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 cast iron 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 reviews of the best cast iron skilletsnon-stick frying pans and griddle pans.

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.

Fillet steak cooking times

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

Sirloin steak cooking times

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.

How to cook perfect 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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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.
jbjb
31st Jan, 2015
Yes. All these amateur chefs warn against making a well done steak, and instead advocate for the politically correct alternative of an undercooked,or even uncooked steak. This is because these unskilled amateurs, lack the skill and knowledge to properly cook an 'well done' tender and succulent steak. I mean, anyone at a low skill level, can half-cook a steak and serve it bloody and tepid (and sometimes leather-tough lump of meat) to his ignorant and un-cultured but media/ PC ga-ga'd consumer. But woe betide him, if he should come across the confident and knowledgeable epiqureian, who demands a well-cooked but tender steak. The fake cheffe will be flummoxed and resort to the satanic microwave!!.
saluqi's picture
saluqi
25th Jul, 2016
A well-done, tender steak is an artwork. No argument there. I thought, however, we were talking about steaks, not Texas barbecue. There's a difference . If you want meat cooked all the way through, but melting in your mouth, there's nothing to beat SLOW cooking. Pulled pork, and all that. Driving through the countryside in Greece, you find eating places beside the road, with a whole ox, a whole sheep (or several) and a whole pig roasting on giant spits over a pit of coals. You pay for a drink, go in, and eat whatever you want to carve off the spits. Like the "carveries" of which a few still existed in London last time I was there (alas, long ago). There are a LOT of worse ways to eat meat . That does not, however, have much to do with "steak culture" . Two different worlds. Having lived with nomads in Africa and Arabia, and eaten freshly caught dinner off the spit, I am NOT prepared to call steaks an improvement. But hey, now I live in California, and steaks are not so bad after all . Microwave for cooking? Not in my house. Useful for reheating, sometimes.
rcasha
7th Jan, 2016
Well said. It's also a matter of time. If a steak is meant to be "medium" and you overcook it a little it will be "medium-well", but if it's well done and you overcook it, it can be ruined - so unless the chef is willing to dedicate the time and attention to remove the steak once it's done, it can be safer for the customer to order a medium steak.
Red12
10th May, 2015
Ok, so please share your knowledge of how to achieve a well done, but tender steak. I've been vegetarian for 30 years so have no experience of how to do this. I'm interested in how learning how to...

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