Friday, August 13, 2010

How to Fry the Perfect Steak

How to Fry Perfect Steak 1

While, I won't claim that this method will make the best steak you've ever had, frying a good, basic steak shouldn't be difficult. Except, I have a friend who literally can't ever fry a steak right. And at least one reader who asked how because she couldn't either.

Lil' sis and I, we like our $2 steaks. Yeah, yeah, you can get all fancy schmancy and stuff with better cuts and free-range and all that, but I have pedestrian tastes and a small budget. Steaks make a quick dinner when I'm feeling lazy. They're great on salads when I want to eat less meat or to stretch out a meal.

I rarely let my steaks marinate for more than 10 minutes. Quick meal, remember? If you have a particularly tough piece of meat, my mom's trick is to lightly dust it with baking soda and let it rest for a few minutes. Then rinse thoroughly or else leftover baking soda will taste very bitter. Then marinate the steak and cook as usual. But as I said, a cheap steak and no marination time is my usual method.

This isn't so much about how to cook steak as it is to know what to look out for so you know when it's done.

No, this method won't result in steakhouse steak, but it will get you a perfectly decent dinner in less than 10 minutes.

Xa Lach Thit Bo Rau Muong (Vietnamese Beef and Water Spinach Salad) 12
Xa Lach Thit Bo Rau Muong (Vietnamese Beef and Water Spinach Salad)

How to Fry the Perfect Steak

You'll need:
1 steak, any cut and size of your choice. I generally prefer about 1/4- or 1/3-lb sizes
1/2 tsp steak seasoning or 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Optional: 1 tsp soy sauce

Ideally, use a black steel or cast iron pan. The steel and cast iron pans hold heat longer, creating a better char on the outside. Read my How to Season Black Steel Pans post to see why I use this pan so often in my kitchen.

How to Season Black Steel Pans 5

Or here, I'll just use a photo of my cast iron pan from my recipe for Lomo Saltado/Thit Bo Xao voi Khoai Tay Chien (Peruvian/Vietnamese Beef Stir-Fry with French Fries) to show you how much I like this one too.

Lomo Saltado Thit Bo Xao voi Khoai Tay Chien 8

Season both sides of the steak and let rest for 10 minutes if you have time, or not if you don't. You can use this time to prep salad ingredients or to boil vegetables or whatever. This is a very old photo from March 2008. I've made many steaks since then, just never bothered photographing them.

How to Fry Perfect Steak 2

Here's a newer photo with the steak seasoned with soy sauce.

Xa Lach Thit Bo Rau Muong (Vietnamese Beef and Water Spinach Salad) 3

Heat the pan to medium-high. If you plan to make pan gravy with the beef juices, then use two pats of butter. Otherwise, olive oil is just fine.

How to Fry Perfect Steak 3

When the butter melts or the oil starts smoking, add the beef.

How to Fry Perfect Steak 4

Xa Lach Thit Bo Rau Muong (Vietnamese Beef and Water Spinach Salad) 4

My other kitchen essential is a splatter guard. Keeps messes to a minimum.

How to Fry Perfect Steak 5

Depending on the size of your steak, it may take anywhere from two to five minutes or more to cook. My steaks were small so literally two minutes each side was all that was needed.

Do not move or flip your steak before it's ready. You want time for it to develop a proper char. Notice the side of the steak? When it's cooked about halfway up the side, then it's time to flip. That is, if you like your steaks cooked medium. Obviously, if you want it more or less cooked, adjust the time appropriately, paying attention to the side of the steak to monitor its level of doneness.

Xa Lach Thit Bo Rau Muong (Vietnamese Beef and Water Spinach Salad) 5

Nice char means time to flip.

How to Fry Perfect Steak 6

Same time for opposite end. So that would be another two minutes for me.

How to Fry Perfect Steak 7

See the side? The steak is appropriately done halfway up the side too.

Xa Lach Thit Bo Rau Muong (Vietnamese Beef and Water Spinach Salad) 6

If you're serving the steak as a meal, leave to rest on a plate. I served this one with a side of Mashed Cauliflower.

How to Fry Perfect Steak 8

This piece rested on a glass cutting board since I planned to slice it. You must let your steak rest for at least 10 minutes so the juices will redistribute! If you don't, the first piece will be juicy, but the other mouthfuls will be dry, dry, dry.

Xa Lach Thit Bo Rau Muong (Vietnamese Beef and Water Spinach Salad) 7

See how after resting, when I slice the steak, all the pieces still look juicy? So don't be so impatient, m'kay?

Xa Lach Thit Bo Rau Muong (Vietnamese Beef and Water Spinach Salad) 10

After slicing, you can make dishes like Xa Lach Thit Bo (Vietnamese Steak Salad).

Xa Lach Thit Bo (Vietnamese Steak Salad) 1

Or make Pan Gravy with the leftover marinade and beef juices and eat it American-style.

How to Fry Perfect Steak 9

Did that help? Too basic? How do you cook your steaks?

1 year ago today, On Being Sick, Being Thankful, and Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew).
2 years ago today, "Fruit-shi" ie. Dessert Sushi.
3 years ago today, semen tea and snowflakes at 85 Degrees C Tea House - San Gabriel (Closed).


  1. I cook my steaks pretty much just like you but sometimes finish in oven, 350 deg F, if I am serving more than two people. Or if one wants medium and the other medium rare. It's easy to overcook in the oven because I get distracted. :O)

  2. This is exactly how my dad cooks steaks. I miss having it this way. No one cooks it this way around here. They all look at me like I'm crazy trying to pan fry steak.

  3. Yum! I always pan fry my steaks too and like kitty above me, ppl think it's crazy but those lucky enough to eat it know what it's all about!

    Question though... what is that splatter guard? Never heard of such a thing. I was like "Why didn't she just say lid?!" but then I noticed the material... reminds me of linen. Stores online aren't really elaborating on what it is.

    1. I can't afford the better cuts either, but I can get them in the store's marked down section of the meat market.

    2. You can get the splatter screens at Walmart also.

  4. Yum. I'm still learning to cook and I've just conquered I will try steak!

    Also I love the idea of a Vietnamese lomo saltado.

  5. La Takahashi,
    I saw the finishing the oven method in one of the men's magazines on how to make the perfect steak. But once I've finished the pan-frying part, I just think putting it in the oven would cook it more?

    Yay! That proves my method is sound. ;) Why crazy? If I had a grill readily available, I might grill my steaks. Or maybe not, even firing up the grill takes more work.

    I got mine at IKEA for around $3, but they're available at lots of places. I like the IKEA version because it's all metal and the top knob folds flat. Other places have a plastic handle on the side.

    The "linen"-looking part is actually a thin mesh screen. So basically, when you're frying steaks and fish, it keeps the oil from splattering all over the stove. The mesh keeps the air circulating so your meat won't steam or overcook like using a regular lid would. It's great for other uses too!

    I thought everyone knew what a splatter guard was. Maybe it deserves its own post like my water spinach splitter. :P

    Yup! I figured a lot of my readers are novices. And my little sister uses the blog a lot for basic cooking tips. And actually, I didn't make up the Vietnamese lomo saltado, it's just bo xao khoai tay chien isn't as well-known in the US. :)

  6. Thanks for the tip on cooking steaks, especially using cheap cuts is very handy nowadays, got to be careful with spending and prices of food are increasing. Like the use of baking soda to tenderize the beef.

  7. Ramenkia,
    If people can afford nicer cuts, all power to them. I can't and think cheap cuts are perfectly fine.

  8. The reason for the finish in the oven method is to finish larger (thicker) cuts of steaks. There is only so long you can cook it on direct heat (frying pan) before searing becomes burning.

    When WC cooks her thinner cuts of "cheaper" steaks, 2-3 minutes on each side will definitely ensure a nice seared crust and a medium finish.

    I use the indirect heat method to finish my steaks. When I do cook steaks, I generally do at least 1 inch thick cuts of filet or ribeyes. I would either grill them on my gas grill outside for 2 mins on each side and then put them up on the warming rack at 350-400 for 5 mins to get a nice rare to medium rare. If I am inside, I use my steel grill top and finish in the oven.

  9. Long,
    Definitely it's all about the thickness. My cheap little steaks would be all dried out if I finished them in the oven.

  10. I disagree with almost everything here. Not to say that you aren't getting adequate results, but your method is far from ideal.

    To begin with, it is not advised to fry in butter or olive oil. Both will burn at high temperatures and therefore not give particularly good flavor. Cooking at lighter temperatures doesn't sear the meat as well and while, contrary to popular belief, this won't actually affect the juices staying or going, it will affect the flavor for the worse.

    It's also not necessary to put the fat directly into the pan and it's especially a bad idea if you insist on using butter or olive oil. The butter or oil will burn too quickly, way before the steak is even medium rare. Also, you say "when the butter melts or oil starts smoking, add the beef" but butter will sizzle at far lower temperatures than that required to get a good sear on a steak.

    I recommend using macademia nut oil and only brushing the steak with it before cooking as opposed to filling the pan with it. Mac nut oil has a rich buttery taste and a high smoke point. The only downside is it's kind of expensive and hard to find. I order mine on Amazon (in bulk to save costs on shipping). Peanut oil is also great for cooking at high temperatures. Canola Oil also works and can be found just about anywhere and cheaply at that.

    You DO NOT have to let a piece of meat, especially a small cut, rest for 10 full minutes. That's excessive and just cooling the meat for no reason. You can leave it for 3 to 4 minutes. To get the juices to distribute evenly, as you clearly desire, leave it on top of an upside down saucer and covered with a piece of aluminum foil (to help preserve heat).

    Also, slicing it thinly might be a traditional Vietnamese way of serving it (I wouldn't know) but you're better off slicing it slightly thicker because slicing it thin makes it go cold much faster.

  11. Head Explode,
    This automatically went into my spam folder, where it belongs. Ha! Except I was nice enough to allow your comment to be published. How exhausting it must be for you to go around correcting everyone.

    How about looking at the world this way? Everyone has different taste buds and different ways of doing things.

    Olive oil's high smoke point isn't ideal for deep-frying, but that's not what I'm doing here. And if you actually looked at the pictures, you'd realize that slicing the steak thin is for when it's being added to salads, not as a stand-alone.

    But either way, this is how I like to do things, and I'm simply sharing my method with others in case they'd like to do things in the same way. If your method is so superior, why don't you blog about it and share that with others? Oh, wait, you don't have a blog, which you would have to take time to photograph and write. You just like visiting other people's blogs and being obnoxious.

  12. Please forgive me for taking the time to attempt to educate someone completely in the dark. Rest assured, it won't happen again. I have more sense than to preach to the deaf ad nauseum.

    "But either way, this is how I like to do things, and I'm simply sharing my method with others in case they'd like to do things in the same way."

    That's exactly what I was doing in my comment above. Only I took the time to back up my method with proven facts and useful hints. Again, what a horrible person I am for taking the time to share this with you.

    As far as this "You don't have a Blog, you're too lazy to blog!" nonsense goes, that is not true. I just happened to be logged on to my test account (on TypePad) as opposed to my main blog account (this one).

  13. Head Explode,
    If you looked through the previous comments, other people have different methods of cooking steak too. There's a way to say it without being obnoxious, you obviously didn't take that route.

    What proven facts? It's a piece of meat, not a science experiment.

    Again, everyone has different methods and different ways of doing things.

  14. Thanks Wandering Chopsticks! I always make my steaks like this. I don't have a cast iron so I do it all stove top and I use home made garlic butter or olive oil. sorry head explode but I have to agree with Wandering Chopsticks here. Though your comment may be informative but it's just another way, another method, not the TRUTH.

  15. Jin,
    Thanks for being polite in your comment and for having my back. :)

  16. I typically broil steaks, but really missed the charring. Perhaps there is a way to char in the broiler - but it never comes out as well as frying.

    Using this method, the steak nearly resembled an open grill steak! I really enjoyed this tutorial and it refreshed me on how to cook a simple, great tasting steak as close to grilled as I could get!

    I tend to like a slightly thicker cut and just over 2 mins on each side made an absolutely perfect steak -- medium rare just like I like it. I marinated it in soy sauce, pepper and garlic. Used olive oil and it was delish! Thanks again!

  17. SS Davis,
    I've never tried broiling my steaks. Seems much harder to me! I'm glad this method worked for you. It's nice to get a compliment and know someone else liked my recipe, especially after the nastiness of a previous commenter. Some people!


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