How to Cook a Tender Steak in the Skillet

Not everyone has a grill on which to make their favorite steaks, with skillets a frequent choice of both home and professional chefs. Top chefs prefer cooking steaks in cast iron skillets because they conduct heat evenly, keep the pan hot and after regular use become seasoned, creating a non-stick surface. If you’re cooking at home on your range top, you can make a tender, juicy steak using the humble, low-tech skillet.

Making a tender steak requires less work than you might think

The first step in making a great skillet steak is to prepare it correctly. Trim the fat from your steak if you want a healthier meal. Do this when the steak is cold and the fat is firm. Let the steak reach room temperature after you trim it and before you cook it — the steak will cook evenly if the inside and outside are the same temperature. if not, you might get a burnt or dry outside and a raw, chewy inside.

Heat your skillet to medium high heat. Lightly oil and season your steak while the pan is heating. In addition to salt and pepper, you can use a variety of herbs or spices. Kosher salt is a better choice than table salt because the larger granules will not melt into the pan at high heat. To prevent fresh garlic from burning and becoming bitter, make small slits in the meat and insert the garlic.

You can season the steak by oiling it first, then adding your seasonings. Alternately, you can put salt, pepper, herbs and spices directly on the meat and oil the pan. Either way, use an oil with a low smoke point, such as canola, safflower or sunflower oil, rather than olive oil, which starts to smoke at high temperatures.

Place the steak into the pan. Let the steak cook, untouched, for two to three minutes for medium rare, depending on the thickness of the steak. Cook longer for a more well-done steak, or less if you like your steak rare. Don’t press the steak or prod it while it’s cooking or you’ll end up with a dry, tough piece of meat.

Turn the steak with tongs, not a fork. Poking holes in the steak will allow juices to leave the meat, resulting in a less tender steak.

Allow the steak to finish cooking. When you think it might be done, press the steak gently in the middle with your finger or the tongs. If it gives and bounces back, the steak should be medium rare. If it does not bounce back, it is rare. If it does not give easily, it is more well done.

Remove the steak from the pan with the tongs and place on a cutting surface. Let the meat sit for three or more minutes to allow juices that have bubbled to the surface settle back into the meat. Cutting a steak as soon as it leaves the pan results in juices running out of the meat and onto the cutting board or plate.

Experiment with different cooking techniques. Start the steak and turn it after 30 seconds to create a crust on one side to keep juices inside as the other side seals. Let it cook for the desired number of minutes, then flip it once more and let it finish. Alternately, sear each side for one minute, then finish by placing the skillet in your broiler, turning the steak once.

Additional Resources

Steak Enthusiast: Alternative to Grilling Steak: Skillet Method

Lindauer Family Farms: How to Broil Premium Steak