Many people will say that the less seasoning you use on a steak, the more enjoyable it will be. The reality is that even a good cut of meat will need some seasoning if you want to maximize your enjoyment and the nutritional benefit that you get from it. You want simple seasoning so that you enhance the flavor of the meat rather than hide it. To get a truly flavorful steak, consider seasoning it with the following spices.
Salt is the essential seasoning for savory dishes. For steak, you will want to use a salt with fine crystals. The reason is that those crystals will dissolve more quickly and take less time to be absorbed into the meat. Larger crystals will not dissolve unless there is a lot of water present. You can use kosher salt or any other large crystal salt as a finishing salt to be sprinkled onto the meat after it has been cooked. You will want these salts to stick around since their purpose is as much to enhance the presentation as it is to enhance the flavor and texture.
Sometimes referred to as the king of spices, black pepper is one of those spices that goes well with a lot of foods but it goes particularly well with steak. Note that for best results, the black pepper that you use should be freshly ground. Ideally, you should grind the pepper right onto the steak just before it goes on the grill or into the cast iron skillet. Like many spices, black pepper loses its flavor quickly after being ground. The mild heat of black pepper combined with its pine flavor notes is an excellent complement to the savory, umami qualities of a properly cooked steak.
For high-quality steaks, most purists recommend seasoning with salt and pepper only. Some would even say that you only need salt.
If you decide to go beyond the basic salt and pepper combination, you should try seasoning with cumin. Cumin has an earthy, nutty flavor with a mild bitterness that makes it an excellent complement for beef and for steak in particular. It also melds perfectly with pepper, salt and most of the other traditional seasonings that you may want to use on your steak. It provides its complementary flavor without the heat. When used alongside black pepper, cumin can help to provide the perfect crust for a grilled steak.
Garlic’s strong aroma is the product of a chemical called allicin that is released when a clove of garlic is chopped. This flavor with its slightly sulfuric quality is perfect for meaty flavors. Because it is so pungent, you will want to use garlic sparingly with steak as you may overwhelm the flavor of the meat itself. The ideal form of garlic to use on a steak is garlic powder. It is milder and has fine grains that will adhere to the meat.
Ground chili peppers go well with beef and are a traditional addition to skirt and hanger steaks. Try using the darker, smokier chilies such as ancho and pasilla chilies. They are fruity and have a mild heat that will enhance beefy flavors without overwhelming you with too much heat.