How To Get a Crust on Steak?

Cooking the perfect steak is a difficult task that requires some practice. The ideal doneness of a steak is important, but equally crucial is the steak’s crust, which should boast a golden brown and crispy texture. In this article, I will provide proven tips to help you achieve the desired steak doneness and a crispy crust simultaneously.

Here are eight essential tips to help you achieve a better crust on your steak:

1. Steak Thickness

The thickness of the steak plays a crucial role in achieving the ideal balance between perfect doneness and a delightful crust. When a steak is too thick, it risks being overcooked on the outside while remaining raw on the inside. On the other hand, if the steak is too thin, it may end up overcooked in the center before it develops a satisfying crust.

Ideally, the steak should be 1.5 to 2 inches thick.

2 inches thick strip steaks

Below are examples of what the crust of a steak cooked to 125-130°F looks like at different thicknesses: 1 inch, 1.5 inches, 2 inches, and 2.5 inches.

One-inch pan-seared strip steak

more photos coming soon

Please note that the information above does not apply to naturally thin cuts such as a skirt or flank steak.

2. Pat Dry the Steak

Make sure to dry the steak with a paper towel. Why is this step so crucial? It all comes down to moisture. When there is moisture on the surface of the steak, it needs to evaporate during the cooking process. As the steak cooks, this moisture turns into steam, preventing the desirable formation of a beautiful crust.

pat dry raw strip steak with paper towel
Pat dry raw strip steak with a paper towel

3. Season the Steak

After patting the steak dry with paper towels, the next step is to season it. However, before you proceed, consider a few questions. Do you have enough time to allow the steak to rest for at least 40 minutes after seasoning with salt? If not, it’s best to season the steak just before cooking.

Season the steak with salt, garlic powder, and black pepper

To fully understand my recommendations, knowing how salt impacts meat is important. When the steak is salted, osmosis occurs on its surface. The salt gradually draws out the liquid from the meat, which becomes visible as droplets. At the same time, the salt dissolves in these juices, creating a brine on the surface. This entire process typically takes about half an hour after salting. However, it’s crucial to note that at this stage, when the steak’s surface has a high moisture content, it is not the ideal time to cook it. Instead, I recommend waiting at least 15 minutes more to allow the meat to absorb the juices combined with the salt.

For the best results, it is ideal to season the steak the day before and leave it in the refrigerator. This overnight marination will enhance the steak’s flavor even further.

When seasoning the steak, cover the entire surface, including the sides, with a generous amount of salt and pepper. I recommend using kosher salt due to its coarse texture. As for pepper, freshly ground pepper is always the best choice.

salt the raw strip steak
Salt the raw steak
Salt the raw steak on the sides as well
Salt the raw steak on the sides as well

4. Cooking Methods

The easiest way to achieve the best crust on your steak is by cooking it in a cast iron skillet. This method ensures that the steak sticks to the evenly heated pan, allowing it to develop a much better crust than other cooking methods. To ensure maximum contact between the steak and the surface of the pan, gently press the steak with your hands or tongs when placing it on the pan.

Another excellent option is grilling. However, it’s important to ensure that the grill is very hot. While cooking, remember to flip the steak frequently to prevent grill marks caused by the hot grates.

In summary, the key factor in both cases is to cook the steak at a high temperature with direct heat.

strip steak cooked on the side in a skillet
Steak cooked in a cast iron skillet on the stove

5. Start in Oil

Are you planning to cook a steak in a skillet? If so, I recommend using an oil with a high smoke point. It’s very important to avoid adding butter at the beginning of cooking, but I’ll discuss this topic in more detail later.

Oil effectively transfers heat from the skillet to the steak and, most importantly, can reach the high temperatures necessary for searing a steak.

Refer to the table below for information on the smoke points of common oils.

Type of FatSmoke Point ºFSmoke Point ºC
Refined Avocado Oil520ºF270ºC
Refined Safflower Oil510ºF266ºC
Beef Tallow480ºF250ºC
Pecan Oil470ºF243ºC
Refined or Light Olive Oil465ºF240ºC

6. Flip the Steak Often 

When it comes to flipping steaks, there are two schools of thought: flipping often or only once. I recommend the former approach, which involves flipping the steak multiple times, for example, every 60 seconds. This method offers several advantages, including shorter cooking times, more even doneness, and a better crust on the steak. Flipping the steak multiple times gives you better control over the cooking process and allows you to assess the crust on each side.

However, if you prefer to flip the steak once or twice, there’s nothing wrong with that; the steak will still be tasty and with a nice crust. For less experienced cooks, though, I recommend flipping multiple times as it provides greater control over the cooking process. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

7. Baste with Butter

Butter basting gives you a nice crust while distributing incredible flavor, especially when combined with additional ingredients like thyme, rosemary, garlic, and onions.

First and foremost, remember the most important rule: never add butter at the beginning of cooking, as it has a low smoke point and can easily burn. Instead, it’s best to add butter just before finishing the cooking process. Just wait until the steak’s internal temperature is at least 20-25°F below the desired level of doneness.

strip steak, thyme and butter in the pan
Steak, thyme, rosemary, and butter in the pan

How should this process look in practice? Start by reducing the heat to low or removing the pan from the heat source just before the end of cooking. Then, add the butter to the pan and wait for it to melt. Additionally, add thyme or rosemary, onion, and garlic. Tilt the pan to collect the butter in one spot, and use a spoon to baste the steak with the melted butter. Make sure to baste both sides of the steak for 30 to 60 seconds.

In the meantime, remember to check the steak’s internal temperature using an instant-read thermometer. Remove the steak from the heat 15-20°F below the desired level of doneness.

Butter-basted steak

8. Remove the Steak at the Right Time

The final step is to remove the steak at the perfect moment and allow it to rest. Before you finish cooking, closely monitor the temperature to ensure you don’t accidentally overcook the steak. Remember that when you remove the steak from the pan or grill, its internal temperature will continue to rise by approximately 15 to 20°F (this exception does not apply to sous vide steak).

Checking the Temperature of the Steak with an Instant-Read Thermometer

For instance, if you remove a steak with an internal temperature of 115°F, it will increase to around 130°F (and even up to 135°F) within 5 to 10 minutes. That’s why taking off the steak is crucial when it is about 15-20°F below the desired target temperature.

perfect crust on pan-seared steak
The perfect crust on a pan-seared steak

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Written by: Adam Wojtow

Adam Wojtow is a Polish entrepreneur who founded Steak Revolution because of his passion for steaks. Adam has been cooking steaks for over 5 years, so he understands well all aspects of steak, from the types of steaks and their cooking times to choosing the best cooking technique for any steak.