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How To Pan Fry The Perfect Steak

Posted by Josh Gilmore on

How To Pan Fry The Perfect Steak


Grillaholics, I was recently asked by a fellow Grillaholic what my favorite type of meat was, and honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever taken so long to answer a simple question.  From brisket, to ribs, to chicken wings, to pork chops, my mind was flooded with so many delicious options that I didn’t think I’d ever have an answer for him.  I took a night to sleep on the question, and after much intense thinking (pretty sure I could have set off my smoke detectors with how hard my brain was working), I finally have my answer for him.


The number of amazing things I could say about steaks is close to infinite, but beyond their amazing taste, one of my personal favorite things about steaks has to be the variety that comes with them.  T-Bone. Tri-Tip. Ribeye. Strip. Sirloin. Flank. The mouthwatering list goes on and on. 

But steaks not only have great variety with regards to their cut, they can also vary dramatically in the way they are prepared.  Not only do different levels of doneness (from rare to well done) give distinctly different experiences, the different ways steaks can be prepared bring something new to the table every time.

As a Grillaholic, grilling is my go to method for preparing steak, but from time to time, I like to switch things up.  One of my personal favorite methods for cooking steak is to pan fry them.  In my experience, pan fried steaks (when prepared correctly) can be even tastier and more flavorful than their grilled counterparts.  Not to mention, it’s extremely easy.

Choosing A Steak

Before we get into the step by step process of actually pan frying a steak, it’s important to talk about what kinds of steaks work best for pan frying.  While the number of different types of steaks is vast, for the pan frying method, we recommend limiting your choice to one of three types: ribeye, strip, or tenderloin.  Ribeye is a personal favorite of mine for this method, and in my experience, will give you the juiciest steak when finished.

In addition to choosing the type of steak, there are other important things to consider when picking a steak worthy of pan frying.  The first of which, is the degree of marbling (fat) the steak has.  As your steak cooks, this fat begins to slowly melt away, adding both moisture and flavor to your steak.  To put it simply, if you want your steak to be juicy and flavorful, go for a steak with a decent amount of marbling.

Another important factor to consider is the size of the steak, specifically the thickness.  When cooking any steak, but especially when pan frying, it is extremely important to get a thick cut of steak, AT LEAST 1” in thickness or greater.  We have found that anywhere from 1.5” to 2” generally works the best.  You want a thicker cut of steak because it will allow you to cook the outside of the steak and the inside of the steak somewhat differently.  With thinner steaks, by the time the outside of the steak has browned fully, the inside of the steak will likely be just as brown.  This isn’t an issue if you like well done steaks, but for those of us who don’t like our steaks to taste like beef jerky, thicker steaks allow you to get perfectly medium rare steaks while still getting a beautiful outer crust.

Thick Cut Steak


While you are frying your steak, you’ll want to be checking its internal temperature from time to time depending on the level of doneness you desire.  You can use a traditional meat thermometer to accomplish this (just insert it into the center of the steak towards the end of cooking), or you can use a digital meat thermometer to monitor your food while it cooks.  Whichever thermometer you choose, here are the general temperature goals for each level of doneness. 

  • 120° F = Rare
  • 130° F = Medium rare
  • 140° F = Medium
  • 150° F = Medium well
  • 160° F = Well done

It’s best to check temperature towards the end of cooking, and make sure you aren’t checking a dozen times.  The more holes you put in your steak to take temperature readings, the more unevenly it will cook.

Medium Rare Steak



Now that you have a proper steak selected, it’s time to get it prepared for frying.  Begin by salting your steaks with kosher salt about 45 minutes before you plan on frying them.  Salting this far in advance will help to tenderize the meat by breaking down the proteins found in the steak, while also bringing moisture into the steak.  Make sure to leave the steak sitting on the counter during this 45 minute period, as you want the steak to be room temperature when you fry it to ensure even cooking. 

After 45 minutes have passed, you’re ready to begin frying.  Fill the pan that you’ll be using (we recommend cast iron) with 2 teaspoons of an oil with a high smoke point: canola oil works great.  Bring the cast iron skillet up to high heat.  When the oil begins to smoke slightly, you’re ready to start frying.

Place your room temperature steak onto the oil and begin frying.  Depending on the thickness of the steak and the level of doneness that you desire, cook each side for 3 to 6 minutes. As far as flipping your steak is concerned, there are people who will argue for only a single flip, while others will argue that flipping frequently gives a more even cooking.  Honestly, as long as both sides get cooked equally and for the required time, it really doesn’t make too much difference.  Flipping only once is certainly less work (just place it, wait 4 minutes, flip it, wait 4 minutes), which gives you more time to focus on the important things like finishing your beer, so it’s the method we at Grillaholics prefer.

About two minutes before your steak is finished, add a few tablespoons of butter into the pan.  We add it at the end because we want the rich, juicy flavor that the butter brings to the steak, without any risk of the milk proteins found in butter burning. You can also add herbs here as well.

Around this point, begin checking the internal temperature of your steak.  When your steak is within 5 degrees of your desired doneness (guide listed above), remove it from the pan and set it aside.  Your steak will continue cooking even after being removed, so it’s important to remove it before it reaches the goal temperature.  It’s also important to let the steak rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting it so that the juices can work their way through the steak completely.

finished steak

Once your steak has rested for at least five minutes, you’re done! Enjoy the tenderness and juiciness that pan frying allows you to easily bring to any steak you cook!

Obviously pan frying is not the only way to prepare a perfect steak! If you're a true Grillaholic, you have to try out the reverse sear method of preparing steak.  Of course, if you do use this method, we’d love to hear how it went.  Make sure to connect with us on our Facebook page, and as always, cheers to being a Grillaholic.