Steakhouse Secrets Only the Experts Know

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Top steakhouses don't just order their steaks from Sysco; they've built relationships with top butchers like Pat LaFrieda and Debragga, and in many cases they'll head out to the packing house to inspect the meat themselves before selecting it to be served at the restaurant. They'll look for things like marbling, color and fat distribution in whole rib sections (for rib-eyes) and short loins (for strips and fillets) before bringing the entire cut to the restaurant, where it will be butchered on the premises.

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They use USDA Prime steaks

It's no secret that the best steakhouses use the best beef, but did you know that great steakhouses use meat that's of a higher quality than 98 percent of the rest of the beef out there? It's called USDA Prime, and to achieve that ranking it needs to have the highest level of marbling, or intramuscular fat, and also be from the youngest cows. You're not likely to find USDA Prime beef at your local supermarket, unfortunately, though some high-end butcher shops do carry it. 

Yelp/ Kathy H.

Some wet-age their steaks

Some steakhouses serve "wet-aged" beef, which is essentially steak that's been stored in an airtight vacuum-sealed plastic bag for a few days or weeks. The majority of casual chain restaurant steaks are wet-aged, and while wet-aged beef is marginally more tender than beef that hasn't been aged at all, it's a lot less robustly flavored than its more upscale counterpart, dry-aged beef. When a steakhouse says its steaks are simply "aged," they're usually wet-aging their steaks; if a restaurant is dry-aging, they make sure you know.

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Some dry-age their steaks

Most great steakhouses dry-age their beef for anywhere from two to three weeks, and some even go longer than that. In order to dry-age beef, whole primal cuts (large pieces of meat carved out at butchering) are stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room and carefully monitored. When ready to serve, the layer of mold that has formed on the meat's surface is removed before it's cut into steaks, and the end result has a more robust, earthy, funky, mineral-y flavor that steakhouse fans know and love. But don't automatically assume that it's better when a steakhouse dry-ages their beef on the premises as opposed to outsourcing it; it's very difficult to control perfect aging conditions, so there's nothing wrong with restaurants hiring a third party to dry-age beef for them.

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The steaks are super-thick for a reason

Steaks at high-end steakhouses are usually well over an inch thick, sometimes approaching 2 inches. Not only is a super-thick steak a lot more impressive-looking on the plate than a half-inch one, the thickness also gives the broiler a lot more time to go to work on caramelizing the outer crust. If it were a thin steak in that broiler, the center would be overcooked before a nice crust had time to develop.

Yelp/JohnnyPrime C.

They use lots and lots of salt

Without salt, steaks just don't taste like steaks. Steakhouse cooks liberally apply salt to every square millimeter of a steak before it goes into the broiler, usually kosher salt. When it arrives at your table it doesn't taste salty; it just tastes like a great steak.

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Infrared broilers guarantee a great crust

That deep, dark, caramelized crust on steaks from great steakhouses? You can thank an infrared broiler for that. While some steakhouses still grill or griddle their steaks, many use infrared broilers, which superheat large surfaces to an even temperature. Many steakhouses, like Ruth's Chris, depend entirely on these broilers to cook their steaks (some finish their steaks in the oven if they're being cooked past medium), and while they can be difficult to master, the end result is a steak with a better crust than just about anything you can accomplish at home.

Yelp/ Little Alley Steak

They use super-high heat

If you were to attempt to cook a steak at home with the same amount of heat that steakhouses use, you'd end up with a very smoky kitchen and maybe even a fire on your hands. Those infrared broilers can reach temperatures of over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and can cook a 2-inch-thick steak in a matter of minutes. Even the ovens that the steaks are finished in often reach temperatures of more than 500 degrees. "We use commercial grade broilers that cook proteins at very high temperatures," David Holben, executive chef of Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse, told us. "The home kitchen equipment used only performs to a certain level, which has a ceiling on its output of BTUs, or heating capacity."

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Some use butter, and lots of it

You know that sizzling effect that Ruth's Chris is famous for? That's the result of adding a big dollop of butter to the pan right before the steak is served. Steakhouses use all sorts of techniques to make sure their steaks are juicy and flavorful (sometimes even basting them with suet, or beef kidney fat), but many steakhouses aren't afraid to use a whole lot of butter to kick their steaks into overdrive. And if you're prioritizing flavor over calorie content in your home cooking, you shouldn't be, either.

Yelp/ Go B.

Steakhouse cooks have serious muscle memory

The reason why steakhouse chefs don't use instant-read thermometers in the kitchen? They don't need to. By keeping track of how long the steak has been in the broiler (or maybe by giving it a poke or two with their finger), the grill-masters at steakhouses know exactly how cooked a particular steak is. It's a skill that can take years of practice to perfect.

Yelp/ Lei C.

You really shouldn't order well-done steaks

Steakhouses go through a lot of steaks, but there are always some that sit around for a longer period of time than others. Instead of being thrown out, however, these older steaks (which are still completely edible, just lacking some flavor) tend to be reserved for those who order their steaks well-done, because the diner really won't be able to tell the difference in a piece of meat so thoroughly cooked.

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Steakhouse steaks are incredibly high in calories

Well-marbled steaks contain a whole lot of fat, and with the addition of butter and other cooking oils the calorie count of a steakhouse dinner could be off the charts. For example, a 14-ounce rib-eye from Outback Steakhouse will set you back 762 calories and 49 grams of fat, and that's before the mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. A home-cooked steak from a lean cut of beef can actually be quite healthy, but a prime porterhouse at a fancy steakhouse? Not so much.

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It's all about the porterhouse

Porterhouse steaks are often the jewel in the crown of a great steakhouse, and can be very tricky to cook at home. Porterhouses, which usually weigh around 24 ounces and are perfect for two people, are usually served sliced, which means that the cooking process can be slightly different than with whole steaks. At New York's famed Peter Luger (one of America's absolute best steakhouses), for instance, porterhouses are removed from the broiler at just under rare, are set on a platter with a ladle of clarified butter, sliced without being allowed to rest, returned to the broiler (plate and all) to be cooked to the preferred doneness, and served right away, with the mixture of butter and juices spooned over the finished steak.

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It's OK to order the cheapest bottle of wine

Steakhouse wine lists can be incredibly overwhelming, especially if you're a novice wine drinker not looking to drop a ton of cash on a bottle. But in reality, it's quite easy to find an ideal bottle of wine. Steaks pair best with big, bold wines like cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, and California is turning out some of the best cabs and zins on Earth. (Bordeaux cab may be superior, but it's far pricier.) Flip to the California section, find the cheapest cab or zin, and order that one. Sommeliers know that lots of diners are going to order the least expensive bottle, so they always make sure that it's decent, and a good value.

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Side dishes can make the meal

Sure, a perfect steak can be delicious on its own, but steakhouses know that many consider a steakhouse meal to be incomplete without a side or two (which is why they usually sold as add-ons instead of being included in the price of the steak). Creamed spinach, a big baked potato, onion rings, creamed corn and macaroni and cheese are up there with the most iconic sides, and should definitely accompany your meal if you're looking to have a perfect steakhouse experience at home.

More from The Daily Meal:

America's Best High-End Steakhouse Chains

America's Best Casual Chain Steakhouses

America's Best Inexpensive Steakhouses

15 Great Restaurant Steaks for $20 or Less

How to Cook Steak Perfectly on the Stove Every Time

Yelp/ Dean C.
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