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How Chefs Cook Steak in a Pan

How Chefs Cook Steak in a Pan

If you’re craving a steak as the weather begins to cool and the air begins to crisp, you're not alone. This is prime time for steak, and there is no better way to enjoy this mouth-watering meat than by searing it on the stovetop.

Not sure how to sear the perfect steak? Read on to learn how to cook steak in a pan like a pro.

What Do You Need To Cook Steak in a Pan?

For starters, let's make sure your kitchen is stocked. Get your prep station ready with everything you’ll need. Now, let’s roll. 

The Right Cut

Certain steaks sear better than others. When choosing your cut of steak for searing, it’s best to seek out a quality steak. Look for a boneless, well-marbled steak, between one inch and one-and-a-half inches thick.

Marbling refers to the intramuscular fat that runs throughout a piece of steak in streaks of white, creating a marble-looking pattern. These swirls of fat add flavor and juiciness to your dish.

Choosing a steak under one-and-a-half inches thick to cook in a pan is ideal, as thicker steaks need some time in the oven after searing to ensure the inside of the steak cooks through without the exterior becoming overdone. 

Some of the best cuts of meat to sear include New York strip steak, top sirloin steak, ribeye steak, and filet mignon.

Salt and Pepper

These kitchen staples have an open invitation to join in on the cooking fun. Searing steak is no exception. A generous shaking of salt and black pepper on both sides of the steak before cooking helps add flavor and texture. This simple trick also plays a role in forming that wonderful outer crust.

Butter or Oil

To ensure your steak crisps nicely on the outside, you need fat to cook it in, such as butter or oil. 

We recommend using an oil with a high smoke point, as pan-seared steak requires high heat to reach that desired golden-brown hue. Choosing a cooking oil with a high smoke point means the oil won’t burn as the pan gets hot, which could cause a bitter taste. 

What can you use? Avocado oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil are all neutral oils that will help sear your steak without burning or adding too strong a flavor.

Butter has a low smoke point, so it may not be the best option for searing your steak. But that doesn’t mean you need to skip butter entirely. Save it for serving your steak. Room temperature butter on steak is simply incredible. 

Sometimes simple flavors are best, and butter's nutty, sweet flavor is the cherry on top of a perfectly cooked steak. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend searing your steak in butter, we absolutely encourage you to add butter to your steak towards the end of the cooking process. 

Your Favorite Herbs

When it comes to seasoning and garnishing your steak, don't be afraid to go all out. Adding herbs during the last minute of cooking can help provide added flavor and depth to your meal. 

Depending on the flavor profile you’re going for, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, basil, or even fennel, watercress, green onion, tarragon, or garlic cloves can elevate the flavor profile of your steak. 

Tip: butter comes into play here too. Combine your favorite herb with room-temperature butter for a real flavor sensation. 

What Size Frying Pan Should You Use for Steak?

When pan frying steak, you want a large pan that conducts and retains heat well since you’ll need to get that pan hot

Each steak also needs ample room to cook within the pan, or you risk bringing down the temperature of the oil and steaming your steaks instead of searing them. Not exactly what you’re looking for.

A 12-inch HexClad skillet is an ideal size to sear multiple steaks at once without overcrowding the pan, and our hybrid stainless steel and non-stick technology can withstand high heat to provide the perfect caramelized sear without breaking a sweat.

Pan-Cooking Steak Step-by-Step

Now that you have all the ingredients and gear you need, let's get into the meat of the matter: cooking the steak. 

Pan searing steak is one of the most beloved ways to cook steak, as it is relatively simple, extremely timeless, and damn tasty. But, to ensure your steak is as delicious as can be, there are a few steps to follow during the cooking process.

Step One: Pat the Steak Dry

This quick step is easy to miss, but it’s an important one. Use paper towels to pat dry the steak so there is no moisture around the exterior of the meat. 

Don’t bypass this step. The outside of the steak won’t begin to brown until all moisture has evaporated. For a more science-y explanation, you want to get rid of the moisture because water interferes with the Maillard reaction

This complex chemical reaction occurs when proteins react with reducing sugars over high heat. It’s also known as the browning reaction, as that’s exactly what happens as a result of it: the ingredients crisp up and become a warm golden brown. 

This chemical reaction draws out rich flavors and makes your food taste even better. The Maillard reaction only occurs at temperatures above the boiling point of water, which is why steaming or boiling ingredients won’t lead to the drool-worthy browning of food. 

It’s why you want to make sure your ingredients are bone-dry before searing for the most delicious and flavorful results. Patting away moisture is also a good safety measure, as this will reduce oil splatter when lowering your steak into the heated fat.

Step Two: Season the Steak on Both Sides

We mentioned it earlier, but we are repeating it for good measure: season steak liberally, and don’t be afraid to add a few extra shakes. It should look like you’ve added entirely too much seasoning. If it does, you’re on the right track. 

We recommend using fresh ground black peppercorn and kosher salt for your seasoning. Make sure you season both sides of the steak to help form the golden-brown crust as each side sizzles against the pan’s surface.

Step Three: Heat Your Pan

To achieve that crave-worthy golden sear, heat your pan up before your steak even touches it. 

We recommend letting the pan heat up over medium to medium-high heat for five minutes before adding in your steak. You should feel a healthy amount of heat rising from the pan when holding your hand a few inches above the surface.

Step Four: Grease the Pan and Add the Steak

As your pan preheats, coat it with your oil of choice. Using a half tablespoon of oil can help reduce oil splatter caused by too much fat, but you may want to use a bit more depending on the size of your pan. 

When the oil begins to shimmer and move smoothly within the pan, it’s time to add the steak. 

Place steaks in the pan. Use a spatula to press down against the top of the steak right as it hits the pan. This helps make sure the bottom side of the steak cooks evenly. The steak should start to sizzle as soon as it makes contact with the hot oil in the pan. 

That sizzling sound is a prelude to the deliciousness to come, letting us know that the oil is hot enough to reach a desirable sear. 

Step Five: Know When To Flip

The key to a perfectly cooked steak is knowing when to flip it. It may feel tempting to move the steak around the pan or peek at the bottom to gauge how well-cooked it is, but resist the urge. Your tastebuds will thank you.

The golden-brown sear you’re after requires a few minutes of uninterrupted cook time. Pushing it around the pan or flipping it too often can interfere with the Maillard reaction and lead to a lackluster and uneven crust. Don’t let it happen to you.

Instead, let your steak cook in peace for about three minutes until the bottom is deep brown in color. Then flip and repeat. The steak's total cooking time is typically around six to ten minutes, depending on how well done you want it.

Once each side is seared, use tongs to hold onto the steak, so you can crisp up the edge of the steak for a minute. This step isn’t necessary, but it can provide an added layer of deliciously crispy texture and flavor to your meat. 

A minute before removing your steak from the heat is also the perfect time to add your herbs and butter for the perfect finishing touch. Here’s a *hot* tip: use a meat thermometer to check the temp of your steak as it cooks, taking out the guesswork of reaching your desired doneness.

Step Six: Let the Steak Rest

Remember that your meat will continue cooking slightly from residual heat even after you remove it from the pan. Make sure you remove it from the heat and transfer it to a plate once your thermometer displays about five degrees below your desired level of doneness. 

Get the most accurate temperature by inserting the thermometer horizontally into the side of the steak. You want to measure the temp of the steak at the center of its thickest part, avoiding any fat or bone.

Once your steak has nearly reached your ideal temperature, move to a plate and let the steak rest at room temperature for at least three minutes.

Resting also gives the juices a chance to redistribute. If you cut into the meat too soon, the juice will pour out, leaving you with a dryer, blander hunk of steak. After resting, the inside of your steak will remain juicy and tender, making those few extra minutes worth the wait once it’s time to dig in. 

How Well Done Should Steak Be?

A steak’s level of doneness is determined by its internal temperature. For safety reasons, the USDA recommends cooking steak to at least 145 degrees F before consuming, which is considered medium rare. From there, however, you can let your steak get as well-done — or not — as you’d like. 

If you prefer your steak extra pink and juicy in the center, medium rare is the way to go. You should remove the steak from the pan right as it reaches 140 degrees. Cooking each side for three to four minutes is typically all you need to create a perfectly seared but still wonderfully juicy medium rare steak.

Next, there is steak cooked medium to medium well. The remaining pink in the center will be slightly less obvious, and you’ll have somewhat less juice flowing than you would with a medium rare steak. 

To hit an internal temperature of around 150 to 160 degrees, cook your steak for about four to five minutes per side. Remove it from the heat once it hovers around 145 to 150 degrees to reach medium doneness.

And lastly, there is well-done steak, which is quite firm and has no trace of pink inside. An internal temperature of 170 degrees is considered well done. 

Cook Steak Like the Pros

There’s no better way to cook steak than in a pan, and there’s no better pan to cook steak in than HexClad’s hybrid skillet. Our patented hexagon design combines the non-stick benefits of stainless steel cookware with the searing capabilities of a cast iron pan.

The patented hexagonal design laser-cut onto the cooking surface of our cookware creates a series of stainless steel peaks and non-stick valleys, capable of cooking up the ideal golden-brown sear with less oil. 

Our tri-ply stainless steel technology provides ultimate heat retention. The result? A steak crust that is perfectly crispy, with an inside cooked evenly to whichever level of doneness you choose. 

Once your steaks are spectacularly seared and seasoned, you can serve them on our rustic Bistecca plates for a display your guests will flip over. The traditional wooden plates not only help protect the blade of your steak knives but feature a carved groove to capture any stray juices as you savor each and every bite of your steak.

With HexClad cookware and cutlery, you’ll be wowing family and friends with steaks whose presentation and taste beats any steakhouse around. 

Sources:

What's a Smoke Point and Why Does it Matter? | Serious Eats

What is the Maillard Reaction | Science of Cooking

Cooking Meat? Check the New Recommended Temperatures | USDA

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