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How to Pan Sear Steak

Epicurious logo Epicurious 9/13/2017 Katherine Sacks
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If you think you need to go to a fancy steakhouse in order to enjoy a good steak dinner, I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. Learn how to pan sear a steak—the simplest steak-cooking technique—and you can have a juicy, delicious steak anytime you want it. We're talking the perfect dinner for date night, New Year's, or a Monday night when you or someone you love needs some TLC.

There are a few keys to nailing the perfect steak: get good-quality steak, have the right pan, use herbs for aromatic flavor. And keep in mind, searing the steak will definitely kick up some smoke. Make sure to turn on the exhaust fan, an overhead fan, or at the very least, a small tabletop fan in the kitchen to help circulate air. After you've done that, simply follow this method, and you'll be cooking the perfect seared steak in no time.

Start With Quality Meat

The first rule of cooking a great steak is starting off with great meat. Get to your local butcher or high quality grocery store and ask for the best quality steak you can afford; look for well-marbled steaks—the extra fat enhances flavor and promotes tenderness.

The pan-sear method will work for either thin or thick steaks. For thick cuts—such as ribeye, strip steak, or T-bone—choose steaks that are 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick for maximum juiciness. If you want to cook a thinner steak, look for flank, hangar or skirt steak. And if you're interested in trying something new (and a little more affordable, wohoo!), try one of these alternative cuts, like a shoulder tender (a great filet mignon sub).

Season the Steaks Fearlessly

Before you get cooking, you've got to dry those steaks off; moisture is the enemy of that perfect glistening brown crust. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels, then season the steaks well with salt and pepper on both sides; use 1/2 tsp. of kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper per pound of meat. If you're cooking thin steaks, you can also add chopped herbs like oregano, thyme, or rosemary—and/or minced garlic—to the steaks now; for larger steaks, leave the aromatics for later. Note: Only season your steaks right before you're about to cook them, since the salt will start drawing out liquid from the steaks if they sit around for more than a few minutes.

Prepare a Nice Big Cast-Iron Pan

To sear the steaks, you're going to want to grab a 12-inch cast-iron pan, or the heaviest 12-inch stainless steel pan you've got. A cast-iron pan holds and retains heat especially well, helping to brown the steak more evenly.

Heat that large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot, then add 1-2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, swirling the skillet to coat the bottom. Then continue to heat the pan just until the oil starts to smoke (this should happen pretty fast).

Sear the Steaks

When the oil is ready, add the steaks to the pan. If you're cooking more than one steak, make sure there are at least a couple of inches between them—you don't want to crowd the pan. If it's a tight fit, use two pans or cook the steaks in batches.

Thin steaks (anything less than 1 1/2 inches thick) will cook very quickly; cook until meat is deeply browned, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare.

For thicker steaks, cook until meat is deeply browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 120° for medium-rare or 130°F for medium, 8-12 minutes total depending on desired doneness, adjusting heat to medium if the steak seems to be browning too quickly and flipping the steak halfway through cooking (more on the last couple minutes of cooking below).

Add Butter and Aromatics if you want to get fancy

To add even more flavor when cooking thicker steaks, add a bit of butter and aromatics (like herbs and/or garlic) to the pan during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Butter adds that rich, delicious finishing flavor, but if you add it too early, it will burn during the high heat of the steak cooking. During the last 2 minutes, toss in 1-2 Tbsp. butter into, along with some aromatics, such as thyme or rosemary branches, bay leaves, smashed garlic cloves, or sliced shallots. After the butter melts, tilt the pan and use a spoon to spoon the flavored butter it over the steak, allowing the flavors to infuse into the meat. Smells amazing, right/

Rest Steaks

When the steak is glistening brown and cooked to your preferred doneness, transfer it to a plate and loosely cover with aluminum foil. Although you will be tempted to eat it immediately (trust me, I know), set the plate aside for 5 minutes for thin steak, 10 minutes for thick. Letting the meat rest produces the juiciest steak, and that is what we are going for, amirit? Use this time to set the table, finish that side salad, pour yourself a glass of wine, whatev.

© Romulo Yanes

Slice and Serve

After the meat has rested, cut it—always against the grain!—into slices and serve (or just serve smaller steaks unsliced for guests to cut up as they please). Now that you've learned the basic version of how to sear the perfect steak, you can make it a slew of different ways: Try it with an herb crust, with homemade steak sauce, or with that dry-aged flavor. And while you're at it, don't forget the sides!

GALLERY: There's More Than One Way to Grill a Steak

Skirt Steak Fajitas with Grilled Cabbage and Scallions: <p>Mad for fajitas? The only way to get that sizzle going is in a cast-iron pan.</p><p><a href="http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/skirt-steak-fajitas-with-grilled-cabbage-and-scallions-51214630?mbid=synd_msnfood">Get this recipe</a></p> There's More Than One Way to Grill a Steak

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