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How to Cook Steak in a Pan

Quick Answer:

Toss your well-seasoned steak into an oiled, preheated, heavy-bottomed skillet and cook over high heat for 4 minutes. Turn and cook the steak for an additional 3 - 5 minutes, and then remove from the pan and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.

The ProHowNow Way: Hit it Hot and Hard

There are few things sadder in the world than a botched pan-fried steak that comes out gray, rubbery, and fatty tasting. Luckily, it’s not all that hard to cook a steak in a pan the right way if you just know the right tricks.

First, make sure you have a heavy bottomed skillet, preferably cast iron. Get it on the stove and start preheating it under low heat so that it heats evenly. Add approximately a tablespoon of high-heat oil, just enough so that it’ll spread across the entire cooking surface. Our favorite is peanut oil, but canola oil or extra light olive work fine—anything with a smoke point higher than 400 degrees will do the trick. Do NOT use extra virgin olive oil, as it has a much lower smoke point and will make your steak taste nasty.

While your pan is getting hot, prep your steak. Pat it dry with a paper towel and season it generously with your favorite steak rub or keep it simple with salt and pepper. The more the better. Also, there are a couple of things you should not do:

  • Do NOT pull the steak out of the refrigerator to warm to room temperature before cooking. It’ll actually cook better if it’s chilled, since you’ll be able to get a nice char on the outside without over-cooking the middle.

  • Do NOT wash the steak. This accomplishes nothing except contaminating your sink with a bunch of bacteria.

Now it’s cooking time. Crank the heat up to high on the pan and give it a minute for the oil to get hot. Throw your steak in the pan and let it do its thing for 4 minutes so that it creates a delicious charred crus. Flip it and cook another 3 - 4 minutes to create a brown crust on the other side, a bit less if you’re going for really rare, a bit longer if you want it more well done or have a thicker steak.

Immediately remove the steak and place it on a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes. Yes, it’s hard to be patient, but if you cut into the steak too soon, all the juices will flow out and you’ll be left eating dried out steak, so be patient.

That’s it! Bon appetit!

ProHowNow Tip: Meat Thermometer or the Poke Test?

There’s a lot of debate as to how, or whether you should even test the temperature of a steak. Generally speaking, if you cook with standard-cut steaks (i.e. not crazy thick or really thin) and follow the cooking guidelines above, your steak should be cooked in the range of rare to medium well. If you’re not too picky, just follow the guidelines and make sure you get a nice brown crust on both sides, and you’re good to go.

If you want to cook to a specific doneness, you have two options: use a meat thermometer and do the poke test.

If using a meat thermometer, stick it into the center of steak after flipping it and remove the steak from the pan when it is 5 degrees below your target temperature, as it will continue to heat internally as it rests. A little juice will leak out using this method, but not enough to affect the overall juiciness and flavor.

  • Rare: 125° - 130° F

  • Medium rare 135° F

  • Medium: 145° F

  • Medium well 150° F

  • Ruined...er, well done: 160° F

The alternate method is to use the poke method, where you use tongs or another cooking utensil to prod the center of the steak to determine how firm it is. The idea is that the more done a steak gets, the firmer it becomes. Using this method with any sort of accuracy requires a lot of experience, trial and error, and if we’re honest, a good bit of luck, but if you’re cooking for onlookers and manage to nail it with a perfectly cooked steak, you’ll win their lifelong respect and adoration, so go for it. Just do yourself a favor and practice this method on your own a few times while using a meat thermometer to get a feel for it.

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