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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shuttleworth
11th Feb, 2015
How sad, intolerant and offensive you are!
jbjb
31st Jan, 2015
You clearly do not know what you are writing about. Suggest you go back to brick-laying or cross stitchery, or whatever you do best, and leave the subject of cookery to those who know about it.
sunjo
31st Oct, 2017
such blabber is not needed. you come to this page to read an 'opinion of a perfect steak. if you disagree, well then go somewhere else and find a page that caters your way of steak. I grew up loving steak and its many tastes. I like steak in the more uncooked category due to my instinctive love, but if you like only more well done tender steaks then I understand. if you say that well done is the true way of cooking steak then I will acknowledge your opinion. but if you say that someone who decides rare over well done is a fool then you are no more than a ignorant person.
z-list
15th May, 2016
I suggest you go back to being a cook, its not that hard after all. You just learn and practice, like those other skills you look down, you only see fit to criticise because you have no knowledge or true understanding of things you know very little of. I retired from restaurants due to television bringing in an influx of dreamers with misplaced egos, and you sound just like the worst of them. It's just a job, you practice, you learn, you get better. You are only human, so share your limited knowledge, there are many who know a great feel more than you.
foresterf
13th Nov, 2014
Don't ruin a good cut of meat by doing it well-done. Should be no more than medium. If you must have meat well-done, save money and buy a burger
vivvie
5th Jan, 2015
Not true. Making a delicious well done steak is a science and an art. A person that cannot make a steak well done without over drying it, just isn't as skilled as someone who can. It's really that simple. I love a juicy mouthwatering flavorful well done steak. I would agree most people ruin it but it is not the steak's fault. The few chefs who master this are not only skilled and like a challenge, but they are also interested in pleasing all palates, not just their own.
saluqi's picture
saluqi
25th Jul, 2016
I have to agree. Well-done meat, especially on hot fires, is an art form. There is of course another way, which is slow cooking, but that's a different world. I happen to love a juicy, mouthwatering flavorful RARE steak. Doesn't mean I disagree with the above. Does mean I disagree with the average version of "well done", which means all the life cooked out of the meat.
MFX
15th Mar, 2014
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.
saluqi's picture
saluqi
25th Jul, 2016
This is basically all on target. Maybe not the only way to do it, but the science is sound.
rogisem
24th Jul, 2016
Nicely stated, some good comments here. Kosher salt is actually named after this very purpose- the absorption of fine salt into meat hindered the draw of blood and bodily fluids from meat, preventing the achievement of kosher meat, therefore a coarser salt was utilize to achieve these ends. My biggest umbrage with this article pertains to "Never use butter when cooking a steak, except at the end". This is simply not true. One of the greatest restaraunts in the world, Faviken in Jamtland, Sweden, cooks their 5 month aged ribeye in a cast iron skillet over high heat with a garlic thyme butter. Cast iron pans are good at heat distribution, but apt to lose said heat when in contact with other sources, I.e. beef. If you set a piece of beef in a heated cast iron skillet without movement, this will successfully achieve a crust, but will allow the heat to be sucked from the iron under the meat, while allowing the borders to become super heated, burning the butter. Their solution lies in moving the meat constantly, ensuring an even constant brown. The butter aids in a thorough, delicious crust in the Malliard reaction, and prevents the butter from stagnating and burning. The meat is then basted one last time in the brown butter before resting and serving. Additionally clarified butter can be used should you become too worried about burning the milk solids.

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