The 5 Best Ways to Cook a Steak

The “best ways to cook a steak” is a subjective phrase. Steaks come in a myriad of forms and characteristics – whether it’s Ribeye vs. Filet Mignon, USDA Prime vs. Wagyu, bone-in vs. bone-out, etc. Thus, the task of choosing and preparing a steak can be daunting unless you read my beginner’s guide to choosing and cooking a steak. Unfortunately, there are probably just as many ways to cook a steak as there are cuts of steak out there. Sure, you can settle for the traditional sear-and-baste method. Why do that when you could finish it in the oven, or perhaps even reverse sear it? And what is this “sous-vide” that everyone talks about?

In this article, I will cover 5 of the best ways to cook a steak (though, I won’t go too far in-depth). I’ll also provide you with the pros/cons and a list of equipment that you’ll need to cook your steak. However, not all steaks are alike. Some steaks can be prepared a certain way, while others can’t. I’ll explore each of these methods in-depth in future posts. If you’re still trying to choose a steak, I would suggest taking a look at the beginner’s guide and my favorite steaks. Don’t know how to season a steak? I have you covered!

Please note that the cook times listed below are for steaks that are 1” to 1.5” thick. You will need to adjust the cook times if you are cooking thin steaks (e.g. hanger, skirt, etc). Most home cooks also do not have a meat thermometer. Therefore, the instructions provided utilize timing and touch to cook a steak.

In terms of pan vs. grill, I prefer a grill (especially charcoal) because of the flavor and the higher heat. You do not need to let the steak come up to room temperature. But to each their own.


Overview

Traditional Sear

Pre-Sear Oven-Finish

Caveman Method

Reverse Sear

Sous Vide


Traditional Sear

Good with: Any proper, boneless steak

Equipment: Heavy skillet (cast iron, carbon steel)/grill, tongs

Pros: Quick, simple, versatile

Cons: Exterior of steak overcooks

The traditional method is one of the best ways to cook a steak for beginners. Additionally, this is the method that many steakhouses often utilize. It involves searing each side of the steak alternatively on a ripping-hot surface until the center is cooked to your liking.

While this is one of the simplest and best ways to cook a steak, it is not perfect. It does not work with bone-in cuts of steak (if done in a pan) because the meat must have contact with the heated surface. The traditional pan-sear method also relies on the diffusion of high heat to cook the center of the steak. Unfortunately, this results in an overcooked exterior “ring” or “band”, as shown below.

Notice the grey band of well-done meat

I highly recommend using a thermometer anytime you cook a steak. Judging the doneness of a steak through feel is inconsistent. Every steak has a different muscle and fat composition. Thus, every steak feels different.

If you use a thermometer, remember to take the steak off the heat 5-10°F below your desired temperature. The residual heat will finish cooking the steak as it rests. However, most home cooks do not have a meat thermometer. I will publish a blog post about cooking your steak on the stove (in detail) in the future.

Traditional Steakhouse Method (without thermometer):

  1. Purchase a proper thick steak with good marbling
  2. Remove the steak from the fridge and pat dry
  3. Lightly coat in an oil with a high smoke point
  4. Season liberally with coarse salt and cracked pepper
  5. Add high smoke point oil to pan until the bottom is coated
  6. Heat pan with max heat until oil visibly smokes and shimmers (don’t forget to turn your exhaust fan)
  7. Lay steak away into pan away from you
  8. Sear for 3 minutes on one side
  9. Flip, add butter and aromatics to the pan
  10. Sear for 3 minutes while basting the steak
  11. Remove steak from the pan
  12. Spoon the flavored butter over the steak
  13. Rest for at least 5 minutes
  14. Finish with salt and pepper to taste

Two of the most common traditional sear methods are the “4-3-2 method” and the “3-3-2-2” method. Here is a brief overview of how they work for medium-rare cooks:

4-3-2 Method

  1. Preheat your pan/grill to the highest heat possible (500-600°F)
  2. Sear steak for 4 minutes on one side
  3. Flip and sear for 3 minutes on the other side
  4. Remove the steak from the cooking surface, and rest for 2 minutes.

3-3-2-2 Method

  1. Preheat your pan to medium heat (350-400°F)
  2. Sear steak for 3 minutes on one side
  3. Flip and sear for 3 minutes on the other side
  4. Repeat, cooking for another 2 minutes per side
  5. Remove the steak from the cooking surface, and rest for at least 5 minutes. 

For the 3-3-2-2 method, each side is cooked for a total of 5 minutes. Steak can be seasoned before and/or after the cook.


Pre-Sear Oven-Finish

Good with: Any proper, boneless steak

Equipment: Heavy skillet (cast iron, carbon steel)/grill, tongs, oven

Pros: Simple, versatile, slightly prevents overcooking

Cons: Takes slightly longer, must measure temperature if using grill

This is one of the best ways to cook a steak for a novice home-cook. Some steakhouses also utilize this method, but it generally takes slightly longer than straight-up searing the steak. Finishing your steak in an oven also results in a more even cook than the traditional sear method, as it uses a combination of direct searing and indirect oven heat to cook the steak. However, this method also does not work well with bone-in cuts (unless it is done on the grill). 

Sear and Finish On the Stove:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F
  2. Heat your pan on the highest heat setting possible (500-600°F)
  3. Sear steak for 2 minutes on one side
  4. Flip and sear for 2 minutes on the other side
  5. Transfer the entire skillet (with steak) into the oven for 3-5 minutes
  6. Remove steak from skillet, rest for 5-7 minutes

Sear and Finish On a Grill:

  1. Set up a 2-zone fire (direct/indirect)
    1. Direct heat should be around 650-750°F
    2. Indirect heat should be around 200-400°F
  2. Sear steak for 2 minutes on one side (directly over hot coals)
  3. Flip and sear for 2 minutes on the other side (directly over hot coals)
  4. Transfer steak to other zone (indirect heat) for 3-8 minutes 
  5. Remove steak from grill, rest for 5-7 minutes

The steak can be seasoned before and/or after the cook.


Caveman Method (Eisenhower Steak, Fire Steak)

Good with: Any proper, thick steak

Equipment: Charcoal, tongs

Pros: Simple, versatile, excellent flavor

Cons: Takes slightly longer, slightly uneven cook, can burn, must use a thick steak

The caveman method of cooking a steak is generally less-known than the others. However, I believe that its simplicity earns it a spot in my list of the best ways to cook a steak. It works well with most steaks and requires a minimal amount of equipment. All you will need is some charcoal (and something to start the charcoal). This method is unique because it sears the steak over direct coals (900-1300°F) and imparts a wonderful smokey, char flavor.

The Caveman Method:

  1. Ignite a bed of coals and let it burn until white
  2. Set the steak right on top of the coals and cook for 4-5 minutes
  3. Flip, cook for 4-5 minutes
  4. Remove steak from coals and season with salt and pepper
  5. Rest for 8-10 minutes

The steak should be seasoned only after the cook.


The Reverse Sear

Good with: Any proper, thick steak

Equipment: Heavy skillet (cast iron/carbon steel)/grill, tongs

Pros: Perfect cook, excellent crust, relaxed cooking style, works with any steak

Cons: Time-consuming, must measure temperature of steak

The reverse-sear method is widely regarded as one of the best ways to cook a steak. It is the complete opposite of the Pre-Sear Oven-Finish method. With the reverse sear, you first bring the steak up to temperature in an oven, and finish the steak with a hard sear. The initial indirect cook can slightly dry the steak out, which will result in a more intense flavor and a hardier crust. There is no hurry, and there is no fuss. This method can also be applied to a grill. Unfortunately, you must monitor the temperature of your steak throughout your cook or you risk overcooking the interior. Plus, you can cook super thick steaks (2″+) or roasts perfectly.

See that beautiful edge-to-edge pink and juicy interior? That’s why many consider the reverse sear to be one of the best ways to cook a steak.

Reverse Searing In an Oven:

  1. Preheat oven to 200-275°F
  2. Place a wire rack onto a sheet pan
  3. Season your steak and transfer onto wire rack
  4. Transfer rack into oven and cook for 30-45 minutes
  5. Monitor temperature, preferably with probe thermometer (don’t open the oven)
    1. Probe the middle of the steak
  6. Remove steak from oven once the interior comes up to temperature
  7. Preheat skillet to high heat (500-600°F)
  8. Sear for 1 minute on both sides
  9. Rest for 2 minutes

Reverse Searing On a Grill:

  1. Set up a 2-zone fire (direct/indirect)
    1. Direct heat should be around 650-750°F
    2. Indirect heat should be around 200-275°F
  2. Season your steak and place in indirect zone for 20-30 minutes
  3. Remove steak from grill and heat up direct zone 
  4. Sear steak over direct heat for 1 minute per side
  5. Rest for 2 minutes

The steak can be seasoned before and/or after the cook. You may also sear the steak using any method you so desire – cast iron, grill, blowtorch, etc.


Sous-Vide

Good with: Any steak

Equipment: Vacuum bags, vacuum sealer, container filled with water, tongs

Pros: Perfect cook, relaxed cooking style, perfect seasoning, works with any cut of steak

Cons: Time-consuming, must maintain temperature of water, requires a lot of equipment

Sous-vide is also considered one of the best ways to cook a steak. This method rivals the Reverse Sear in terms of cook perfection and is more fail-proof. You can cook thick steaks (2″+) and roasts with sous vide. Additionally, sous vide is perfect for all applications – from vegetables to proteins to desserts.

This method cooks a vacuum-sealed cut of steak in a water bath at a constant temperature, which allows even and controlled cooks. Your steak’s temperature can never rise above the temperature of the water bath. Thus, sous vide allows the steak to retain almost all of its juiciness and can render tough connective tissue and fats into a succulent and perfectly-cooked yield. Additionally, the long cook allows the seasoning to penetrate deep into the core of the steak.

However, this method of cooking a steak is best achieved by utilizing sous-vide machines, which are often costly (about $100). You can cook steaks sous-vide with nothing but a zip-lock bag and a pot of water, but you must monitor the temperature of the water every 5-10 minutes

Sous-Vide Method

  1. Preheat water bath to desired temperature (same temperature of the doneness)
  2. Season steak and vacuum pack
  3. Place vacuum-packed steak in water bath and weigh the bag down (prevent floating)
  4. Cook for 1-2 hours (up to 5 hours) (tougher cuts like hanger or flank benefit from longer cooks)
  5. Remove the bag from water bath and the steak from the bag
  6. Rest for 3 minutes (optional)
  7. Sear steak at 500°F+ for 1 minute each side
  8. Rest for 1 minute

The steak can be seasoned before and/or after the cook. You may also sear the steak using any method you so desire – cast iron, grill, blowtorch, etc.


Conclusion

While these are 5 of the best ways to cook a steak, many carnivores debate over their preferred method. Some methods are simple and produce perfectly good steaks. However, other methods are time-consuming but produce perfect steaks. I personally prefer cooking my steaks sous-vide and finishing them on a grill over a bed of blazing charcoal.

Try these methods out and let me know what you think the best ways to cook a steak are. Please consider leaving a comment or question below! If you disagree or would like to add your opinion, please let me know! 

Leave a Reply