how to fry steak

Chef Wendy

How To Pan-Fry a Steak To Perfection

Do you find that steak you fry at home seldom tastes as good as one you order in a restaurant?

It can be hard to replicate that tender, delicious steak you always seem to find in restaurants.

Don’t worry, read this and learn how to pan-fry a steak to perfection in your own kitchen!

If you find it hard to make a good pan-fried steak you’re not alone. Many cooks find it tricky to cook steaks well at home. And what can be more disappointing for a cook than to spend a fortune on fine-looking steaks that arrive at the table looking as tough and tasteless as old boots?

Although it’s virtually impossible to reproduce the taste of steakhouse meat at home without having your own charcoal grill, there are a few tips and tricks that you can learn to ensure that you create juicy and tender steaks every time.

• It’s important to choose the right type of steak for pan-frying or grilling. Meat of poor quality will never be succulent and flavoursome, no matter how carefully you prepare and cook it. This applies to beef, lamb, game or ostrich meat.

• A steak that is dark red in colour and has some visible fat is a good choice for home cooking. Thin, pale-pink steaks – such as minute steaks – or tough, pre-tenderised steaks tend to dry out and turn rubbery in the pan very quickly. Rump, sirloin and rib-eye steaks are good choices, but if you’re not certain about the steak that you’re buying, ask the butcher at your supermarket to recommend a suitable cut that has been properly ‘aged.’ – This means it has been hung at a cold temperature for long enough to become mature and tender.

• Fillet steak is often regarded as the Rolls-Royce of steaks, but it does not have as much deep, rich flavour as rump, sirloin and similar cuts. It also does not hold marinade or spicing flavour very well. Also, because it is very lean, it tends to be dry when overcooked.

• A steak that is between 2.5 and 3 cm thick is perfect for pan-frying or grilling. Thicker steaks will be burned on the outside before they are cooked on the inside, and thinner steaks will cook too quickly. If you’re frying slices of fillet steak, cut them so they are at least 4 cm thick, and take care not to overcook them, or you’ll end up with a very expensive ‘mistake’ on your plate.

• Make sure that the steak is at room temperature before you cook it. A steak that is very cold takes longer to cook right through and could cook unevenly.

• Steak should be seasoned with salt, pepper and other flavourings immediately before it goes into the pan. If you season it earlier, the salt will draw some of the moisture from the meat. Be sure to pat the meat quite dry with a paper towel before you season it. You can choose just about any seasonin that you want; but be wary of over-seasoning your steak and ruining its flavour.

• The secret to achieving a dark-brown ‘crust’ on a steak is to cook it at a very high temperature: this allows the natural sugars on the surface of the meat to caramelise. When frying a steak, heat the pan for at least two or three minutes, or until it is blazing hot. 

Add a little sunflower, coconut or olive oil, wait until the oil is so hot that it is shimmering, and then add your steaks. Don’t over-crowd the pan, or it will cool down and the meat will begin to stew – it’s better to cook steaks in several small batches.

• Cook the steaks for 2.5 to 3 minutes on one side, without moving or disturbing them. Lift one of the steaks and take a peek underneath: the lower surface should be a rich, dark brown. Now flip them over and cook for the same amount of time on the same high heat. If your steak sticks to the pan, leave it for a little longer . If your kitchen isn't a bit smoky while you’re cooking the steaks, your pan isn't hot enough! Isn’t that smell just mouth-watering?

• If your steak has a thick edging of fat, turn the steak on its side, fat-side down, using a pair of tongs, and hold it there for a few minutes to brown the fatty edge.

• How long you carry on cooking the steaks depends on how thick they are and how you like them done. Experienced cooks can tell by pressing the surface of the steak whether it is rare, medium or well done. 

Here’s a useful tip: a rare steak feels as soft as your chin when you press it with a finger tip; a medium-rare steak feels like the tip of your nose and a medium steak feels as hard as your forehead. If you’re uncertain, cut a tiny slit in the steak with the tip of a sharp knife: if the meat is still bloody on the inside, cook it for a little longer. You will lose a little juice from the steak using this method, but it’s one of the only fool-proof ways to judge whether or not the steak is cooked to your liking. 

Another option is to invest in a digital meat thermometer, which has a ‘spike’ that reads the internal temperature of the steak (you’ll find these guidelines in the leaflet that comes with your thermometer). Although cooking thermometers are a little pricey, they are very versatile because you can use them for testing roasts, the heat of oil for deep-frying and sugar syrups used in making candy and caramel.

• Take the steaks off the heat and let them ‘rest’ on a warm plate for 4-5 minutes. Steaks that have been well rested are more tender and juicy than those served straight from the pan. Also, a steak that has not been rested tends to leak meaty juices all over the plate, which dilutes any sauce you’ve made and ruins the look of mashed potatoes, rice or pap served with the meat. Allow to rest, serve with some delicious Knorr Brown Onion Gravy and enjoy!

• Now that you know how to pan-fry a steak just like an expert chef, what are you waiting for? Add some potatoes or vegetables, and you will be able to add a delicious steak meal to your personal meal planner.