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How to Properly Sear a Steak

Steve BonoraComment

posted by JOANNE OZUG

You’ll never find me at a steakhouse. Steaks are one of the easiest things to cook yourself, and they are sooooo much more expensive at restaurants.  Steaks don’t need fancy sauces to taste good, and frankly, you don’t want anything to cover up the natural flavors of the meat.  All a steak needs is a good seasoning of salt and pepper, maybe a little butter, and proper technique.  Here’s how to make restaurant quality steaks in your own home:

-30 minutes to an hour before cooking your steak, you want to take it out of the refrigerator.  If your steak starts out at 35 degrees rather than 65, the outside is going to have to be cooked a lot longer for the inside to come to your target temperature.  That means your outside will be overdone and tough.

-A few minutes before cooking the steak, heat up a skillet over medium high heat with no oil or anything in it.  Don’t use nonstick coated cookware.  You want a plain uncoated pan, and ideally one that has good heat retention (heavy bottomed, copper core, cast iron, etc).  Additionally, pick a skillet that is close in size to your steak.  If you use gigantic pan for a small steak, the uncovered areas will soon be covered in burned steak juices.

-While your pan heats up, pat your steak dry with a paper towel.  You are absorbing any extra moisture that might be on the steak.  Excess moisture on the outside is the enemy of a seared, caramelized and browned steak, and excess moisture will steam the steak.

-Next, season the steak with LOTS of salt and pepper.  Don’t be afraid to season it with confidence. For each steak I did 1/2 tsp to 3/4 tsp of salt on each side.  Yes, it looks like a lot.  But the inside is not seasoned, so seasoning the outside is really important.  Make sure you rub the salt and cracked pepper into the meat.

-After a few minutes, your pan should be pretty hot.  Hold your hand above the surface.  Is it radiating heat?  Good.  Now sprinkle a couple drops of water onto the pan.  Do the droplets evaporate instantly?  Good.  Now, hold the end of the steak in the pan to test.  Do you hear crazy sizzling? If so, lay the baby down.

-Cook the steak on each side for 2-4 minutes for a 1 inch thick steak.  It should be searing to a beautiful brown color.  If it looks gray, your pan isn’t hot enough.  Sear all the outer surface area of the steak.

-While the steak is cooking, don’t touch it.  Resist.  Do not flip your steak more than once.  If you are constantly flipping, you aren’t letting the heat penetrate the meat, you are only cooking the surface over and over again (which will mean a tough edge).

-How do you know your steak is done?  Well, if you have an instant read thermometer, it’s pretty easy to know since it tells you (I usually cook mine to 120 degrees F, and it cooks another 5 degrees as it rests).  There’s a lot of leeway with cooking steak (as opposed to cooking chicken, which is pretty hard to cook correctly without a thermometer).  You could eat the inside of a steak raw if you wanted to.  As long as all the outer parts that were exposed to the air are cooked, your steak is perfectly safe.  You can tell how done a steak is by pushing on it with your fingers.  The firmer it is, the more cooked it is.  Unless you have a thermometer, this is something you will learn over time.

-After you take your steak out of the pan, let it rest on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  If you cut into it right away, all the tasty juices will run out and onto your plate.  Resting the steak gives it time for the juices to redistribute throughout, so your steak is nice and juicy.