Settle Down Grillers! Pan-Fried Steak Can Be Great

While there have been a few patio-friendly days this January (which has been wonderful, but also eek!) it is not exactly grilling season.

I know a lot of guys who love to grill, It is such a hackneyed stereotype but grilling does appeal to the male species, and as such most aren’t even interested in steak that hasn’t been grilled. My grill-head friends have no problem with chicken, fish or chops done on or in the stove, but steak gives them pause.

According to them, my father, uncles and grandfathers all included – steak has to be grilled, no matter what.

I disagree.

With the right pan and the right cut, a pan-seared steak can be amazing. So listen up. Here’s how you do the perfect, no fuss, steak in a pan.

Martha Stewart likes to use strip steaks for pan frying and serves them with a simple steak sauce. Jamie Oliver doesn’t go for a specific cut, allowing you to choose your own adventure before saucing the steaks with an olive, caper and chili sauce. Alton Brown heats his cast iron pan in a 500 degree oven before pan searing a rib-eye in it. If you look at all of these recipes you will see some similarities, namely bring the steak to room temperature before searing and don’t use anything other than a cast iron pan and make sure it is piping hot. The secret to a great steak isn’t in the grill or the pan, it is in the crust and you can get a good crust from either method.

Here’s what the ultimate nerds of the culinary world, the test kitchen at Cook’s Illustrated, had to say,

“Use smaller, more expensive cuts like rib eye, boneless strip, and sirloin, which brown evenly and have the full, rich flavor that we expect from a steak. As for frying technique, start with a really hot pan that will sear the steak upon contact. We found it best to heat the pan for about 10 minutes on medium heat and then retain this heat level throughout cooking. We also found it helpful to add some oil to the fry pan to help brown the steak and to keep it from sticking to the pan. As for pans, we ultimately found that cast iron does just as well as–and in some cases better than–more expensive, brand-name pans.”

Let the grill hibernate this winter and teach yourself how to master the perfect pan-seared steak.

Here is a beautiful recipe for flank steak adapted from Chef Lydia Shire:

Pan-Fried Steak with Garlic Butter


2 tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1  1 1⁄2-lb. piece flank steak, about 3⁄4″ thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. finely chopped curly or flat leaf parsley


1. Warm butter and garlic in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until garlic is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Discard garlic. Set butter aside in a warm place.

2. Pat steak dry with paper towels, then season liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. When pan begins to smoke, coat with oil, then add steak (oil will spatter). For rare, sear until almost black. Don’t move steak until ready to turn, or seal formed by crust will break. Cook about 3 minutes on each side.

3. Transfer steak to a platter; top with garlic butter. Cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Allow steak to rest for 10 minutes. Cut across the grain into 1⁄4″ slices. Spoon juices over steak and top with parsley.

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