Make the Best Pan-Seared Steak

best pan-seared steak

Everyone loves a good steak, but few people are as enthusiastic about the cost of a nice steak at a restaurant. The occasional luxury is nice, but why rationalize a pricey meal when you can make the best pan-seared steak from the comfort of your home?

When you use a pan-seared steak recipe at home, you have complete ownership over how it’s cooked, seasoned, and served, and you can do so without spending as much as you would in an upscale restaurant. Here’s your simple guide to making the best pan-seared steak from home!

Choosing The Right Cut For The Best Pan-Seared Steak

While the classic top-tier cuts like ribeye, NY strip, and tenderloin filet will deliver delicious results with a wide margin for error, there are several other cuts to choose from, which have great flavor and texture at a variety of price points. Regardless of the cut that you’re using, here are a few tips when selecting your steak:

  • Start with a boneless steak if you can. It will lead to more even cooking and won’t take up quite as much real estate in your pan. The larger the steak, the harder it will be for your pan to stay really hot during the searing process.
  • Thickness can vary, but we recommend sticking to somewhere between 1 to 1½ inches. Specific cuts will simply not be an option, such as a flat iron or skirt steak, but don’t worry. You can still cook a great pan-seared steak with thinner cuts.
  • Since you’re not paying premium prices for the restaurant experience, don’t be afraid to spend a little extra on the cut(s) of meat you’re going to be pan-searing. Even an expensive piece of steak that’s purchased and cooked at home will be significantly cheaper than anything you find from a menu (provided the restaurant is using a quality piece of meat).

Go for pasture-raised and processed meats if you want to serve steak with a robust health and flavor profile that is sure to impress.

Fundamental Tips and Techniques For A Killer Pan-Seared Steak

When you’re pan-searing a steak, don’t be afraid to really go for it! Part of your success will surely come from making an occasional mistake. Meat is expensive, so you certainly don’t want to be careless, but it’s all a part of the learning process.

Use the right skillet

The best pan-seared steak requires a solid pan that will hold its heat well. Our personal favorite is a cast iron or a carbon steel pan because they are cheap and heavy, but any solid bottomed pan will do the job (non-stick is great as well).

The heat makes the sear

Your pan must be very hot. As in, leave it over high heat for a few minutes until it is virtually smoking hot. Once you add a steak to the pan, it will immediately take the temperature down, so start with a rippin’ hot pan. The intense heat is a crucial part of getting that signature crust on the steak.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Cooking at high temperatures on the stovetop can create lots of smoke. Don’t leave yourself unprepared by setting off the fire alarm or upsetting other folks in your home. If you’ve got a hood vent, turn it on high. If you’ve got nearby windows and doors to create a cross breeze, make it happen! The other option is to do this outdoors (i.e., a pan on a gas grill, a propane burner, etc.).

Season it well

Salt your steak early or right before you cook it. When we say early, we mean 12 to 24 hours ahead of time. This is actually a step worth doing if you can remember it. Salt it on all sides liberally and let it rest uncovered on a plate in the refrigerator. The salt will begin to pull moisture from the steak and eventually be reabsorbed along with the seasoning, working its way into the meat resulting in heightened flavor and tenderness. Otherwise, salt it just before it hits the pan. Some folks swear by not salting a steak until after it’s cooked, but we’ve always liked the first two options better.

Other seasonings: less is more. Lots of additional seasonings may fall off and/or burn in the pan during the high heat cooking process, but if you do want to add additional seasonings, you can also do so after the steak is cooked while it rests. If you have great quality meat, enjoy the natural flavors!

Use appropriate cooking fat

If a steak is on the fattier side with lots of nice marbling, you will not need as much cooking fat in the pan. Perhaps a tablespoon or less added right before the steak meets the pan. If you’ve got a leaner cut of meat, a little extra fat will help you get a better result. The best cooking fats to use for pan-searing a steak are natural animal fats like beef tallows or pork lards. Beyond that, consider higher heat-tolerant options such as ghee or avocado oil. Stay away from vegetable oils, if at all possible!

Keep it hot and moving

There’s a lot of advice around how often you should or shouldn’t flip a pan-seared steak. We will mention two methods here, try both, and see which one you like more! The critical ingredient is high heat. Steaks cooked at high heat for a relatively short time will sear well without toughening or overcooking the meat.

  • Flip only once: typically, there are just two sides on the steak. Once the first side gets a hot sear for a few minutes (timing depends on the steak), flip to the other side and let it finish, maintaining the high heat throughout the entire process. There can even be 3 sides to a steak in some cases, like a thicker NY strip with a fat cap wide enough to rest face down in the pan. With this scenario, start with the fat side down for at least two minutes.
  • Just keep flipping: once the steak hits the pan, keep it moving by flipping to the opposite side about every 20-30 seconds. This method requires more work but will do a good job of evenly cooking from the outside in. Make sure the heat remains high to develop that crust.

Use a thermometer

Making the best pan-seared steak involves many factors (heat, meat, skillet, seasoning) that determining the meat’s doneness can be tricky, especially when you have a nice and crispy crust on the outside. Over time you can learn how to gauge doneness by touch, but even the most seasoned professionals rely on the exactness of using an instant-read meat thermometer. To guarantee that your pan-seared steak has reached ideal doneness, use a thermometer and keep in mind that the steak will continue cooking for a short time after being removed from the pan.

  • A rare steak will be done when it reaches an internal temperature of around 128 degrees.
  • A medium-rare steak can be considered done once it’s reached 132 degrees.
  • A medium steak can be served after hitting 138 degrees.
  • A well-done steak should have an internal temperature of over 140 degrees. If you prefer well-done, we recommend using a fattier cut of meat, such as ribeye.

Let it rest before slicing

The juices need time to calm down and settle before being sliced. This is a crucial step and will definitely affect the finished eating quality of the steak. It can be tempting to cut into it immediately to check for doneness or taste a bite, but resist the urge! Even if you need to leave the room to distract yourself. Give the steak at least 5 minutes of resting time, closer to 10 for thicker steaks. You can loosely tent with foil if you’re concerned about losing too much heat.

With the tips above and an excellent cut of meat from Augustus Ranch, you can rest easy knowing that you’ll be serving the best pan-seared steak possible. For more information, you can watch this video featuring Kent (our Chief Meat Officer) cooking 4 different steaks on a YouTube show!