You’ve got an excellent steak cut, seasoned it well, and you know you’re going to cook it right. But then, disaster strikes: It burns on the outside before being cooked through the whole piece.
We’ve all been there — especially on those nights when we’re hungry and want to put something in our mouths already. It’s frustrating and can be a real bummer.
So how do you get that perfect sear without burning it?
Here are some tips for cooking steak without burning it:
- Get the right cut. The first step is to select the proper cut of meat. USDA inspectors grade steak in four grades: prime, choice, select, and standard. Prime has the best grade and the most marbling (fat), while the lower grades have less marbling and can be tougher. If you are buying a steak from a butcher who cuts it for you, ask for prime or choice cuts that have marbling throughout the meat. If you buy a packaged steak from the supermarket, look for packages labeled with words like “prime,” “choice,” or “select.”
- Marinate your steak first. This helps keep the meat moist while it cooks and adds flavor (and prevents bacteria from forming). I like to use Worcestershire sauce in my marinades because it has that great umami flavor that works well with meat dishes like steak. If you don’t have any Worcestershire sauce on hand, try using soy sauce instead — it won’t give quite as much umami flavor but will still help keep your meat moist and flavorful!)
- Use a cast-iron skillet or grill pan. These pans are great for searing because they retain heat well and help distribute it evenly across the bottom. They also have sloping sides that allow fat to drip off into your pan below (so no flare-ups).
- Don’t crowd your pan. If you have too many steaks in one pan or on one side of the grill, they’ll steam instead of sear, which means they’ll be less flavorful and less juicy than if they’d gotten appropriately browned first. Try not to go over four steaks per side at most in your pan or grill; two is ideal if possible.
- Use an instant-read thermometer. The best way to cook steak without burning it is to use an instant-read thermometer. This tool will allow you to monitor the internal temperature of your meat as it cooks, allowing you to adjust its cooking time accordingly. If you want your steak medium-rare, cook it for about three minutes per side (plus another two minutes if you choose to rest it after grilling).
- Don’t use too much oil. Too much oil can cause flare-ups. When cooking with olive oil or high-heat oil like avocado, start with just a few drops and add more as needed. And make your steak burnt on the outside before it’s cooked on the inside.
- Cook quickly. Cook the steaks over high heat for just a few minutes per side for medium rare (4-5 minutes for each side for a 1-inch thick steak). For well-done steaks, cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes per side or until the desired doneness is reached (about 12 minutes per side for 1-inch thick steaks). Remember that thickness matters when cooking steaks—the thicker the steak is, the longer it will take to cook through!
- Cook your steak sous vide. That is, vacuum-seal it in plastic before cooking it at low temperature for longer than usual cooking times (usually about an hour). This method also allows you to cook your steak rarer than you might otherwise do when pan-frying or grilling because the meat doesn’t come into contact with high heat until it’s fully cooked.
Recipes aside, the best way to cook a steak without burning it is to practice and understand what’s happening as you cook. If you build up your knowledge, you’ll be able to avoid flare-ups and browning while still cooking your steak perfectly.
That’s the end of our list. We hope that it has helped you find a way to cook your steak correctly without burning it and saved you from some of the most common mistakes that amateur chefs make regularly.