The next time you want a delicious steak, skip the steak house. Creating the perfect pan-seared steak is easy, cost-effective, and only requires a handful of ingredients.
The cast-iron steak method lets you prepare a delicious pan-seared steak without going outside to the grill. It presents a golden-brown, caramelized exterior, and a meal to rival any commercial establishment.
Follow our simple guide to learn how to sear a steak at home like a professional.
Choose the Best Cut
The cast-iron steak method works with all cuts, so choosing which to sear is a matter of preference. You typically want to find choice or prime cuts at a local butcher or a high-end grocery store—buying the best quality can still fit your budget.
For any cut, you will want well-marbled steaks with plenty of fat for the juiciest and tastiest results. The biggest factor is in the thickness of the cut, though.
Thick steaks take longer to cook but have a more forgiving window for appropriate cooking time. For the juiciest cast-iron steaks, choose strip steak, ribeye, or T-bone cuts that are between one-and-a-half to two inches thick.
Thinner cuts cook much faster but are easy to burn. Flank, skirt, and hanger steaks are good options if you prefer a thinner pan-seared steak that will only take a few minutes. Thin steaks also allow you to add herbs before you begin the pan-seared steak, while thick cuts work best when you add additional seasoning right before the end of the cooking process.
Related: The Best Cuts of Steak – ranked by Steak Revolution
Preparing to Cook
The first tip on how to sear steak is to have everything ready before you begin. It only takes a few minutes, so you will need all the ingredients and utensils within arms’ reach. It includes preparing your kitchen and equipment, as well as the steak.
Choose the Right Equipment
The best tool for a high-quality pan-seared steak is a cast-iron skillet or pan. These are relatively inexpensive and incredibly durable, retaining heat beautifully and lending a natural nonstick benefit. The incredible heat retention lets a cast-iron steak sear better, and it heats the entire cut evenly.
Other heavy, uncoated pans are acceptable substitutes, but avoid nonstick cookware for searing purposes. The pan should also be close to the same size as your steak to avoid overcooking its juices in uncovered areas.
The high temperature required for searing will cause your steak and oil to smoke, so an overhead or exhaust fan is helpful. However, it might not be necessary if you have some way to circulate air, such as a tabletop fan in the kitchen.
Prepare the Steak
You should take your steak out of the fridge thirty minutes to an hour before you start cooking. Bringing it closer to room temperature will make it easier for you to sear your cast-iron steak evenly. Colder steaks cook much faster on the exterior than in the center.
As you take it to room temperature, you will also want to remove as much moisture from the meat’s surface as possible. Use a paper towel to blot your steak—this moisture would otherwise need to evaporate before your steak would start browning.
Drying your steak beforehand also enhances its caramelized brown crust and reduces oil splatter.
The final preparation step is your steak’s seasoning, adding a healthy sprinkling of salt and pepper to each side. However, be sure to only add salt immediately before you begin cooking. If you leave the salt on your steak for too long, it will start to draw moisture back out to the surface.
Steak Doneness Decisions
Whether you like your steak well done or blue, you want to prepare your cast-iron steak in a way that lets you sear it to perfection. Factors such as the cut and thickness will affect the time it takes to sear, as well as your pan and stove.
You could always test the pan-seared steak’s firmness with your finger or wait until the whole cut is a deep brown, but a meat thermometer will give you far superior results. Inserting a probe and finding the coolest part of the steak (in the middle) lets you determine the temperature of its thermal center. With this information, you can remove your steak from the skillet shortly before it reaches a certain temperature and cooks it to perfection as it rests.
Below you will find a list of desired temperatures for different levels of doneness, as well as descriptions of the steak’s interior at these points:
- Rare: 125° F (52° C); dark red with lighter cooked edges
- Medium-Rare: 135° F (57° C); mostly dark pink center with an outer ring of lighter pink
- Medium: 145° F (63° C); fully pink throughout with slightly darker edges
- Medium-Well: 150° F (66° C); some pink in the middle and brown around the edges
- Well Done: 160° F (71° C); completely brown-gray
Feel free to cook your pan-seared steak to fit your preference, but be aware that the USDA recommends an internal temperature of at least 145° F. The recommendation is why medium steak is so popular around the country.
Searing your cast-iron steak to perfection is as simple as adding a bit of salt and pepper before dropping it in a pan with oil.
Here are the basics of how to sear a steak:
- Preheat your pan or skillet on medium to high heat until it is piping hot (around five minutes).
- Add half a tablespoon of vegetable oil (or another oil with a high smoke point) to your pan. Brushing a small amount can reduce splattering, but swirling the pan to coat its bottom works as well.
- When the oil is shimmering and beginning to smoke, place the steak on your pan and press it down to ensure full contact with the pan. If you do not hear loud sizzling, remove the steak until the pan is hotter.
- Do not touch or move the steak as it sears. After three to four minutes, the bottom should be golden brown. Flip your steak.
- Remove the meat when it reaches five degrees below your desired temperature. It should take another three or four minutes.
- Let the pan-seared steak rest for five to ten minutes before serving.
While you can add some herbs to thinner cuts of steak as you start to cook, you should add most extra ingredients during the last two minutes of cooking. Aromatics, including crushed garlic and bay leaves, are excellent additions to instantly improve a cast-iron steak.
Butter is another ingredient that will give you a mouth-watering result, but you need to be careful to stop it from burning on the high heat while searing. If you are afraid that the heat level, reduce it to medium-low before introducing any butter.
Add the additions during the final two minutes, along with any extra herbs and spices. When the butter melts, tilt the pan to collect it in one place and use a spoon to distribute it over the pan-seared steak. It infuses the flavor into the meat as it cooks.
For easy and delicious garlic butter, try adding thyme, garlic, and butter to your cast-iron steak.
Serving Your Pan-Seared Steak
After you remove your steak from the heat, you will need to let it rest for between five to fifteen minutes, depending on its thickness.
Place it on a warm plate or cutting board and loosely cover the cast-iron steak with aluminum foil. In addition to giving the juices time to redistribute throughout the meat, it also seals it to prepare the steak for cutting. Resting also allows the steak’s residual heat to continue cooking it to perfection.
As you serve your steak, be sure to slice against the grain. The method keeps every bite juicy and tender by shortening the steak’s muscle fiber to make it easier for your teeth to break apart.
Find the grain by determining which direction the muscle fibers run. Then, place your knife perpendicular to these fibers before cutting into the steak. Cutting larger slices also prevents the steak from cooling too quickly.
If you opted for minimal ingredients while cooking your steak, you might want to consider offering additions as you serve it. Butter is a simple but effective addition to your steak that can be spiced up with chives or other herbs.
Read: Why Put Butter on Steak?
Well done steaks would also benefit from steak sauce to counteract the lost moisture and flavor.
For extra variety, try serving your pan-seared steak in a salad or alongside:
- Steak Fries
- Potato Gratin
- Honey Roasted Carrots
- Steamed Asparagus
- Brussels Sprouts
That’s all you need to know about how to sear a steak for any occasion. Cast-iron pan-seared steaks are the unrivaled centerpiece of any meal and so easy to craft—anyone can do it.