5 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes Pan Searing a Steak

You don’t have to be a trained chef to pan-sear a fabulous steak.

Photo: jpoole / Getty Images

Cooking a restaurant-worthy steak on the stovetop does not need to be a daunting task. Avoid these mistakes, and you can pan-sear a gloriously juicy steak dinner in the middle of the week.

You Don't Choose the Right Cut for the Job

When it comes to steaks, a T-bone may be the universal favorite cut of beef, and these are ideal when grilling outside. The best steaks for pan-searing on the stovetop, however, are boneless steaks that are between one and 1 1/2 inches thick. Look for a steak with a good bit of marbling or fat. Along with imparting good flavor, fat helps the steak to remain juicy during the cooking process. Pan searing is also a great method to use on thinner steaks, such as flank or flat-iron, but keep in mind the entire cooking process happens much faster.

You Neglect to Prep

It only takes three easy steps to prep a steak. Set it out, dry it, and salt it. Depending on how long you let the steak sit, prepping might take longer than the cooking time. You can still have a hot and juicy steak dinner ready anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes.

Take your steak from the refrigerator anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour before cook time. Some cooks cut this time down to 10-15 minutes before cook time. Place it on a roasting rack or a paper towel-lined plate and pat dry with more paper towels. Season both sides of the meat with a good dosing of medium grain kosher or sea salt. After adding what you believe is enough salt, go ahead and salt a little more, as many salt grains will fall off the pan during cooking. Save the pepper or steak seasoning until you take the steak off the heat because the extremely hot pan will burn these spices before they can flavor the steak.

Some cooks will salt the steak and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Use this time to prepare a side dish or toss a salad to accompany the steak at mealtime.

Cast-Iron Cowboy Steak
Hector Sanchez

You Pick the Wrong Skillet

It would be best if you cooked your steak in a really hot skillet, so reach for one that can withstand high temperatures, such as a heavy-weight non-stick or the much-loved classic cast iron skillet. Heat it over high heat for about ten minutes or until the skillet smokes. The intense heat is key to creating a nice crust on your steak.

You Forget to Flip and Flavor

Place the steak in the hot skillet and cook on the first side until enough of a crust has formed that the steak no longer sticks to the pan, about one minute. Flip and cook on the other side for one minute or until that side does not stick. Some steak enthusiasts will tell you to flip only once. Others advise flipping two or three times, cooking on each side for one minute before flipping. Choose your method, but after about four minutes, add some butter (onions, herbs, garlic, etc. can go in now) to the pan. As it melts, tilt the pan so the butter pools on one side, and use a spoon to scoop the butter and drizzle it over the steak. You can continue flipping and basting, checking internal temp after five to six minutes—cook to your desired degree.

You Rush the Finish

Once your steak has reached your preferred temperature, transfer it to a platter and season with more kosher or sea salt, pepper, and steak seasonings. Let it rest for five minutes (if you can't resist, it is ok to cut into it at this point), slice against the grain, and serve.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles