How to cook the perfect steak

  • By
    Natalie Hardwick - Writer - bbcgoodfood.com

Pay respect to a quality cut of meat by using our guide to achieving the perfect steak, cooked to your liking.

Rare steak and chips

Whether your preference is a butter-soft fillet steak, tasty sirloin or thrifty cut like bavette or skirt, care and attention should be paid when cooking your beef. With only a few minutes leeway between rare and well-done, timing is key. We've put together some tips to help you from start to finish. 

Select your best frying pan

Bavette steakWe recommend frying your steak, although you can grill it if you prefer. A heavy-duty, thick-based frying pan, ideally with a non-stick coating, will achieve good results, as will a heavy griddle pan or skillet. These types of pans get really hot – ideal for getting that slightly sweet, charred finish to the outside of your meat.

If the pan isn’t big enough for all your steaks, don’t be tempted to squeeze them in anyway. Cook them one or two at a time then leave them to rest as you cook the remainder of your batch.


Pick an oil

Gordon Ramsay suggests using groundnut oil for cooking steaks – it has a mild flavour and can withstand very high temperatures without burning. Never use butter, unless you want to add a knob at the very end for a creamy finish.

The jury’s out when it comes to how you apply the oil. Some chefs like to oil the steak then add it to a hot dry pan, while others add a splash of oil directly to the pan. Once the oil starts separating, it’s hot enough to add the steak. Whichever method you use, the important thing is to get an even spread of oil.

Don’t be tempted to put your steak in early – if the oil is too cool, your meat could turn out greasy and under-browned.


Dressing your steak

Coriander steaksBeef purists may prefer to take in the unadulterated rich flavour of a quality steak by adding nothing other than a few twists of salt and pepper. However, don’t season too early – salt will draw moisture from the meat. Gordon Ramsay suggests sprinkling black pepper and sea salt onto a plate, then pressing the meat into the seasoning moments before placing it into the pan.

You could try dry-spicing your steak with coriander seeds, or go really heavy on the cracked black pepper by adding half a teaspoon per steak.

Others like to enhance flavour and tenderise the meat with a marinadeBalsamic vinegar will reduce down to a sweet glaze, as will a coating of honey & mustard. You can add an Asian dimension to your beef with a miso or teriyaki marinade.


How do you like it?

Steak and chipsOur cookery team have outlined what you can expect from each category of steak.

  • Blue: Should still be a dark colour, almost purple, and just warm.  It will feel spongy with no resistance. 
  • Rare: Dark red in colour with some juice flowing.  It will feel soft and spongy with slight resistance. 
  • Medium-rare: A more pink colour with a little pink juice flowing.  It will be a bit soft and spongy and slightly springy. 
  • Medium: Pale pink in the middle with hardly any juice flowing. It will feel firm and springy. 
  • Well-done: Only a trace of pink colour but not dry.  It will feel spongy and soft and slightly springy. 

Get cooking

It’s very important to consider the size and weight of your steak before calculating the cooking time. If you’re unsure, take advantage of the expert eye of your butcher who should be able to tell you how long you need to cook your meat.

We recommend the following cooking times for a 3.5cm thick fillet steak:

  • Blue: About 1½ mins each side
  • Rare: About 2¼ mins each side
  • Medium-rare: About 3¼ mins each side
  • Medium: About 4½ mins each side

We also recommend the following for a 2cm thick sirloin steak:

  • Blue: About 1 min each side
  • Rare: About 1½ mins per side
  • Medium rare: About 2 mins per side
  • Medium: About 2¼ mins per side

For a well-done steak, cook for about 4-5 minutes each side, depending on thickness.


Check your steak is cooked correctly

Grilled steakUse your fingers to prod the cooked steak – when rare it will feel soft, medium-rare will be lightly bouncy, and well-done will be much firmer.


Leave it to rest

A cooked steak should rest at room temperature for at least five minutes – it will stay warm for anything up to 10 minutes. Here, pure chemistry comes into play – the fibres of the meat will reabsorb the free-running juices resulting in a moist and tender finish to your steak. 


Serve up

You're sure to find an accompaniment for you in our guide to steak side dishes

Do you have any foolproof techniques when cooking your steak? You'll find more inspiration in our recipe collection, too. 

Comments, questions and tips

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MFX's picture

A couple of things :-

"However, don’t season too early – salt will draw moisture from the meat. Gordon Ramsay suggests sprinkling black pepper and sea salt onto a plate, then pressing the meat into the seasoning moments before placing it into the pan."

If you salt the steak around 40 minutes before cooking the salt will break down proteins and tenderise the meat, initially it will draw out moisture but then that salt water will gradually seep back into the meat tenderising the inside, by adding pepper just before cooking you risk burning the pepper, personally I'd add pepper and other seasoning near the end of cooking. So depending on preferences EITHER salt at least 40 minutes before cooking or right before cooking but NOT in between. Believe it or not tests have been done :-

"Immediately after salting the salt rests on the surface of the meat, undissolved. All the steak's juices are still inside the muscle fibers. Searing at this stage results in a clean, hard sear.

Within 3 or 4 minutes the salt, through the process of osmosis, will begin to draw out liquid from the beef. This liquid beads up on the surface of the meat. Try to sear at this point and you waste valuable heat energy simply evaporating this large amount of pooled liquid. Your pan temperature drops, your sear is not as hard, and crust development and flavor-building Maillard browning reactions are inhibited.

Starting at around 10 to 15 minutes, the brine formed by the salt dissolving in the meat's juices will begin to break down the muscle structure of the beef, causing it to become much more absorptive. The brine begins to slowly work its way back into the meat.

By the end of 40 minutes, most of the liquid has been reabsorbed into the meat. A small degree of evaporation has also occurred, causing the meat to be ever so slightly more concentrated in flavor."

If you plan enough in advance then salt the steak on both sides and leave in the fridge overnight,

"Here, pure chemistry comes into play"

More physics than chemistry, when cooking the muscle fibers contract forcing the juices out of the meat, when it rests the fibers relax "sucking" the juices back in.

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