Okay, here's the deal. If you're buying nice meat to cook at home and wondering why it never comes out quite the way you want, you may want to take a look at your equipment. Professionals know that tools. are. everything. Upgrading your tools mean upgrading your meat game, plain and simple. Take a look at this list of five relatively inexpensive pieces I think you must have in your kitchen to cook meat well each and every time. Here it is:
- Meat thermometer
- Oven thermometer
- Cast iron pan
- Paper towels
Yes, paper towels are on this list. I’ll explain. But first, let’s talk about the other admittedly more important members of the list.
I like this one. BTW, this is not an affiliate post. There’s no reason for me to promote that particular thermometer except that I like it the most, and I happen to have used a lot of meat thermometers. Also, if you’re trying to cook meat often at home, you need a good meat thermometer. There’s no shame in that game! Even professional cooks use thermometers often because it’s just such a relief to know for certain that you’ve cooked something to the perfect temperature. Here’s what I like about this particular guy:
It reads exceptionally quickly. I don’t want my steak to overcook while I’m waiting for the darn thermometer to figure out what temperature it's at.
It has a thin probe. One thing I’ve noticed about meat thermometers is that the ones with really large probes poke a correspondingly large hole in the meat. What happens next? Juice starts to pour out of that hole and that’s not a super good thing when it comes to juicy steaks. So, look for a thermometer with the thinnest probe you can find.
It can be calibrated. Thermometers need to be calibrated. Yes! That is, they need to be tested and adjusted to be sure that they’re reading accurately. Most digital thermometers can’t really be calibrated at home. But, this one can!
It’s sturdy. It folds up to protect the delicate probe, and it can be safely stored without messing up its calibration.
I’ve cooked at a lot of people’s houses and one thing I’ve noticed is that no one’s oven EVER cooks the same way and no one’s oven EVER seems to reach the correct temperature. So, when you read a recipe that tells you to finish your roast in the oven at 325, how can you be sure the oven really is at 325? Oven thermometer to the rescue! I like this one.
Cast Iron Pan
Look, you don’t have to have a cast iron pan. There are plenty of great stainless steel all-clad versions out there that’ll do the trick. The most important thing is that you want a pan with a heavy bottom that will conduct heat evenly. That said, cast iron is often the butcher’s choice for meat because it holds and conducts heat well, moves easily into the oven for finishing, and can’t be ruined by the high high heat you need to get a good sear on a steak. Cast iron lasts lifetimes. Plural. Also, oddly enough, it has been shown that cast iron can transfer trace amounts of iron into our food so, hey, that’s kind of cool and possibly beneficial for our health. For heaven’s sake, whatever you do, don’t try to sear your steak in a nonstick pan. Just don’t.
This is a hot button issue for me. It seems that whenever I go over to cook at someone else’s house, they have an ever more ridiculous version of tongs. Like this one. Or this one. I don’t understand it because, in the end, they’re such a simple tool and, if you go into any kitchen and watch professional cooks, you’ll see that a very simple, short pair of tongs basically becomes their right hand (and a folded towel their left). Listen, get yourself a basic, steel, locking, SHORT tong. Like this one. No plastic coated anything, no special colors, no cool interlocking this or that, and definitely no tongs that are so long you drop everything you try to grab with them. They’ll last longer, too.
Okay, this is a weird choice on the list but I stand by it and here’s why: you must be able to dry meat off really well before you pan sear it or roast it. Now, I’m as on board as anyone about minimizing paper towel use but in this one case I do prefer paper towels to cloth ones. A cloth towel is easily ruined when you press it all over with meat juices. And, it’s kind of unsanitary in our home kitchens. So, just have some paper towels on hand for that good good pan sear.