How To Make Steak Tartare At Home Without Getting Food Poisoning

Steak tartare may conjure images of fine dining — a dish delicately garnished with an egg yolk and crostini — and perhaps for good reason. After all, if you're going to eat raw meat (which is essentially what a "tartare" is), you want it prepared carefully, and by food professionals held to high standards.

The stakes get raised (no food pun intended) when it comes to raw animal-based ingredients, whether it's fish in sushi, egg whites in a whiskey sour, or meat in a tartare. You're placing serious trust in the person preparing it, because, as noted by Healthline, consuming raw food can expose you to not-so-appetizing encounters with harmful bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella. It stands to reason that preparing such dishes in your own kitchen allows you to meticulously control the process.

While homemade sushi may not be everyone's forte, the same level of culinary expertise is not necessary to make steak tartare, nor are the knife skills. Different versions of steak tartare are visible around the world and throughout history. Even though there is no way to guarantee that it's completely germ-free (the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises pregnant people, children, and those with compromised immune systems to avoid eating raw meat), a few precautions and an eye for detail can help minimize the risk of making and consuming this deceptively simple delicacy at home.

Sourcing the right beef

As a first step, your homemade steak tartare needs a delectable cut of meat. Sure, several dressing options will embellish it later, but the star of the show is the raw beef's subtle flavor, texture, and aroma. While tenderloin is generally the preferred cut as it tends to be the most tender, the beef's quality takes precedence over the actual cut. You're looking for a fresh, lean piece that's intensely red, firm, and has a gentle, appetizing smell.

This is not the time to settle for off-the-shelf cuts. Instead, head to a trusted local butcher, or find a meat shop that specializes in high-quality cuts. It's best to let the person behind the counter know that you plan to make tartare and let them guide you.

A good butcher will ensure that your cut of meat is handled with care to avoid cross-contamination. While there is no way to ensure complete disinfection at this point, there are steps you can follow throughout the preparation to minimize risk. In the meantime, ensure the meat is refrigerated until you get down to the process. The USDA specifies the "danger zone" for raw meat as between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a range in which bacteria can grow most rapidly.

Mincing at home vs buying minced meat

The first thing to consider when deciding whether to use store-bought ground beef or buy a steak and mince it yourself is where pathogens might be hiding. According to the McGill Office for Science and Society, disease-causing germs that live in animal intestines may be present on or near the surface of a steak, but will not penetrate deep into the meat. However, with ground meat, if any pathogens were present during the grinding process, they are now mixed in with the rest of the meat. If you're cooking it, then there's no problem. However, eating it raw is a whole different ball game.

So, your best bet is to get a prime slab of beef from a trusted butcher, and then mince it at home after thoroughly disinfecting your prep surfaces. Ensure your hands, knife, and utensils are washed, and wear gloves while handling the meat. Skip the fancy kitchen gadgets and use your best chef's knife. Also, it's generally a good idea to pop the meat into the freezer for about 15 minutes before cutting. This firms up the texture, making it easier to handle, and also prevents the beef from getting too warm during prep, which is undesirable.

Before cutting the meat, there are a few steps to follow to ensure it is free of lingering germs. Make sure to place the meat on the cleaned prep surface only after it has undergone these germ-busting moves.

Quick water boil and pan sear methods

Chefs often use a quick and simple disinfecting method for steak tartare, which involves dropping your beef into a pot of boiling salted water for about 10 seconds, and then dipping it into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. After about a minute in the ice bath, you can run some cold water over the meat to wash off any salt, and then put it into the freezer for a few minutes to bring it to the ideal temperature and texture for working with. These steps may seem finicky, but when you're working on a dish that's this simple and has so few ingredients, the deliciousness lies in the details.

If you're serving your steak tartare with an egg yolk and plan on garnishing it atop an eggshell, this boiling water method should also be used to disinfect the shell before you place it on the meat. Another preparation step for making your steak tartare safe to eat involves searing the outside surfaces of the meat on a pan (or with a blowtorch à la crème brûlée, if you have one) and then cutting out the thin layer of charred meat. The underlying layer should still be raw enough for steak tartare, and now you've also got a snack on the side.

Sous vide method

The sous vide method can also help minimize risk and provide peace of mind when preparing your steak tartare. This French cooking technique involves sealing the food in specialized plastic pouches, and immersing it in a hot water bath held at a precise temperature. Although the process is significantly slower, taking several hours, it ensures that the meat is heated thoroughly and disinfected, not just on the surface, but even from within. Plus, it tenderizes the meat, allowing you to choose from a wider range of cuts for making steak tartare.

To pasteurize your steak, submerge a sealed vacuum bag with your beef in a sous vide bath for about 10 hours. Then, place it in an ice water bath for around 15 minutes, and refrigerate until it is ready to be cut. You can also pasteurize the egg for the egg yolk by gently placing it in a hot water bath for about 75 minutes, and then shocking it with cold water and refrigerating until it's ready to use.

It's important to note that the sous vide method operates on the principle of using specific temperatures and times to heat food slowly and thoroughly. Therefore, a thicker steak will generally require a longer sous vide process. You can refer to a guide to determine how long you must keep your steak submerged, and at what temperature.

More tips and what to watch out for

In addition to the methods above, simple practices can ensure your safety. First, minimize the time the meat sits on your counter. Frankly, it shouldn't sit on the counter at all. Refrigerate it immediately after purchasing, and once prepared, consume the steak tartare immediately. Should you get food poisoning, Mayo Clinic notes that pathogens like E. coli can cause unpleasant symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, fever, and diarrhea. If symptoms persist or escalate, seek medical attention immediately.

However, there really shouldn't be anything stopping you from making a delectable steak tartare at home once you understand that while there is no way to be sure of complete sterilization, the occurrence of food poisoning from steak tartare is relatively low. Most places serving the dish take the required safety precautions, and as long as you do, too, you can make steak tartare in your kitchen.