How to cook the perfect steak

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 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. 


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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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!
stevieboy76
7th Feb, 2016
the really important part (aswell as all the other points above) in cooking a good steak is to make sure to take the steak out of the fridge about an hour before cooking as it should be at room temperature before hitting the pan, this was the best advice I was ever given
Jokron
13th Sep, 2015
What temperature for the pan? Temperature and time. Important. Got one of the two
sudiptok
8th Jun, 2015
Nice.I will try it at home.
Matua Mike
25th May, 2015
One word people: anchovies... That's right, anchovies. You don't need much. One small tin will do 3-4 steaks or a large fillet. Get your steak sizzling on the hotplate and then smear the little suckers and their sauce all over it. It turns into an amazing salty crust on the outside of your steak. Not a fan of anchovies? Me neither, but you won't even know they're there. You're welcome.

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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