How to cook the perfect steak

Pay respect to quality cuts of meat by using our guide to achieving the perfect steak, cooked to your liking. Find advice on cooking times, beef cuts and more.

Rare steak served with chips

Whether your preference is a butter-soft fillet steak, flavour-packed sirloin or thriftier cut like bavetterump or onglet, quick-cooking and constant 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. 

Choose your steak

The cut of steak you use is down to personal preference and budget. Different cuts will deliver different levels of tenderness and flavour. Our handy steak infographic shows you what to expect from each cut and gives advice on how best to cook it.

Sirloin: Considered to be a prime steak, like fillet, but has more flavour. Best served medium-rare.

T-bone: To make sure everything cooks evenly, it's best finished in the oven. Great for sharing.

Bavette: Cheap cut that is best served no more than medium and is great for barbecuing. 

Fillet: Prized as the most tender cut and the most expensive. It has little fat, and is best served as rare as you like. 

Rib-eye: There are two cuts to note: rib-eye, boneless and usually serves one, and rib on the bone, also known as côte de boeuf. 

See our classic recipes for sirloin, rib-eye and fillet steak or check out our full steak recipe collection.  

Best pan for steak

Bavette steak in a griddle pan with herbs
For indoor cooking we recommend frying your steak, although you can grill it if you prefer. A heavy-duty, thick-based frying pan will achieve the best results, as will a heavy griddle pan or skillet. These types of pans get really hot and retain their heat – ideal for getting that charred smoky finish to the outside of your meat.

Steaks need to be cooked in a roomy pan and 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 or cook a much thicker steak and carve it and divide the slices to serve. If you're in the market for a new piece of kit, read our non-stick frying pan review and griddle pan review.

Seasoning steak

Marinated Brazilian steak served sliced on a platter
Beef purists may prefer to take in the unadulterated rich flavour of a quality steak by adding nothing other than a sprinkling of salt and a generous twist of pepper. Contrary to popular belief, seasoning your steak with salt ahead of time doesn't draw out the moisture but actually gives the steak time to absorb the salt and become more evenly seasoned throughout. Feel free to salt your steak for 2 hrs before for every 1cm of thickness. For a classic steak au poivre (peppered steak), sprinkle lots of cracked black pepper and sea salt on to a plate, then press the meat into the seasoning moments before placing it into the pan.

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.

Lots of chefs add whole garlic cloves and robust herbs like thyme and rosemary to the hot fat while the steak is cooking, which subtly adds background flavour to the steak without overpowering it. 

Best cooking fat 

Flavourless oils like sunflower, vegetable or groundnut work best, and once the steak is searing you can add butter to the pan for flavour. A nice touch if you’re cooking a thick sirloin steak with a strip of fat on the side is to sear the fat first by holding the steak with a pair of tongs, then cooking the beef in the rendered beef fat. You’ll need to use your judgement when you heat the pan – you want the oil to split in the pan but not smoke. 

How to sear

Searing a steak until it gets a caramelised brown crust will give it lots of flavour. For this to happen, the pan and the fat need to be hot enough. The conventional way is to sear it on one side, then cook it for the same amount on the other side. This gives good results but the second side is never as nicely caramelised as the first. To build up an even crust on both sides, cook the steak for the total time stated in the recipe, but turn the steak every minute. 

How long to cook steak

Seared sirloin
Our 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 red juice flowing. It will feel soft and spongy with slight resistance. 
  • Medium-rare: Pink in colour with some juice. It will be a bit soft and spongy and slightly springy. 
  • Medium: Pale pink in the middle with hardly any juice. 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: 1½ mins each side
  • Rare: 2¼ mins each side
  • Medium-rare: 3¼ mins each side
  • Medium: 4½ mins each side

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

  • Blue: 1 min each side
  • Rare: 1½ mins per side
  • Medium rare: 2 mins per side
  • Medium: About 2¼ mins per side
  • Well-done steak: Cook for about 4-5 mins each side, depending on thickness.

Watch our video guide on how to cook the perfect steak:

 

How to cook steak

  1. Season the steak with salt up to 2 hrs before, then with pepper just before cooking. 
  2. Heat a heavy-based frying pan until very hot but not smoking. 
  3. Drizzle some oil into the pan and leave for a moment.
  4. Add the steak, a knob of butter, some garlic and robust herbs, if you want. 
  5. Sear evenly on each side for our recommended time, turning every minute for the best caramelised crust.
  6. Leave to rest on a board or warm plate for about 5 mins. 
  7. Serve the steak whole or carved into slices with the resting juices poured over. 

How to check steak is cooked

T-bone steak served whole on a plate with onion rings and side salad

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 inserted into the centre to ensure it's done to your liking.

Blue: 54C

Rare: 57C

Medium rare: 63C

Medium: 71C

Well done: 75C

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 steak. Any resting juices should be poured over the steak before serving. 

What to serve with steak 

You're sure to find an accompaniment in our guide to steak side dishes. Plus, we have 10 steak sauces you can make in minutes, from cheat's peppercorn to spicy chimichurri.

Steak jargon buster

You'll see these terms in supermarkets, at the butcher's or on restaurant menus – here's what they mean.

Grass-fed beef: Grass-fed cattle get to walk around and graze on pasture, which means the meat is leaner with a richer, gamier flavour that tastes of the environment it was reared in. This is why Scottish grass-fed beef will taste different to Irish. 

Marbling: Marbling is the fat found interlacing the inside of a cut of meat. As the meat cooks, the ‘marbled fat’ melts – without this, the meat would be dry and flavourless. Meat with a lot of marbling mostly comes from the back of the animal where the muscles get little exercise. 

Wagyu: Wagyu is a generic name for four breeds of Japanese cattle. They are fed foraged grass and rice straw, then supplemented with corn, barley, soya bean, wheat bran and, in some cases, even beer or sake. Wagyu cattle produce meat with heavy marbling but this comes at a hefty price. 

Ageing: The ageing process improves the taste and tenderness of meat. There are two methods: dry ageing, which is the traditional process where carcasses are hung in a cool place for 30-60 days to intensify the flavour and cause the meat to shrink, while wet ageing is when the meat is butchered and vacuum-packed, which stops the meat from shrinking. 

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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Collette Marie's picture
Collette Marie
27th Feb, 2018
Do not ignore seasoning before you cook...it will draw out moisture and make it dry. Think of putting salt on a slug....it wont last. Sorry to be grim. Let it rest to room temp...i find it goes a lovely deep red then i know it is time. Put two heaped teaspoons of coconut oil, ground nut oil or avacado oil in pan heat on a high. The add yoyr salt and ground black pepper that way if is sparks you know it is hot enough for your steak. Cook...on one side only for 5 mins then turn. Depending on how well you want your steak the second turning should be... 2 mins rare 3 mins medium rare 4 mins medium 5 mins meduim well I will not go furthur on that as i hate well done but please do as will and consider the cut, thickness and quality of beef. Be thankful and enjoy cooking this wonderful meal.
Jazz Monroe
22nd Feb, 2018
Ignore the myth about early-seasoning steaks! A good restaurant will generously season steaks (and most meats) the night before. Rather than drying it out, as you might expect, this breaks down the proteins, allowing otherwise trapped moisture to be released during cooking. Try it once and you’ll never go back!
mattweberbbq
15th Feb, 2018
What about reverse searing? Easily the best method for the ticket cuts and the perfect method to use when cooking for a party etc.
simonnd
27th Nov, 2017
The pan Chelsea, the pan!!
ViviP
20th Feb, 2017
Dear Good Food Team, All I can say is AWESOME! Just followed your advice for sirloin medium rare. Went au natural pressing the steak onto a plate with salt and pepper just before whipping it into a pan lightly coated with very hot macadamia nut oil. 2 mins 15 a side and then let it rest for a couple of minutes, although I should have left sit for a couple of more. Succulent and juicy with delicious outside (love the nut oil tip). Accompanied with oven roasted garlic and broccoli. Thanks for the great cooking advice.
AbriiD
8th Jan, 2017
"Pay respect to a quality cut of meat by" then disrespect it by having cheap chips with it! Why not try an easy baked potato? I do a Brilliant overstuffed potato when I have them with a good steak.
saluqi's picture
saluqi
25th Jul, 2016
I found a lot of interesting ideas in the Comments - but unfortunately also a lot of bad manners. Tut, tut! Good food is not (I hope) like contemporary American politics! I'll agree it's an art form to cook a "well done" steak without turning it into shoe leather. There's a fine line there (and one person's "well done" might be another's "medium rare"). But there's also nothing wrong with rare steak. After all, "steak tartare" can also be excellent fare (even when not well pounded under the saddle of a Mongol warrior, from which habit it probably took its name). I don't think there's one magic formula for all cuts of beef. "Pre-salting" as mentioned in one comment is a form of "brining" - you can find lots of discussion of that. Again, not all cuts are alike. Tonight I'm dealing with a U.S. Prime top sirloin - yes, I reside in the U.S., though in the past I've lived all over Europe (including Britain, most of my ancestors came from Scotland and Wales), all over West Africa, in Lebanon, in Saudi Arabia, in Australia - well, you get the idea. Young camel is delicious, old camel, well, you do what you have to, crossing the Sahara in midsummer . Heavy cast iron skillet (I love them, though at rising 85 I'm starting to find the weight a problem for arthritic wrists). To date I've done quite a few "blackened" steaks with various spice concoctions, some from Louisiana and some invented by me; and some with the traditional French shallots/wine reduction. Always never more than "rare" (in a restaurant in France I order "bleu" but that makes certain assumptions about the kitchen). I haven't been there in a while but used to follow "Les Relais des Routiers" which means "follow the truck drivers, they know where to find good food at reasonable prices" . They have the local intelligence, which owner had a fight with his wife last week - essential for the pursuit of serious food unless you want to pay a fortune for Michelin stars now so seriously overrated that some of the best don't use them any more. So, what am I going to do with this steak? First, let it warm up to room temperature. Then, make sure the surface is dry (maybe even set it in a slightly warm oven for a few minutes). Then, hm, this time I'm not going to cover it with either half-crushed peppercorns or a Cajun spice mix. Salt (well, sea salt, as befits a not quite retired professor of oceanography ) and pepper (freshly ground Tellicherry peppercorns). Maybe a light dusting of powdered mustard, maybe finely chopped garlic (haven't decided yet). Cast iron pan, smoking hot, sear both sides and the edges and total maybe two and a half or three minutes a side - the steak is top sirloin and over an inch thick. Out of the pan, covered, and while it is resting I'll see what I can concoct in the pan. Shallots, red wine, and maybe flambée it with a bit of aged Tequila. Sides, don't know if I have a leek in the fridge (respect for my Welsh ancestors ), braised red onions, the rest I don't know yet. Not set up for deep frying, so no chips (British version, I'm happy with that, harder than it used to be to find a really good pub but I love it). OK, I'm American, lived all over the place, in Britain for various mostly substantial lengths of time in London, Cambridge, Oxford, Bishop's Stortford, Brecon (in Wales, land of some of my ancestors). Oh yes, a village in Wiltshire whose name I can't remember at the moment, while helping with a BBC special on dogs. OK, I am a person (to quote one of the other comments) and make no special claims to expertise in this field (I do have some serious expertise in other areas, but that's neither here nor there). If you don't like what I wrote, or want to amend/correct it, be my guest(s) - but there's no need for acrimony. I'm here to learn.
wannabe_Ken_M
2nd Jun, 2016
I tend to deep-fry my steak as it "locks-in" the flavour. It also adds real genuine flavour to the chips.
z-list
15th May, 2016
Jbjb, you paint quite a hideous picture of your true nature to look down your nose on others you know nothing of, while clearly rating your own 'learned' skills as a genuine superiority over others, whilst forgetting you learned those skills as can any other human. You were not born with that knowledge, you learned, yet you fail to see. Thank-you for your need to comment without sharing anything but your own I'll will. Hopefully one day you realise you are simply a person, a person who learned as anyone else can learn.
willsy426
2nd Apr, 2016
Any recipe for cooking a steak that says the preferred method is a pan and not a grill should be disregarded because they don't know what they are talking about. Its like comparing baked chicken to fried chicken, baked chicken might be better 4 u but flavor wise no comparison. Ridiculous!

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Chris davis 42
10th Mar, 2016
Crush a knorr beef cube in a little olive oil then rub this all over ur steak, i like a real beefy marinade , make sure ur steak as rested at room temp before cooking , and then leave to rest after cooking covered loosely with a bit of foil all the juice can then be poured over ur mash and brocoli mmmmmmmnom nom nom