Steak, Italian Cooking, and Bistecca alla Fiorentina

A perfectly cooked rib steak (cut extra thin) with a tomato side salad

Steak, Italian Cooking, and Bistecca alla Fiorentina

It used to be the case that when you asked any southern Italian (especially from Calabria) the last time he or she consumed steak you’d get an awkward stare in return, as beef consumption was rare in il Mezzogiorno (the southern half of Italy) and cattle were used to produce cheese and milk.  However, times have changed and beef is now consumed in much of Italian cooking, especially in regions like Toscana (Tuscany), Perugia, and Umbria where the Val di Chiana or Chiana Valley produces some of the best beef on the planet by way of one of the oldest and largest breeds of cattle known to man, viz., the Chianina.  In Tuscany, for example, bistecca alla Fiorentina , or Steak Florentine, is a delicious, and nearly 3 inch thick, Porterhouse steak grilled (always rare) outdoors on a wood fed fire.

As you can imagine, our Southern Italian family did not consume bistecca alla Fiorentina but we did occasionally grill some wonderful, thinly cut, T-bone steaks.  The steaks were usually cooked well done (more on this later) and then dressed with extra virgin olive oil, finely chopped parsley, a dash of red wine vinegar, and finely minced garlic (again, more on this later).  After the family moved to the States in the early 1970’s, we replicated the dish (usually with club steak) in the New Jersey suburbs.

Cuts and Making Steak at Home

Making high quality steak at home doesn’t require much work nor the most expensive beef one can find.  We buy our beef from a few local markets/butchers and look for local suppliers who raise their cattle on grass.  When purchasing beef look for prime or choice beef with good marbleization (and/or how the fat is distributed on the cut) .  Proper Dry-Aged beef (versus inferior “wet’ aged, which quickens the aging process via liquid) is expensive, but there is a noticeable upgrade in flavor.   We like buying T-bone, bone in rib eye (sometimes called “cowboy steak”), Shell or Strip Steak, Porterhouse, Skirt, Flank, and Sirloin cuts.

A rib steak from grass fed cattle in New Jersey, cut about 1.5 inches in thickness.
Cooked rib steak.


In terms of our cooking process, we let our steaks sit out of the fridge for 1.5-2 hours so that the meat doesn’t hit the heating source cold.  We also dry the meat very well and season with plenty of Kosher salt and Freshly ground, coarse, black pepper.  We’ve heard plenty of opinions on when to salt, including after or during the cooking process and hours prior to cooking; however, we’ve found no discernible taste difference and, in turn, season just before cooking. For lesser cuts of beef and/or supermarket variety beef like “select”, we recommend using a sauce, marinade, or dry rub to enhance the flavor and texture of the beef.

Cooking Process

We cook all of our steaks via two methods: an outdoor, wood fired, grill (gas is perfectly acceptable as well) or a heavy, well seasoned, cast iron pan.  Whatever our cooking apparatus, we always make sure the grill or pan is as hot as possible and cook our steaks rare to medium rare (rare, if we’ve having extraordinary beef).  Searing the meat via a scolding grill or pan ensures you’ll get a wonderful charred crust with deep flavor, but note you’ll need a few tablespoons of vegetable oil if you’re using a cast iron pan.

If you’re looking for a specific guide on how to cook steaks of varying sizes and thickness here’s a good article.   Letting the meat sit in order for the interior juices to re-distribute prior to cutting / eating is also another necessary step.  If you’re going to cook up a proper steak Florentine then follow the process by one of the most famous butchers on the planet Dario Cecchini.



  1. Ah, Bistecca alla Fiorentina…nothing like it in the world. When I lived in Tuscany I used to love going to Trattoria I Due G On Via B. Cenini and eating the bistecca with a good red wine. Here’s a question. Why do so many recipes call for garnishing it with lemon wedges? If you did anything more with those lemon wedges a well fed Florentine would hit you over the head! Have you ever noticed that in recipes?

  2. I’ll second the recommendation for pastured, grass fed beef, locally raised if possible, without hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics.  In fact, I would say don’t even bother with factory beef.  It’s lacking in flavor, has a substantially worse nutritional profile, can be downright harmful if it’s been raised on chemical-laden grains, antibiotics, and growth hormones.  There is also much higher risk of bacterial contamination from meat in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO).  And it’s also cruel.  All animals destined to be food for humans eventually die, but at least the cow that resulted in the steak shown here once led a happy life roaming around in a pasture, enjoying the sun and outdoors, and eating grass as nature intended.

    To clarify also, marinades are no good for tenderizing meat.  A brine can tenderize meat, but a marinade does not penetrate more than an 1/8th of an inch.  And depending on what they contain, they can turn that exterior into mush.  Moreover, they will make it much more difficult to get a good crust on your meat.  They are best thought of as sauces applied prior to cooking.  They can help to add flavor, but will not tenderize meat. 

    If you are dealing with a tough cut of meat and you want to make it tender, your best options are:

    1.  Sous vide.  Vacuum sealed meat in a low temperature water bath cooked for a long period of time can make even the toughest cuts as tender as filet mignon.
    2.  Braise.  Low temperature cooking in liquid also tenderizes meat, but the higher temperatures will result in meat that is well done.  With sous vide you can keep it medium rare.
    3.  Chop it up.  Slice it thin, cube it for stew, grind it up for burgers or meatballs or kufta.  
    4.  Get a Jaccard blade meat tenderizer.  It stabs the meat with 48 small blades to help break up tough connective tissue.
    5.  Brine.  Unlike marinades, the saltier brine fluid actually does penetrate meat internally and can help infuse flavors to the center and tenderize the cut.  

    Also, grills will definitely cook your meat, but the Maillard, or browning reaction, which develops rich, caramelized flavors, is for the most part limited to those grill marks.  With the cast iron skillet, you get browning over the entire surface.  Maybe not as aesthetic as cross-hatched grill marks, but much more flavorful.  So if you want the best flavor, as with burgers, use your stove (if you’re having 20 guests, the grill will be more practical).  

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