For most people, the platonic ideal of a steak involves a hot, smoky grill — the elemental meeting of fire and meat. But some of the best steaks you’ll ever have will come out of a frying pan. The difference is in the crust. Most grilled steaks, when seared over extremely hot coals or gas burners, take on the intense flavor of the black-charred grill marks. But a hot pan distributes heat evenly over the surface of the steak, letting you get a rich, deeply flavored crust. Instead of charring it, pan-searing caramelizes the meat, locking in the juices. Here’s how to make your next steak the best one you’ve ever had.
- 1 lb strip, rib eye, or porterhouse steak
- Peanut or vegetable oil (avoid olive oil; it has a lower smoking point, causing a burned flavor)
- 3 tbsp butter, cut into chunks
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled (optional)
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
- Salt and Pepper the Meat
Then set it on a wire rack and place it uncovered in the fridge. Ideally, do this 12 hours before cooking, so the salt is absorbed, locking in the internal juices. But even an hour will help.
- Take It Out of the Fridge
Let the meat sit out for an hour, so it comes to room temperature. This ensures that the outer areas don’t overcook while you’re waiting for the interior to heat up.
- Sear Each Side Quickly
Set a heavy pan (cast iron is preferable) over high heat for five minutes. Coat it with oil, then lay the steak in the pan and cook for one minute. Flip the steak — it should be light golden — and sear the other side for one minute. A little smoke is unavoidable, but using a splatter screen will reduce most of the mess.
- Flip It Every 30 Seconds
It’s a little unorthodox, but this develops a deep-brown crust and lets the steak cook through evenly.
- Baste It in Butter
When the steak is nearly done — about five minutes for medium rare — add the butter, garlic, and thyme. Tilt the pan and continuously spoon the butter on top of the steak for a minute or two, until the butter browns.
- Let It Rest Before Serving
Cutting the steak too soon will cause the juices to leak out. Let it sit for five minutes, then serve with the butter drippings.
Grass vs. Grain Fed
Today you can find grass-fed beef — a USDA label certifying that an animal has eaten only grass and forage — at most grocery stores. But it can cost as much as $10 more per pound than grain-fed. Here’s why it’s worth it: The meat has a more robust flavor. Its health benefits are generally considered superior — more heart-healthy omega-3s, more essential vitamins and minerals, and fewer saturated fats. Plus, it has few or no growth hormones or antibiotics. Just be sure to cook it rarer than usual, as it’s much leaner.