Pay respect to a quality cut of meat by using our guide to achieving the perfect steak, cooked to your liking. Find advice on cooking times, beef cuts and more.
Whether your preference is a butter-soft fillet steak, tasty sirloin or thriftier cut like bavette, rump 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.
Cooking the perfect steak in seven steps
1. Select your best pan
2. Choose your steak cut
3. Pick your oil
4. Dress your steak (if you like)
5. Cook your steak using our timings
6. Check it's done
7. Leave to rest
Best pan for steak
We 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. If you're in the market for a new piece of kit, read our non-stick frying pan review and griddle pan review.
Cuts of steak
The cut of steak you use is all down to personal preference. Our handy steak infographic shows you what to expect from each cut and gives advice on how best to cook it. Whichever cut you choose, always allow the meat to come up to room temperature to help it cook evenly – never add it to the pan direct from the fridge.
Which oil to use to cook steak
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.
If you oil the pan rather than the steak, don’t be tempted to put your meat in early – if the oil is too cool, your meat could turn out greasy and under-browned. You want your oil to be almost smoking when the steak hits the pan. Always take care when using hot oil.
Steak dressing recipes
Beef 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.
Others like to enhance flavour and tenderise the meat with a marinade. Balsamic 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 to cook 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.
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.
Step up your steak skills by watching our video guide to cooking perfect steak. It includes pointers on rendering fat, plus adding subtle flavours to the pan, like squashed whole garlic cloves and thyme sprigs.
How to check steak is cooked
Use 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. Our picture guide to checking steak is cooked shows you how to use the 'finger test' or a meat thermometer to ensure it's done to your liking.
How to rest a steak
A cooked steak should rest at room temperature for at least five minutes and ideally around half the cooking time – it will stay warm for anything up to 10 minutes. Here, pure science comes into play – the fibres of the meat will reabsorb the free-running juices resulting in a moist and tender finish to your steak.
What to serve with steak
Do you have any foolproof techniques when cooking your steak? You'll find more inspiration in our recipe collection, too.