Fifteen Spatulas

How to Properly Sear a Steak


You’ll never find me at a steakhouse. Steaks are one of the easiest things to cook yourself, and they are sooooo much more expensive at restaurants.  Steaks don’t need fancy sauces to taste good, and frankly, you don’t want anything to cover up the natural flavors of the meat.  All a steak needs is a good seasoning of salt and pepper, maybe a little butter, and proper technique.  Here’s how to make restaurant quality steaks in your own home:

-30 minutes to an hour before cooking your steak, you want to take it out of the refrigerator.  If your steak starts out at 35 degrees rather than 65, the outside is going to have to be cooked a lot longer for the inside to come to your target temperature.  That means your outside will be overdone and tough.

-A few minutes before cooking the steak, heat up a skillet over medium high heat with no oil or anything in it.  Don’t use nonstick coated cookware.  You want a plain uncoated pan, and ideally one that has good heat retention (heavy bottomed, copper core, cast iron, etc).  Additionally, pick a skillet that is close in size to your steak.  If you use gigantic pan for a small steak, the uncovered areas will soon be covered in burned steak juices.

-While your pan heats up, pat your steak dry with a paper towel.  You are absorbing any extra moisture that might be on the steak.  Excess moisture on the outside is the enemy of a seared, caramelized and browned steak, and excess moisture will steam the steak.

-Next, season the steak with LOTS of salt and pepper.  Don’t be afraid to season it with confidence. For each steak I did 1/2 tsp to 3/4 tsp of salt on each side.  Yes, it looks like a lot.  But the inside is not seasoned, so seasoning the outside is really important.  Make sure you rub the salt and cracked pepper into the meat.


-After a few minutes, your pan should be pretty hot.  Hold your hand above the surface.  Is it radiating heat?  Good.  Now sprinkle a couple drops of water onto the pan.  Do the droplets evaporate instantly?  Good.  Now, hold the end of the steak in the pan to test.  Do you hear crazy sizzling? If so, lay the baby down.

-Cook the steak on each side for 2-4 minutes for a 1 inch thick steak.  It should be searing to a beautiful brown color.  If it looks gray, your pan isn’t hot enough.  Sear all the outer surface area of the steak.

-While the steak is cooking, don’t touch it.  Resist.  Do not flip your steak more than once.  If you are constantly flipping, you aren’t letting the heat penetrate the meat, you are only cooking the surface over and over again (which will mean a tough edge).

-How do you know your steak is done?  Well, if you have an instant read thermometer, it’s pretty easy to know since it tells you (I usually cook mine to 120 degrees F, and it cooks another 5 degrees as it rests).  There’s a lot of leeway with cooking steak (as opposed to cooking chicken, which is pretty hard to cook correctly without a thermometer).  You could eat the inside of a steak raw if you wanted to.  As long as all the outer parts that were exposed to the air are cooked, your steak is perfectly safe.  You can tell how done a steak is by pushing on it with your fingers.  The firmer it is, the more cooked it is.  Unless you have a thermometer, this is something you will learn over time.

-After you take your steak out of the pan, let it rest on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  If you cut into it right away, all the tasty juices will run out and onto your plate.  Resting the steak gives it time for the juices to redistribute throughout, so your steak is nice and juicy.

Seared Steak


your desired cut of steak (ribeye, porterhouse, strip, filet, etc)


Let your steak come to room temperature about 30 minutes before cook time, so it cooks more evenly.

Heat up an uncoated skillet over medium high heat with no oil or anything in it. As it heats, pat your steak dry with paper towel. Season the steak all over with salt and pepper.

Once the pan is sufficiently heated, add the steak to the pan, and don't touch it. Cook the steak for a few minutes on each side, varying by how done you want your steak to be. Let the meat rest for at least 10 minutes after cooking.

31 comments on “How to Properly Sear a Steak

  1. Finally someone explains something in an easy to understand manner. I have cook book on properly cooking different types of meats. None have explained it better then you. Thank you for this, I’m going to have to try this technique.

  2. thanks, well written! I always say that simple is often the best way to cook many foods! the natural flavors is something that a lot of cooks forget to respect “yes even chefs too” I know I make greats sauces but I always make shore it dos not over power the natural flavors that food has to offer. it is meant to complement the dish! thank you for this it is hard to find this kind of information and that is what I am all about.

  3. Bravo Joanne! I love home made steak and honestly, I’ve never had meat done better at a restaurant than how my Dad did it at home.

  4. Joanne,

    You give such wonderful explanations about “why” things are done a certain way. You have a gift and I am happy that you now eat your steak the “proper” way. :)

  5. I just wanted to say that last night I cooked a steak for the very first time following your instructions…. and dined on a perfect medium well steak! You are going in my cookbook and thanks so much –

  6. So how did your husband convince you to come to the rare side? My Fiance is Scottish and straight-up refuses to try a single bite of anything less than medium-well, as he is convinced that it isn’t cooked otherwise. I want to share the goodness of what steak can be, but need help!

    • Hi Piper! I think the first thing that he needs convincing of is that eating a rare steak is completely safe bacteria-wise. I think that’s what freaked me out for the longest time…is it cooked? Is it safe? Because I think when you see a bright pink piece of meat, it can look scary. I think it’s also hard to make the distinction between something like chicken (not okay to eat unless completely cooked) and beef (you ask yourself, why is one okay and not the other). You can pull up some articles online about why eating rare steak is safe. I think then, make baby steps by undercooking the steak little by little from well-done. At first the texture will be very different, but it just takes getting used to. Hopefully those tips help and let me know if you succeed!

      • Piper,
        My wife (girlfriend, at the time) vehemently refused to eat anything other than well done beef, partly due to growing up on a farm. One weekend, I made a beef tenderloin in the oven, but the power went out before it was “done”. I didn’t tell her, but I knew it was rare to medium rare. Without the lights, she ate most of her plate and raved about the flavor. As she was about to eat one of the last bites, the power came on and she looked at the rare, pink meat on her fork. She was aghast, but I instantly reminded her about her comments. Since then, she has been much more adventurous about dining. Best thing that has happened to our dinner table!! Best of wishes.

  7. Hi Joanne! Great article on how to do this! You really put all the steps into simple, non-technical, easy to understand terms.

    I’m always looking for new things to try in the kitchen and I can’t wait to try this out!!

    • Hi Jason, Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I think many people don’t realize how easy it is to do at home as long as you follow some basic guidelines. Good luck, hope it goes well! Happy cooking =)

  8. Ok, Joanne. I found your site looking for a different way to cook steak. I do a pretty good job most of the time but wanted something to wow my family. I usually grill on a gas grill with consistent and better-than-average results. I don’t have a cast iron skillet (for shame, I know) but I do have a cast iron griddle. And I am leery of the smoke from searing the steak indoors. So I put the griddle over three burners on high. I think I put the steak on a little early (not quite hot enough), but the biggest flaw was leaving it on too long. I timed it to 3:30 per side and the results were barely pink inside, quite more done than I’d hoped. Crust was great, smoke free house. Served with a thyme butter mixed with shallot and garlic. Sides were roasted asparagus and baked potatoes. Crusty bread with a glass of merlot. Only thing I’d change was heating the griddle (skillet) longer and cooking less time. Thanks.

    • Hi Michael, yes, I think if you heat it up higher that would help with the sear. Also, what thickness are the steaks you buy? I’ve seen half inch steaks and I’ve also seen some hefty inch and a half steaks. It really makes a big difference in cooking time. Do you have an instant read thermometer? You can get a good one for around $20. Or you can learn by touch but that takes a while to learn (or at least, it did for me).

  9. OMG!!!! I have tried many times to find just the right way to cook, sear, oven a steak and whallla!
    This couldnt have been written more understandable, accurate and enjoyable!
    As far as the turn out??? A five star result! Y U M M Y!!!!
    She really knows her meat:)!

  10. I have tried this article couple of times. The steak turns out marvelous but the house gets horribly smoky. Is there a way to do it without setting the fire alarm off? Or am I doing something wrong?

  11. My husband always cooks the beef – but tonight, I was stuck with seasoned steaks that had to be cooked. Oh, No! I did it your way! The steaks were great, although one could have cooked a bit more. Thanks!

  12. Thanks! Easiest instructions I have ever read and the steak came out beautifully.

  13. Great analysis. One question. The first time I did this, the steak was perfectly cooked. The second time I did this, the immediately filled the kitchen with smoke, was tougher and not as good as first time. Any ideas? Thanks

    • Hi Richard, well, at least you got it right the first time so you know you can do it again! Are you able to provide more information? Unfortunately I don’t know enough from what you’ve said to make a guess.

  14. Actually, according to Nathan Myhrvold and his 3000 page cookbook, flipping meat a lot is key to getting the right temperature throughout without burning the edges.

  15. You emntion in your recipe that a steak should rest for at leat 10 minutes before serving. My problem there is that when I tried that the meat was totally cold when it got to the table and I had some unhappy diners. Hoe can I rest the meat and still serve it hot?

  16. Hi, I came across your website while looking up on how to cook steak! Just a question though, if you don’t put oil, will the steak burn or stick to the pan? 

  17. Jonathan Sher

    Much of your advice  based on assumptions that have been debunked through rigorous testing:

    (1) There is no need to take out steak 30 minutes early.  Test show that taking 1 1/2 inch steaks out of the fridge 2 hours  early only raised the internal temperature by 19 degrees and that diners couldn’t distinguish between those steaks and ones take from the fridge just before cooking.  Taking steaks out 30 minutes would have negligible effect on internal temperature.

    (2) You salt your steaks minutes before grilling — that is not nearly enough time. Thicker cuts should be salted hours before, even the day before, because the salt denudes (breaks down the protein), the steak releases some moisture, creating a paste with the salt that is then re-absorbed by the steak, allowing that flavor to penetrate more deeply and leading to a much better seasoned steak. 

    (3) Steaks should be flipped often, not once. Tests have shown this leads to much better charring and flavor on the outside: With frequent flipping, the steak will stick a bit and tear, creating more surface area for the meat to brown, creating more flavor. Flipping often also creates  much more even cooking on the inside, since the heat penetrates gradually. The steak you show in your photos has a thick ring of grey, overcooked steak beneath the surface. That is not what you want. 

    (4) You would do better to start with a thicker steak of 1 1/5 inches to 2 inches and not a 1 inch cut. If you are cooking inside, you should start the steak in the oven at a low temperature to gradually bring the steak close to the target cooking temperature, then sear the steak at the end in the skillet. The reason this approach is better is two-fold. First, it raises the surface temperature of the steak considerably, and second, it dries that surface — making for a much better sear. To do this on a grill outside, you only heat one half of the grill, start the steak on the cool side, covered, then sear at the end above the heated side.

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