with really did make a difference in the evenness of the cooking. Also I was very happy with how juicy these were. Over the past few weeks I have had quite a few top sirloins from Snake River Farms cooked a variety of ways but these were the juiciest.
As far as flavor they were excellent. They maybe could have used a bit more salt since I am guessing some of the salt washed away when they hit the oil but there was a great beefy flavor to these.
Final verdict: Yes, you can successfully cook a steak from frozen. I would probably still prefer to cook thawed steaks since there are more cooking options but if all I have is frozen steaks I won’t despair that I didn’t pull one out the day before to defrost because I know I can cook a great frozen steak that is as good or better than most thawed steaks.
Feel free to share this post with any doubters out there who don’t think you can turn out a good steak cooking it from frozen. It really does work.