How To Transport Cooked Steak
Transporting steak can be a little tricky, in that using any sort of heated vessel can alter the internal temperature and degree of doneness. Yet if you need to take a steak from the grill to a distant table for a special event or dinner party, you don’t want to risk it getting cold.
The good news is, steak benefits from a little rest period right after it comes off the heat.
You see the heat of cooking causes the meat fibers to contact, which forces out some of the natural juices. When you let the steak rest inside a pocket of heavy-duty aluminum foil, the meat fibers start to relax, and the steak’s natural juices redistribute back into the meat.
The resting process can also help the internal temperature of the steak carry over by as much as 5 degrees. So, it helps to keep this in mind when you’re standing at the grill side.
If you need to hold the steak over for transport for more than 5 to 10 minutes, you’ll need to come up with some sort of insulated container or cooler.
The type of container, the number of steaks, what they are wrapped in, and how you load them, will all affect how well the steaks handle transport.
Preheating or “Prime” a cooler with hot water, and then drying it out right before adding the wrapped steaks buys you some thermal insulation. This method will preserve the proper temperature and level of doneness for up to a half hour or more.
Letting the Steak Rest Properly Before Transporting (and How Long)
Resting a steak is absolutely critical for preserving its juices and the degree of doneness. Though things get a little tricky when it comes to rest a steak for transport.
The rule of thumb is that you should rest a thin cut of steak, like an inside skirt steak for 3 to 5 minutes, and a thick cut, like a 2-inch bone-in porterhouse for 5 to 7 minutes.
Technically most food scientists will tell you to rest a steak for one minute per 100 Grams, or 3.5 ounces.
If you are simply bringing a steak from the grill to the dinner party waiting in the house, or even the neighborhood block party, you can let the steak rest in an aluminum foil pouch or wrapped in butcher paper while you transport it.
If you are going to transport it farther than you can walk in 7 to 10 minutes, then you’ll need to thoroughly wrap the steak and put it in a properly insulated vessel. This might be an insulated catering case, a thermal pizza bag, or even just a well-washed cooler.
When properly wrapped and kept in an insulated container, you might be able to keep steaks properly warm for 30 to 45 minutes.
Wrapping the Steak
You have a few different options when it comes to wrapping or tenting steaks. Though the two most common are foil, and butcher paper.
Wrapping a Steak in Foil
The benefit of wrapping a steak in foil is that it does a great job of holding in the ambient heat. It also helps trap any juices that escape the meat to let you drizzle it onto some potatoes or back over the fillet of the meat itself right before serving.
When it’s wrapped carefully, the foil helps prevent any juices that seeping out of the steak, which can be a big deal if you are transporting several steaks in an insulated container. Even just two tablespoons of juice from a dozen steaks in the top of a cooler can turn the steaks in the bottom. Of the cooler into a soppy, unappealing mess!
Foil choice is also a factor when it comes to wrapping and transporting steaks. Especially if they are bone-in cuts like T-bones or tomahawk ribeyes.
You might be tempted to save a little money by going with cheap, thin tin foil. Though I think you’ll find it rips easily, doesn’t stay wrapped tightly, and isn’t as good at holding in the heat as heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Butcher paper can be a cheap alternative to heavy-duty aluminum foil for wrapping a steak. Especially if you buy a big role at a discounted bulk price.
Quality Butcher paper has one side with a waxy lining to help keep steak juices from leaking out. Though you have to be meticulous about Wrapping it and you need to tape the seam to get it to stay tightly wrapped.
When properly wrapped, Butcher paper offers roughly the same insulated benefits as heavy-duty aluminum foil and is less likely to tear on the edges of a bone.
Which Is Better to Wrap a Steak for Transport?
I honestly think it comes down to the type and number of steaks you need to wrap for transport. How long they need to remain wrapped might also be a factor.
You can quickly wrap a single steak in aluminum foil without fear of it losing a lot of juices. This takes seconds and might be the better option for working with more than a half dozen steaks.
Though heavy-duty aluminum foil also tends to be the more expensive option. If you need to wrap 10 or more steaks, the price can add up quickly.
Tightly wrapping a steak in butcher paper, to the point where it won’t leak any juices out to the surrounding steaks can take 30 seconds or more. If you’re working with more than 10 steaks, you’ll need people to help you quickly wrap the steaks.
However, wrapping steaks in butcher paper tends to be much cheaper than heavy-duty aluminum foil. Depending on the crowd you’re feeding, it can also look more appealing and professional than foil when you start plating.
Placing It in an Insulated Device or Cooler
A professional catering case or insulated catering box is the ideal way to transport cooked steak that needs to stay warm for 10 minutes or so. Unfortunately, even a small professional-grade catering case can cost over $200.
If you’re just making a bunch of steaks for friends and family and you need to transport them for a short drive, you can easily use a properly cleaned cooler. Though there are a few things you can do to maximize its thermal potential.
You’ll need to wrap the steaks in heavy-duty aluminum foil or butcher paper before transporting them. Though it also helps to warm or “Prime” the interior. This calls for filling the inside of the cooler with hot water and letting it sit for 7 to 10 minutes.
Then a few minutes before you are about to add the steaks, pour the hot water out of the cooler, and wipe it dry with a clean towel as fast as you can. Then place another dry, clean towel at the bottom, and seal the lid until you are ready to load wrapped steaks into it.
Ideally, you want to layer the wrapped steaks into the cooler in order of doneness, with well-done and medium well at the bottom, with medium rare and rare toward the top. Then cover the wrapped steaks with another clean towel to help centralize their heat.
How Long Can Steak Stay Warm as You Transport It?
You can trust a properly wrapped steak, under a light tea towel to stay warm for 7 to 10 minutes. This is just about long enough to walk a rested steak from the grill to the dining room or a neighborhood picnic spot.
Longer than that, and you’ll need to put it in a cooler or some other insulated device. When properly wrapped and stored in a primed cooler, you can trust a steak to maintain its heat and level of doneness for 30 to perhaps 45 minutes.
Beyond 45 minutes the steak will still be warm, and not in the “Danger Zone” but it will likely need to be rewarmed to taste.
When I grill steak, I try to be as close to my diners as possible. This allows me to simply wrap the steaks in heavy-duty aluminum foil for a 5 to 7-minute rest before serving.
When I need to cook steak for a larger crowd, or there’s simply no grill near where everyone will be eating, I will use a properly cleaned cooler as an insulated vessel.
Priming it with hot water for at least 10 minutes keeps the conduction of the inner walls from stealing heat energy from the cooked steak. I then leave a clean, dry towel at the bottom, and cover the pile of wrapped steaks with another towel to further reduce heat loss.
Kept this way, I find the steaks will transport for 30 to 45 minutes without becoming too cooled or changing their degree of doneness.