Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

3 Ways to Cook a Great Steak

posted in Meat, Poultry and Seafood by Lisa Freeman

cooking steak

Dry. Raw. Charred. Chewy. Why does cooking a decent steak give us the willies? For one, there are a number of different ways to cook steak. You can grill, broil or fry it, depending on your preference.

Kick things off with a steak that is at least 1-inch thick (strip steak, t-bone, porterhouse, etc.) — anything thinner will likely dry out, and anything thicker makes it difficult to gauge doneness. No matter which cooking style you choose, start by sprinkling the meat with a good dose of salt and pepper. I also like to take a crushed garlic clove and rub it all over the beef. If you’d like, try marinating the steak, but this isn’t necessary for any of the techniques below.

Now, let’s review our cooking options:

1. Fry: Simply put, you’re tossing a hunk of beef into a frying pan. Fire up a pan on medium heat, and warm up a teaspoon of oil for a minute, and then lay your steak in the pan. (Make sure you turn on your stovetop fan and keep your pan covered because this tends to be a smoky job.) A 1-inch thick steak should cook for about 4 minutes on each side, depending on how you like it cooked.

2. Oven Roasting: Restaurants often use this method of cooking steak, but it requires two steps:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F and grab a heavy frying pan that’s oven-safe (like one of those black cast iron skillets your mom used to use).
  • Turn the burner or element on high heat, and warm up that skillet until it’s piping hot.
  • Drop a teaspoon of oil in the pan and let it heat up
  • Using tongs, gently put the steak in the pan and sear it for about 90 seconds on each side. This locks in the juices.
  • Now, place the pan in the oven to finish cooking. Roast the meat for 6-9 minutes, depending on how you like it cooked.

If you don’t have an iron skillet, all hope is not lost. Use a regular frying pan to sear the steak, and then transfer it and all the juices to an oven-safe pan to finish the roasting process.

3. Grill: This tends to be the method of choice for meat-lovers. Make sure your barbecue is piping hot (at least 450 degrees F). Pour a little olive oil on a paper towel or a small brush and rub the grill slats before you lay the steak down. Once it’s on the grill, reduce the heat to medium and keep the lid down (and quit peeking!) After 4-5 minutes, it’s time to turn the steak over and let it go another 4-5 minutes on the other side.

5 Tips for Cooking a Great Steak:

  1. Decide before you start cooking on how you want the steak done. A few people like “blue” (near raw!) but most tend to prefer their steaks from medium rare to well-done. If you decide in advance, you’re more likely to pay attention to it and remove the meat in time.
  2. Try to avoid turning the meat too many times. Ideally, you should have one flip — two at most. Resist the temptation to touch the meat too much.
  3. Use a set of tongs to turn the steak. Poking it with a fork puts holes in it and allows the juice to seep out — and then you’re just asking for dry beef.
  4. Don’t mash on the steak with your tongs. That’s just as bad as poking it with a fork, and presses out all the juices. If you’re testing for doneness, just gently press with the flat part of your tongs. The harder the meat is, the drier it will be.
  5. Don’t just gobble up the steak the moment you stop cooking it. Put it on a plate and let it rest for a few minutes. You’ll notice that a lovely juice oozes out as it settles.

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37 Comments

Mike said:

gently put the steak in the pan and sear it for about 90 seconds on each side. This locks in the juices.

This is a common myth. It sounds like it SHOULD work; the seared sides look tough enough to seal in the juices. Unfortunately it is not true. As Harold McGee writes in his classic book “On Food and Cooking” the searing does provide better flavor because of the chemical reactions that happen when meat is seared. However tests (weighing a seared and non-seared piece after cooking) show that the seared piece loses just as much weight. See the 2004 edition of the book, page 161.

Curt said:

Kathy, I’m with Mike… searing doesn’t seal in the juices. Alton Brown also covered this is his Myth Smashers episode of Good Eats.

There’s another way to cook steaks, too, which is using the broiler, kind of an upside down grill.

and speaking of grills, a 3 zone fire is a great way to grill a steak. To get the grill marks, though, set it on high, then lay the steak at a 45 degree angle on the grate, turning it 90 degrees after about 45 minutes. Flip and do the same. Then move it to the medium zone to finish cooking. The cool zone can be used when one steak is done first. I don’t time my steaks, though about 4 minutes per side with the searing seems to work well; I go to temperature instead, using an instant read thermometer or using the touch test.

I love pan fried steak, too, and I completely agree on the tong use and letting it rest.

Mikeiscool said:

I’d offer a 4th way: Cook your steak in a smoker grill much like you would a roast. That is, get your smoker ready at around 225 or 250 degrees, get the water reservoir filled with whatever liquid(s) your going to use, get your soaked wood chunks smoking, and drop in your steak(s) for around 35 – 45 minutes (depending on weight and desired doneness) and it will positively melt in your mouth.

raj said:

There’s a variation on frying that i like: steam frying. I use lower heat and add slivers of onions and italian peppers, slices of celery and mushrooms, and curry powder. Then pop on a lid.

I have to admit that I’ve been under the impression that searing works, and have even been told that from chefs above me (at work and cooking school). Just one of those things, I guess.

Chris said:

Searing does work…just by enhancing flavor, not by sealing in juices. And it certainly helps the color too. A greyish steak isn’t appealing. It’s always a great thing to sear, and the reasoning really doesn’t matter, but, as has been said before, a seared and unseared steak will lose the same amount of moisture in an oven (relative to size, naturally).

adam said:

Tip number 1 is great. Be prepared. It’s the motto of the boy scouts.

Kathy Maister said:

Personally, I think the BEST steaks are actually made by my local steak house!

When I am cooking meat, I agree with Chris, I like to sear it.

Mike, I think it gives the meat a great flavor and appearance, even if it doesn’t “seal” in the juices.

Curt, and Mikeiscool, you guys really know your way around a grill! As Curt knows…I know nothing about cooking on a grill. I have lived in a city my entire adult life and have never, ever, cooked on a grill J Thank-you for jumping in and sharing all these great tips!

Raj, I’ve never tried “steam frying” a steak. It certainly sounds interesting!

raj said:

Kathy, “steam frying” creates a nice little thick sauce for the veggies, partly caramelized because of the onions. But this mainly works with thinner steaks. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a 1-inch thick steak, even in a restaurant.

Mislove said:

I agree with searing… as far as coloring goes. I prefer grilling to any other method though. Thanks for the tips.

Milsove

T9 said:

Don’t put salt or pepper on a steak before cooking. Salt because it will make it tougher and pepper can get bitter at high temps. To cook a steak well you should rub it with garlic (as said) then oil. Heat your frying pan as hot as it goes. once hot out steak on cook for 30 seconds and then flip it and another 30 seconds. (*This is not to seal in the juice, for color and taste) Then reduce the heat to very low and cook it as long as you like your steak done. for well done probably about 10 mins depending on thickness.

Dave said:

Wow, that’s a lot of different ways to cook a steak! Yeah, it may be the best at the steakhouse, but I kinda like spending $5 instead of $25 for one! Just tonight I got a t-bone that looks a lot like a porterhouse (it’s got a big filet piece) for $4.77/lb.! We’re talking CHOICE, too, baby! I’m actually a real beginner of a cook, but I guess being male drove me to learn to barbecue before just about everything else. I didn’t know any better than to just throw the steak down on a hot grill with some “Kansas City-style spicy steak” ready-to-go seasoning on it– that’s it! No oil, no searing, no nothing! A tiny bit of trial and error and now I’m grilling PERFECTO steaks almost every time! Sorry to get so wordy and enthusiastic, I’m just so PSYCHED to be starting to cook a storm over here, don’t mind me…. grilling meat, poking holes in potatoes and nuking ‘em, and steaming vegetables has gotten me MILES AND MILES with my girlfriend!! Only problem is, she’s getting SPOILED!!!

Kathy Maister said:

Dave you are WONDERFUL! Your level of enthusiasm about cooking, your girlfriend and life is infectious, and I’ll bet your steaks are fantastic!

T9-I’ve just checked a couple dozen different (famous Chef’s) recipes for steaks and all of them season their steaks with S&P before cooking them!

Milsove-I’m with you, grilling is the BEST!

T9 said:

Kathy M, why don’t you try two one my way another the way suggested above. then you can decide. I used to always do S&p at the start. I can certainly understand putting pepper on before cooking but I think you get a better taste after but salt – no way, trust me it is madness to do that. Check yourself as I said

Kathy Maister said:

T9 I am definitely going to do the salt test! In fact I have no choice because my mother totally agrees with YOU! When she comes to visit over Christmas we wll do a taste test. :)

Chris said:

In response to T9, I would agree that salting the steak is going to draw out moisture and make things tougher. That’s just basic science. The key thing to remember with salting is that as moisture is drawn out, other things can be drawn in to replace it, so salting gives a great opportunity to infuse flavor with a marinade or something similar.

Leo said:

These are awesome tips! I am always looking for different ways to cook my steak. If you have any other ways to cook these bad boys, i would love to read them! Thank you!

Chris said:

Good tips. I recently posted an article on “The Perfect Grilled Steak” that includes a simple method for dry-aging the steak. I consider dry-aging to be critical to a properly cooked steak, whether grilled, fried or otherwise prepared, and it can be done in one’s own refrigerator for a couple days.

Christine said:

i agree with searing….who doesn’t love a good steak on the grill

Gary said:

I stumbled upon your site today and I love it! The only way we cook steak is on the grill. I sear it and then turn the heat down and almost roast it. Flip it only once and leave it alone and it is perfect!

Kathy Maister said:

Grilling is the BEST! But, living in the center of down town Boston, means I have zero access to outdoor grilling. I depend on my local steak house for the “perfect” steak!

Finney said:

Best way to cook a steak is the Reverse Sear method. Cook (grill) steak at approx 250* until steak reaches 100* (or so) internal temp. Remove and let rest. Raise temp of grill to around 600* (more if you can). Place steak back on grill to sear.

Your steak will be more tender and juicier than you can imagine.

french fry said:

I sear mine in a really hot cast on the stove-with salt in the pan. I wait untill the sea salt starts to jump around and then I sear each side for 30-45 seconds. I was told to do this because-salt dries. The combo of high heat and salt , I believe, actually does keep juices in by forming that dry fried surface. The salt never has time to penetrate the meat. I then grill with a hot and cold side, for control. I check by touch method, looking for amount of rebound and firmness. Grill skewers of shrimp brushed with butter, minced garlic, and old bay. While the steaks rest I lay them over the done shrimp (to help keep the shrimp hydrated). Thats when black pepper is added if desired- because pepper burns. All of your comments are great and I look forward to trying some of the recipies. I just felt that maybe what I did may help with the ‘salt delima’. People who eat my steaks seem to really enjoy. Thanx for reading my two cents worth

fry

Kathy Maister said:

Wow FF! Your steaks sound wonderful.

BTW – For my beginner cooks reading this, it does take quite a bit of experience to judge the doneness of meat by the touch method! Try it out and then cut into the steak just to be sure!

Megan said:

get nice thick steaks about an inch or two thick. Butterfly it open and season the whole steak with garlic, meat tenderizer, and salt. Then sprinkle your favorite cheese (parmesian and gorgonzolia preferred) inside your cut steak. Then place spinach leaves on the inside and pin the steak together with a skewer or toothpick. Place on the grill untill done.

Kathy Maister said:

Megan, it sounds to me like you really know how to cook!

For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase -”to butterfly a steak” – that just means to cut in in half and then open it like a book. Here is supposedly a video on how to do it but they just do the hand motion and never actually cut the meat!

seasoningguy said:

All of these methods are subject to the individual’s preferences, what tastes great to one, tastes average to another. None of them are wrong. In my 37 years in the restaurant business as a chef and owner, I have found that its really all about how you handle the steak before cooking AND how you season it. I temper my beef (still wrapped) at room temperature for about two hours before cooking to help with tenderness. This “quick-aging” process begins to break down the enzymes and tissue. You have to make sure that your work area stays dry and clean while tempering your steaks, and keep them wrapped to prevent outside contamination. Turn the package over after 1 hour to evenly control the internal temperature of the steak. NOTE: this will also speed up your cook times, so watch them closely. Next, it’s all about the seasoing! Also very individual preferences. I’ve seen folks put so much stuff on their steaks, you can’t even taste the meat anymore. You want to “enhance” the natural flavors of what you are cooking…not cover them up. Fresh cracked pepper, garlic, onion etc. are all good on a steak, but I use “Lawhorn’s Signature Seasoings” on just about everything I cook anymore. It is great on evrything…but it is INCREDIBLE on a good steak! While I’m cooking my steak, I brush some FRESH garlic butter on each side after turning. This is the same steak that I serve in my restaurant…you will not be disappointed! Ask your local grocer if they carry it, or you can get it online. Enjoy…

Kathy Maister said:

Wow! Thanks seasoningguy! It is fantastic to hear from a professional chef.

ruth said:

Can I use this steak to make beef jerkys?

Jessica said:

Hello Ruth,

You can make beef jerky at home (even if you don’t have a dehydrator), but you wouldn’t start by making a steak.

The meat used in beef jerky is marinated (or rubbed with spices) then dried in the oven at the lowest temperature for several hours.

Here is a link that explains the process if you’re interested.

Jessica
Startcooking.com

Carmen said:

I love steaks on the grill but grill is down. Just wanted to say Thank you for all the tips on how to cook a good steak without a Grill.

Thanks again

cOok said:

Salt tenderizes the meat! Look in meat tenderizer, there is salt in it.

Take Hawaiian salt, or crushed sea salt, sprinkle it on the steak, about 1 to 2 tablespoons per steak, and grill it, 4 to 5 minutes each side, nothing else. The salt brings out more flavor than you could imagine!

Jade said:

I decided to try steaks last weekend, and they came out great! however i didn’t exactly follow all the steps. I put garlic, and I loved the garlic taste; i would never have thought put garlic on steak! I also used a fresh small red pepper and sazon and a bit of bbq sauce and mixed it all on the steak. I didn’t have steaks that were 1 inch, and after cleaning and cutting them, i was so tired i decided to do it the way my mom always does-just put in the oven to bake! after exactly 1 hour they were tender and juicy – i thought this was a simpler, no mess way of doing it. For me, anything going in the oven is easy compared to stovetop!

Josh said:

These recipes are they are good. I have noticed you need to start with a great cut of meat. Like Filet or Rib Eyes. I told someone that your local butcher is a good starting place. Look for Choice or Prime only!

steveieareno said:

The most important thing most people forget is how to treat the meat before and after cooking.

The steak needs to be almost room temp. before cooking.

The best steak is cooked on charcoal/hardwood grill.

Thanks seasingguy.

juls said:

This one site says to bake then throw it on the grill…
http://www.brooks-bilson.com/blogs/food_bar/index.cfm/2008/2/18/How-to-Cook-the-Perfect-Steak

startcooking said:

I just checked out Cooks Illustrated directions on baking first and then grilling the steak. Sounds interesting…

I love steaks cooked on an outdoor grill – preferably NOT cooked by me! I have many skills in the kitchen but cooking a steak in not one of them!

mike said:

Steak is one great topic, and its good to know that somebody knows how to cook them.

A good steak is hard to find and expensive, but try not to panic when cooking them. The iron skillet is the best way for a (beef) steak to be cooked in my opinion. Grills are great for all kinds of food, but they do dry out a thin or cheaper cut of meat. A thick choice grade steak sometimes does not even need any oil in the pan to cook just fine and pink inside, no blood for me please, that’s a severe behavioral disorder and not very safe. Also toss your iron pills away the meat will absorb that from the skillet. Please don’t mess up a good cut of meat w/ steak sauce or marinate either, keep it simple and delicious with simple seasoning , save that for the cheaper cuts. Injoy your steak this summer and be kind to those who have earned it.