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Best way to cook steak without butter (Explained)

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The Best Ways To Cook Steak Without Butter

Butter might be a common ingredient when making a steak in a cast iron pan or griddle, but it’s not the only way to transform a delicious piece of beef into an elevated entre. The truth is, steak is very versatile and can be cooked in a variety of ways including on the grill, in a frying pan, or even in the oven. 

When cooking a steak butter is both a lubricant and an ingredient that adds flavor. Though it’s not the only thing that can make a perfect marriage with a great steak. 

Butter has a relatively low smoke point and starts to burn at temperatures over 350 degrees. This can bring a slightly bitter, off-putting flavor to the steak, as most steaks are seared at temperatures that are way over 350 degrees. 

To help you make a great steak while leaving the butter in the refrigerator where it arguably belongs, we’re going to have to take a closer look at things like steak cooking methods, and some other alternative lubricants. 

Canola, vegetable, coconut, and avocado oil all have higher smoke points and won’t burn at the high temperatures used for searing a steak. They are also good lubricants, but coconut and avocado oil can bring their own flavors to the final taste of the meat. 

The cooking method you choose will also influence whether or not you need to use oil. If you are making the steak in a cast iron pan that has a properly maintained seasoning layer or grilling over porcelain-coated cast iron grill grates, you don’t need to use any butter or other alternative oils. 

If you do want to add some rich buttery flavor to your steak, you could use clarified butter or ghee, which has a smoke point over 480 degrees. You could also consider placing a pat of butter on top of the steak in the last 15 seconds to let it melt onto the meat without burning.

Consider The Way You Want To Cook The Steak

Steak is a very versatile cut of meat that can be cooked in a variety of different ways. Each has its own potential advantages and drawbacks that might make it a bad idea to cook with butter. 

Pan Frying a Steak Without Butter

When you cook a steak in a frying pan the direct conduction of the metal contacting the surface of the meat accelerates the Maillard reaction which helps develop a flavorful sear. 

A lot of restaurants and home cooks use butter to cook a steak in a cast iron frying pan because it helps keep the steak from sticking to the bare metal. The frying pan can be turned at a slight angle to even let you baste the steak with any melted butter and juices that run off the side.  

Though the truth is a cast iron frying pan with a properly developed seasoning layer should have sufficient non-stick properties to release the steak with ease when you want to flip it. When you consider that butter can have up to 20% water content, it could even degrade the already flavorful seasoning layer on your cast iron frying pan. 

It’s also a bad idea to cook a steak on any sort of artificial non-stick surface like Teflon. These non-stick compounds start to break down and become mildly toxic at the high temperatures you typically sear a steak on. 

An anodized aluminum frying pan can also be used to cook a steak. The aluminum surface is sealed to ensure that there won’t be any transfer between the pan and the meat while also having semi-nonstick properties. 

Making A Steak in the Oven

You can easily make a steak in the oven by placing it in a cast iron frying pan or perforated griddle. Just be sure to let the cast iron preheat for a good 15 to 20 minutes or more at 400 degrees. 

Once the metal absorbs the heat energy of the oven the steak will sear nicely. You can even use the broiler element of an electric oven to finish the sear on the steak without having to flip it. 

Reverse Searing in the Oven Without Butter

You can also use the oven as part of a reverse searing process. This involves slowly warming the steak in the oven to cook the interior to near the desired level of doneness before searing the exterior for a flavorful crust over a high heat flame or in a frying pan.    

You can use an oven to reverse sear a steak with the following steps.

Step One: Preheat your oven to 250 degrees with a cast iron pan or perforated cast iron griddle inside. 

Step Two: Lightly salt the steak, rewrap it, and leave it on the counter. 

Step Three: Allow 20 to 25 minutes for the oven and the cast iron to fully preheat. 

Step Four: Lightly pat the steak dry with a paper towel, and season again with salt, pepper, and a high-heat neutral-flavored cooking oil like canola, safflower, or sunflower oil.

Step Five: Place the steak in the oven and insert a remote probe thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. 

Step Six: Fire up your grill to 450+ degrees to get it properly preheated for the final high-heat sear. 

Step Seven: Let the steak cook for 15 to 25 minutes until it gets to 10 degrees of your preferred level of doneness. For a finish temperature of 135-degree medium rare, this would mean pulling the steak when the probe thermometer reads 120 to 125 degrees. 

Step Eight: Pull the steak from the oven and sear it on the grill for 2 minutes per side. This should create a deeply flavorful exterior crust while bringing the steak up to the final temperature of 130 to 135 degrees. 

Step Nine: Immediately remove the steak from the grill and tent it inside a pouch made from heavy-duty aluminum foil. Let it rest for 3 to 5 minutes before plating. 

Making A Steak Without Butter on the Grill

The grill is the most common place where home cooks make a steak without butter. Though the type of grill grates you have will strongly influence whether or not you need to apply some type of oil or another butter alternative, to prevent the meat from sticking. 

Porcelain-Coated Cast Iron grill grates already have inherent non-stick properties and as long as they are clean and properly maintained, you don’t need any sort of butter or oil to keep the steak from sticking. If you’ve had problems with sticky grates in the past, try to use a neutral-flavored cooking oil with a high smoke point like canola. 

Stainless Steel grill grates are also relatively non-stick, so long as they’ve been properly maintained. Though heavy scraping with steel wool can scuff the surface making them sticky. Here again, a light glaze of canola oil will help the steak release.  

Aluminum grill grates are very sticky and will need a serious glaze of oil to keep the steak from adhering to the grates. 

Chrome-Plated grill grates are relatively non-stick early on but are easy to scuff, which makes them very sticky. You’ll need to make sure older grates are thoroughly clean and then apply a fair amount of canola or similar oil to keep the steak from sticking. 

Consider How You’re Looking to Cook the Steak

When you’re looking to cook a steak with high heat, such as searing in a pan or on the grill, butter might tempt you with its flavor, but it’s not the ideal lubricant to keep the meat from sticking. Butter tends to burn at temperatures of about 350 degrees, which imparts a bitter flavor to the surface of the meat. 

Instead, you should consider different types of oils, which have a higher smoke point. Not only does this help keep the steak from sticking to the cooking surface, but it might also bring some other flavors to the experience. 

Oil Spray Alternative to Cooking Steak Without Butter

Cooking sprays like Pam often have a smoke point of 400 degrees or higher, which can help lubricate the grill grates or a frying pan moments before you place the steak. Though cooking spray will do very little to improve the flavor. 

Cooking a Steak with Coconut Oil Instead of Butter

Coconut oil has a high smoke point, which makes it great for helping steak release from grill grates or a frying pan. It could impart a mild coconut flavor to the meat, which makes it a better alternative for things like Polynesian flank steak, over classic steak and mashed potatoes. 

Cooking a Steak with Avocado Oil Instead of Butter

Avocado oil also has a high smoke point and a relatively neutral flavor which help release steak easily from a metal cooking surface. Here again, there might be some residual avocado flavor, which makes it better for things like grilled steak fajitas, rather than steak & frites. 

Cooking a Canola or Vegetable Oil Instead of Butter

Canola and vegetable oil have smoke points of 400 degrees or more, which makes them a good alternative to butter for cooking a steak. They are great lubricants and won’t affect the flavor of the meat whether you cook it in a pan or on the grill. 

Cooking a Steak with Ghee

Ghee is a Middle Eastern term for clarified butter that has been slowly melted, simmered, and strained to remove all water. This gives it a much higher smoke point up to 482 degrees, which makes it a sound alternative to cooking a steak with butter. 

Is Olive Oil Bad for Cooking A Steak?

Like butter, olive oil has a low smoke point, which means it can burn at the high temperatures used for searing a steak. While it might show up in cooking shows, it will ultimately affect the flavor of a steak that’s grilled over direct flame or cooked in a frying pan. 

Should You Try to Cook Steak Without Butter?

Butter is actually a bad idea when it comes to searing a steak or keeping it from sticking to a metal grilling surface. Its low smoke point means that it burns at steak-searing temperatures.

If you want to borrow some of the butter’s flavor to add to the taste of your steak, try to add a pat of butter to the top of the steak 15 to 30 seconds before you remove it from the heat. The butter will just barely melt to coat the meat for flavor, without having an impact on the cooking process. 

Who Should Consider Cooking Steak Without Butter?

If you are searing a high-end steak like Kobe, Wagyu, or some other premium cut of beef, you want to stay away from using butter during the cooking process. The butter will burn at high heat temperatures which will affect the rich beef flavor with bitter notes. 

Though butter might be a good idea if you are making sous vide steak, as the temperature in the immersion circulator won’t get over 350 degrees. With this method, the butter will melt and saturate the meat with rich flavors without ever burning the butter. 

Final Thoughts

When you take a closer look at the food science behind it, cooking a steak without butter makes a lot of sense. Butter has a smoke point of around 350 degrees, which means it burns at the kind of high temperatures used for grilling a steak. 

If you’re looking for an alternative to butter, I recommend canola or vegetable oil. Both have neutral flavors that won’t affect the taste of the meat, and high smoke points to reduce the risk of burning. 

If you’ve been diligent about maintaining the seasoning layer on a cast iron pan or your porcelain-coated grill grates are meticulously clean, you shouldn’t need any sort of butter, oil, or other lubrication to keep the steak from sticking to the metal cooking surface. 

Cooking with butter is an especially bad idea if you’re working with a high-end steak like Kobe, Wagyu, or dry-aged beef, as it can alter the flavor of the meat. If you’re going to invest in a premium steak and you need some type of lubrication, you want to use a neutral cooking oil that lets the natural, rich beef flavor shine through. 

If you’re a diehard fan of butter, then I would recommend using clarified butter. It takes some time to simmer and prepare, but it has a smoke point of over 480 degrees. As a backup plan, you could simply melt a pat of butter on the top of the steak at the last second before taking it off the heat.