How to Cook a Tender Steak on the Stove

pan-seared steak with chimichurri sauce
Use a well-marbled cut of steak like the rib-eye or a steak from the tenderloin, loin or sirloin to cook on the stove. (Image: stocksy/Cameron Whitman)

Steaks are high in protein, but they're best enjoyed in moderation due to their high saturated fat and cholesterol content. Keep meal preparation simple and help ensure tender, juicy results when you cook your steak on the stove by starting with a suitable cut. Use a rib-eye or a steak from the tenderloin, loin or sirloin so as to begin with tender, well-marbled meat that can hold up to dry, direct heat and remain tender.

Also, choose a steak to cook on the stovetop that is 1- to 1 1/2-inches thick so that it will develop a crisp crust without overcooking and drying out inside. If you don't mind the extra expense, opt for Prime-rated steak over Choice; also, you may want to consider buying grass-fed steak instead of corn-fed.

Step 1: Salt the Steak and Let It Come to Room Temperature

seasoning the steak

Salt both sides of the steak liberally with coarse kosher or sea salt 45 minutes ahead of the cooking time and leave it out at room temperature. A large-grain Kosher salt most effectively pulls moisture out of the meat and imparts a mild saltiness. By salting this far in advance, the meat has time to reabsorb the moisture so it turns out juicy and tender.

Step 2: Add Any Other Seasonings You Prefer

seasoning the steak

Pat black pepper on each side of the steak before cooking it. If you want to, you can add any additional herbs, such as thyme, tarragon and rosemary, or spices like cayenne or chipotle powder or Cajun seasoning. If you have a flavorful and high-quality cut of steak, all you really need is Kosher salt and pepper.

Step 3: Preheat Your Pan, Then Add Oil or Butter

oil going into pan

Heat a large cast-iron or other high-quality heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Wait for it to get hot enough that a flick of water instantly sizzles and evaporates, then coat the bottom of the pan with a liberal amount of cooking oil (or butter, if you prefer). Give the oil another 30 seconds or so to get hot.

Step 4: Sear Your Steak in the Pan

steak being seared in a pan

Lay the steak in the skillet. Give it 1 to 2 minutes to develop a sear; turn it with tongs or another implement. Sear the second side as you did the first. Thereafter, flip the steak as often as every 15 to 20 seconds, or with less frequency if you're otherwise occupied. Flipping encourages even cooking on the stove.

Step 5: Cook the Steak On the Stove With Butter

butter on steak cooked on the stove

Toss a pat or two of unsalted butter into the skillet after a few minutes. It adds a richness to the flavor and helps nicely brown the steak. Spoon oil and melted butter from the bottom of the pan over the top of the steak between turns to baste it so it will brown nicely, reduce cooking time and achieve more tender results.

Step 6: Cook Your Steak to the Optimal Temperature

meat thermometer in steak

Read the steak's internal temperature with a meat thermometer to monitor its progress. Remove it from the pan at 115 degrees Fahrenheit for rare; 125 degrees Fahrenheit for medium-rare; 135 degrees Fahrenheit for medium; 145 degrees Fahrenheit for medium-well and 155 degrees Fahrenheit for well-done. Cooking time varies by cut, thickness, whether the steak is on the bone, the type of pan used and other factors. As a general guide, expect a 1 1/2-inch-thick steak to take about 8 minutes to cook to medium.

Step 7: Rest the Steak and Dig In

Pan-seared tender steak

Transfer the steak from the skillet onto a plate immediately to prevent overcooking, which reduces moisture and tenderness. Rest the steak for at least 5 minutes. Resting allows the steak to finish cooking — you remove it from the skillet 5 degrees Fahrenheit below the target temperature because it continues to cook this much after leaving the heat. Resting also allows the meat's juices to be reabsorbed into the muscle fibers after seeping out during cooking, preventing them from running out of the steak when you slice into it and keeping the meat tender and juicy.

Ingredients and Equipment That You'll Need

  • Coarse kosher or sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Additional seasonings (optional)
  • Large cast-iron or other skillet
  • Cooking oil
  • Tongs
  • Unsalted butter
  • Spoon
  • Meat thermometer

Pro Tip

The more you cook your steak, the less tender and juicy it becomes. For tender results, don't cook beyond medium. Note, though, that the USDA recommends cooking steaks to 145 F for the safest — if not the most tender — preparation.

Best Pan for Cooking Steak

Use a cast-iron skillet to cook your steak. "A good cast iron pan is thick, heavy, and designed to hold on to heat for a long, long time," explains J. Kenji López-Alt, chief culinary consultant at Serious Eats. López-Alt says to get your cast-iron pan smoking hot so you can quick-sear your steak, which will develop a thick crust on the piece of meat without overcooking it.

wilted kale salad
This wilted kale salad with roasted squash and maple-dijon dressing is the perfect accompaniment to a pan-seared steak. (Image: LIVESTRONG.com)

What to Pair Your Steak With

Pair your steak with sauteed or roasted vegetables for an easy, protein- and nutrient-rich meal. Alternatively, you can pair your steak with this irresistible pull-apart cheesy cauliflower loaf, sauteed spinach or a wilted kale salad.

Warning

Never leave beef out at room temperature for longer than two hours or out at temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than one hour.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES
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