Photo: Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Tina Bell Stamos; Prop Styling: Christine Keely

Don’t skip this crucial step.

Cooking a steak can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. In total, the entire cook time should be less than 15 minutes, but like a quick race, nailing the first few steps is crucial to the overall result. 

The key to success in cooking a juicy steak with a nice crust is quick, even cooking—but that’s easier said than done. Even cooking requires careful attention to the turning of the meat in the cooking process. However, skipping one step can be the Achilles heel for a brave cook attempting to cook a steak evenly at home.

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The first thing you must do when cooking a steak is remove the meat from the refrigerator one hour before cooking. This allows it to fully come to room temperature. While it might seem insignificant, the temperature of the meat before it hits the surface of the pan is critical to ensuring that the steak cooks evenly. A steak needs to come in contact with a very hot surface (preferably a cast-iron skillet) the moment it starts cooking, creating a nice caramelized crust on the exterior. If the meat is cold, it drastically cuts the temperature of the pan on contact and slows the cooking of the outside of the steak. Additionally, the inside of a cold steak has further to rise in temperature than a steak that is at room temperature. This leads to uneven heat distribution across the inside of the meat and a prolonged cooking process, making for a drier piece of meat.

If you are able to plan enough in advance, coat the steak with a hefty sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper the night before, and allow it to sit uncovered in the refrigerator until the next day. This seasons the meat throughout, and it helps the meat retain its moisture during the cooking process.