Tips for delicious pan-seared steak

Mmm, there’s nothing like a tender juicy steak.  And even better, there’s nothing like preparing your own.  Aside from being delicious, a steak prepared at home isn’t a tricky task and is relatively inexpensive.  However, there are some common mistakes that get made when cooking steak on the stove, so I put together a list of steak cooking tips that will help make sure your meat turns out flavorful and juicy rather than tough and bland.  So here they are, some courtesy of celebrity chefs.

The images are from a steak dinner party at Emily’s house.  Ribeye cuts, my personal favorite next to prime rib, were used at the party.  Yes, I did make the steaks, haha.  These tips will work for almost any cut.  Enjoy!

TIP #1: Give your steak a chance to come to room temperature.  This allows it to sear faster and cook properly.  If you cook your steak straight out of the fridge, the cold meat will take out more of your pan’s heat and creates a less desirable sear.  This may end up leading to a steak that loses moisture and becoming dry.  The whole point of a good sear is to lock in the steak’s moisture and create flavor on the outside.

TIP #2: Cut your steak to a reasonable thickness.  About 0.5 to 1.5 inches is good for a standard steak recipe.  Steak Dianes are obviously thinner and some people prefer theirs a bit thicker.  But for a standard pan-seared steak recipe, cutting the meat too thin will cause it to toughen quicker without a good sear on the outside and cutting the meat too thick may cause the meat toughen up on the outside while still being raw on the inside.

Raw ribeye steaks being seared. These were seasoned simply with garlic salt, fresh ground black pepper, and dried basil/oregano

TIP #3: Season your steak well.  Simple seasonings are fine.  I usually just stick with salt, pepper, maybe some garlic or butter, and a dried green herb like basil or oregano.  Season your meat well shortly before cooking and use the meat to mop up any excess seasoning on the cutting board (A Gordon Ramsay trick).  You can also use a creative wet or dry rub, but there’s usually no need to marinate the meat, especially if it’s a fatty cut like ribeye.

TIP #4: Place your pan on medium or medium high heat.  Too low will cause the steak to “boil” instead of sear and too high will overcook the outside and leave the inside raw.  Now if you’re making a steak cooked “Pittsburgh rare”, where the outside is nearly charred but the inside is almost still raw, you’ll want your pan on pretty high.  I’ve had it once, accidentally, when I left the pan on too high.  It’s very flavorful actually, but its something I’m sure many of us aren’t used to.  So to avoid that, set your pan to medium/medium high heat.

TIP #5: LET YOUR PAN HEAT UP.  This is crucial.  Your pan must be nice and hot for your steak to cook properly.  If there’s not enough heat when the steak enters the pan, the pan will lose more heat from touching the room temperature meat and not sear the meat properly.  Again, proper sear is key for a good steak.  You’ll know your pan is ready when the oil in your pan begins to slightly smoke and the meat sizzles beautifully immediately when touching the pan.

TIP #6: Only touch, move, and turn your steak when absolutely necessary.  In other words, place it down once, turn only once to the other side and if the meat has a lining of fat, once on its fat lining.  For a 3/4 inch steak cooked medium rare (the most recommended level of doneness), 3 minutes on each side give or take 30 seconds is a reasonable estimate.  If you want it medium or medium well, 4 to 5 minutes on each side is a good estimate.  2 minutes on each side is a good estimate for a rare 3/4 inch cut.  Most importantly, let the pan do its work.  We know you’re excited about your steak, but moving it around the pan or touching it constantly won’t give you good results.

A cooked steak. Ribeye is my favorite cut of meat because the amount of fat it has allows it melt in your mouth when cooked right

TIP #7: Check for signs of doneness.  When you turn your steak over, there should be a nice brown crispy coloring on the cooked side.  It doesn’t have to cover all of the meat, but the brown color indicates a good sear and lots of flavor.  Also, to check for doneness, there are a couple ways to go about it (assuming you’re not using a thermometer).  Gordon Ramsay recommends touching the steak to see that it is slightly soft, but firm enough to rebound nicely.  This is rare to medium rare.  It is equivalent to touching a portion of your palm below and inside of your thumb.  But Ramsay’s mentor, Marco Pierre White, objects as different steaks that are aged differently will feel different when done.  So he recommends just looking at the meat and looking for the moment when the blood starts to appear on the surface of the meat.  That’s when you know its medium/medium rare.  I like Marco’s method because it’s worked for me for the past few times and it’s a more reliable trick for various cuts of meat.

TIP #8: Let the steak rest.  When removed from the pan, the steak should rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting.  This will allow the juices to re-circulate back into the meat for a more juicy finish.  If you cut into the steak right away, much of the juice will run out, leaving your steak dry.

A close-up of the medium rare steak. A beautiful and moist pink center is how most of us like our steak. This one was absolutely delicious.

BONUS TIPS: A couple of optional bonus tips based on Gordon Ramsay’s advice.  During the last minute of cooking, place a tablespoon of butter into the pan and baste the meat with melted butter using a spoon.  This creates a nice finish.  You can also add some red wine or stock to deglaze the pan after removing the steak.  The liquid will pick up all the little bits of goodness from the pan and use them to flavor a very simple steak sauce that you can pour on top of the meat.  Topping your steak with grilled onions and mushrooms are a nice touch as well.

That’s it.  Just some simple guidelines for an easy, tender, and juicy pan-seared steak.  Some of my favorite side dish ideas for steak are mashed potatoes (or Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes), baked potato, stir fried vegetables (garlic, peppers, mushrooms, onions, or green beans go great with steak), baked beans, salad, bread, and/or wild rice.  The cool thing about steak dinner is that it’s very simple, so there’s a lot you can do with it to make it your own.

Bon appetit!

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2 Responses to “Tips for delicious pan-seared steak”

  1. Hi there, i saw this on facebook and i had to read about steaks.

    anyways, i’ll cut to the chase, i’ve got gripes and additions to your points.

    -Ribeye and prime rib are the same cut. probably why you like them so much. haha
    -I agree on the letting your steak come to room temp before cooking. however, not so much because you’ll get a less desirable sear(something that you can fix by upping the heat at the beginning of the cooking process and lowering after a short amount of time) but because you’ll get a far more desirable temperature gradient in your meat. Moisture rentention of your steak is dependent on temperature and fat content, but mostly temperature.
    -The heat at which you will cook your steak depends on the thickness of your steak(thick steaks are no sin, i like mine 1.5″ thick). Med-high will be fine for one but not another. You want the internal temperature to be where you want it right when the sear is perfect. Maillard reaction is the best isnt it?
    -I will flip my steak as many times as i choose. In fact, it’ll give me a BETTER steak than if i was to leave it alone.
    (http://www.cookingissues.com/2009/11/13/mcgee-days-two-and-three-steak-fish-burgers-and-love/)
    -A steak should never be anything but med-rare. Any lower temperature and fat(marbling) wont render and add any flavor to your steak. Any higher and it’s just drying out your steak and making the muscle fibers tougher.
    -REST YOUR STEAK, until the internal temperature is at 125F. That way the pressure from the constricted muscle fibers doesnt squeeze out the juices.

    that about covers it. keep on cooking!

  2. Cools, thanks for the additional elaborations. My initial thickness measurements were a bit off actually so I’ll go ahead and change those. 1.5 inches is a fairly good thickness too.

    By experience though, the less I’ve messed with a meat or flipped it around, the better it’s turned out, whether its steak, chicken, or fish. But again, thats just my experience. Others may have different perspectives which is perfectly fine. Food is as diverse as the world we live in ^^.

    Bon appetit

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